It seems like Oregon is due a break from bad news. For the last month, news about Oregon was dominated by a bunch of gun-toting lunatics whose antics range from ridiculous to downright scary.
Unfortunately, there’s more bad news, and it’s not as easy to mock as the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. According to Seattle Dog Spot, a Portland-based animal leasing company called Hannah the Pet Society recently euthanized three adoptable dogs for no apparent reason.
The three dogs — Charlie Bear, Kelso, and Pip — were put down by order of Hannah founder Dr. Scott Campbell on Nov. 24, 21015. They were scheduled to be returned to the shelters they had originally come from, but Campbell decided otherwise. In an internal email about one of the dogs, he told the staff bluntly: “Kill him.”
The piece in Seattle Dog Spot is very detailed about the ages, breeds, and behavior histories of each of the three dogs. While Hannah claims that the dogs were euthanized because of “aggression,” there doesn’t seem to be any record of the kind of vicious behavior that would make that necessary. In fact, Seattle Dog Spot points out that in a monumental screwup, Hannah sent out emails the day after they killed the dogs offering Pip and Charlie Bear as potential adoptees. Pip was described as a “delightful charmer” suitable for children, and Charlie Bear was called a “noble confidant” who was “laid back” in temperament.
The idea of leasing a dog or other pet is weird enough for me. It’s one of those things that my brain knows to exist, but can’t quite accept. Every time a report of one of these services crops up, I have an instinctive recoil, trying to integrate the fact that, yes, these things still happen. My main strategy for remaining sane while combing through the media comes from a line in Elvis Costello’s “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”: “I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.”
But that only goes so far. Sometimes I can only be disgusted. Looking at Seattle Dog Spot’s account of the dogs’ death builds a strong case that Hannah euthanized Charlie Bear, Kelso, and Pip for the sake of convenience rather than any intractable behavior problems.
This isn’t the first time that animal lovers and organizations have expressed concern about Hannah the Pet Society. Criticisms of the company go back at least to 2013, when Portland TV station KPTV reported that the Oregon Humane Society had issued a statement expressing doubts about Hannah’s ethics and the sources of its animals. It read in part:
We support out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to saving lives, and this is certainly the case with a company that occasionally sources animals from shelters and leases them to caretakers … We are concerned about the source of animals when not coming from shelters. Hannah society has not shared with us any criteria that would preclude the lease of puppy mill source dogs … for the people who read the fine print and are looking for a less committed relationship, this might be the right choice. Whether it’s the right choice for pets remains to be seen.
In the same report, one of Hannah’s customers, Diane Tate, said that the company’s contract was so ambiguous that she didn’t realize she wouldn’t actually own the dog. “It wasn’t really clear initially that you were renting the dog,” she told KPTV. “(It wasn’t clear) that all the decisions would be made by Hannah the Pet Society. You would be consulted, but other than that, everything is their decision.” When she tried to back out of the contract, Tate said that the company began pressuring her so hard to stay in the agreement that it felt like harassment.
The PAWS shelter in West Linn, Oregon, also said that when it offered a kitten to the company, it refused. A volunteer at PAWS told KPTV, “They advertise that they work with shelters and get their animals from shelters and rescues, when in fact they only take again the highly adoptable, easily sold, pretty animals.”
Hannah was also sued by two clients, Sandee and Walter Strunk, in December 2014. The Strunks alleged that Hannah was using its leasing model to get around normal licensing requirements and used a number of pressure tactics to lock them into an agreement in which the company holds all the cards. According to the lawsuit, the company demanded a $600 fee for the couple to cancel the agreement. According to Courtroom News:
The cancellation fee is intended as a punitive forfeiture penalty to discourage consumers from ever terminating their monthly payment obligations to defendant,” according to the lawsuit.
The Strunks claim Hannah’s leases pets because it knows people are unlikely to return an animal they have grown to love “if they cannot be sure that the pet will not be euthanized by defendant, which exercises sole discretion to make life-ending decisions as the owner of the pet.”
No matter how you slice it, one thing seems clear: Something is rotten at Hannah the Pet Society. Until now, complaints around Hannah have mainly been focused on financial profiteering on people’s love for their pets; now there are at least three bodies to be accounted for.
To be fair, the rot probably isn’t in Hannah specifically but in the entire model of leasing pets. Reporting on the Strunk lawsuit in 2014, Seattle Pet Spot made some excellent points:
I should say here that I don’t like the idea of renting pets. It reinforces the concept that pets are expendable, which is how so many dogs end up in shelters.
You dog peed on your carpet or barks too much? Just return it to the shelter. Getting a new puppy? Make room for it by turning your older dog over to a shelter. Moving to a new city and can’t take your dog? Just leave it in your yard for someone else to deal with.
Another reason I don’t like the rent-a-pet model is that it is focused on making as much money as possible, and since Hannah is the legal owner of the pets it leases, it may make decisions about a pet’s health based on its bottom line instead of what’s in the best interest of the pet.
In short, pet leasing comes with many of the same problems of buying from a pet store, plus a few more. Hannah claims that most of its dogs come from shelters and rescue organizations, but by last November, the only organization that was contracted to give them animals was the Columbia Humane Society in Saint Helens, Oregon. After the three dogs were euthanized, Columbia naturally severed the relationship.
So now where is Hannah getting its dogs? That’s a murky and important question for any ethical pet owner.
But at least when you take a dog home from the pet store, you know that even if he had a traumatic history at some hellish puppy farm, you can provide him with a healthy and happy future. When you lease a pet from Hannah or a similar service, they control all the decisions about the dog’s health. For life.
Whatever the facts behind the death of these three dogs, one thing seems clear: Pet leasing is bad for both humans and animals, and Hannah seems to be especially bad.
Tell us your take on renting pets in the comments.
Read more commentary from Chris Hall: