On Friday, September 25, 2015, my husband Joe and I attended The Premiere of the anti-dog chaining video “Why Me?” sung by The Voice’s Bria Kelly and written by Amy Hines and Donna Hughes—despite the fact that I had been personally disinvited two weeks before.
More on that to come.
For those of you who don’t know me, in 2002 I founded the first organization dedicated to freeing Man’s Best Friend from chains.
I called the organization Dogs Deserve Better, because I found myself mumbling “Dogs Deserve Better” each day for six years as I drove by a chained black lab who I could shake from neither heart nor mind. “Worthless” was with my soul day and night despite remaining chained in the mud 1/4 mile from my home.
I knew someone had to take a stand against this barbaric practice—and quite frankly, I wanted it to be anyone but me. God (or the universe, or whoever floats your boat) wasn’t moved by my reticence, and was relentless in persuading me to take action on behalf of Worthless and the millions like him who spend their lives on chains.
I’m happy to say that I finally listened, formed Dogs Deserve Better, rescued Worthless (renaming him Bo), and what followed was a 13-year saga in the fight to bring the plight of chained dogs to the attention of the nation.
As the first national anti-chaining activist, I attended The Premiere of “Why Me?” because the song is powerful, the song has chutzpah, the song has brought me to tears of “YES! that’s IT”, and the song has a REAL chance of making a difference for chained dogs. I also wanted to support both the musicians who created the song, Amy Havens Hines and Donna Hughes, and the artist who sang it, Bria Kelly. I very much appreciate their efforts on behalf of the dogs.
In 2011, Dogs Deserve Better, under my leadership, bought Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting compound, and began the process of transforming it to a rescue home for chained dogs. This move engendered both admiration and hatred from locals and across the country, and set me up as a target for those wanting to maintain the status quo.
I endured more suffering than I could have ever imagined when Vick’s buddies teamed up with an embezzling employee to make false allegations in order to destroy me and Dogs Deserve Better. I did my best, fought the good fight, and even won on all grounds that mattered publicly.
But it took a serious toll on my health (both mentally and physically) and I left the organization in March of this year. After 13 years on the front lines and having endured 5 arrests in the fight to end the chaining and penning of dogs, I felt I had nothing left to give the organization or the dogs. I was in desperate need of a rest and a chance to rejuvenate, and I hoped that a fresh leadership could make all the difference for DDB.
I wish I believed that’s been the case.
I have sat on much information that isn’t positive about the new DDB leadership, because I told myself it’s none of my business anymore; and, in truth I just want to live a peaceful and positive life. I feel I’ve earned that.
After months of consideration, my conscience won’t allow me to remain quiet about the breach of mission that has taken place, and the treatment of those who stood against this breach. I owe these folks that much.
As founder of Dogs Deserve Better, it is not only my right to speak up when I see disturbing actions occurring within DDB, but also my moral responsibility.
I can shirk it no longer.
The mission of Dogs Deserve Better has always been a simple one. Free chained and penned dogs, take a stand against chaining and the ostracism of dogs to the backyard, and bring dogs into the home and family. This has been accomplished in many ways, from rescue and rehabilitation of chained and penned dogs, to fence-building initiatives, to activist campaigns where myself and many others chained ourselves to doghouses in front of state capitols or other public places advocating for better laws for Man’s Best Friends.
Dogs Deserve Better rescues dogs from chains and pens, and other ‘outside’ living situations.
No one in DDB is EVER, EVER, EVER authorized to adopt a dog to an outside home.
To do so violates all DDB policies and our mission statement.
The reason I felt l could finally step down in March (with our dogs and rescue center in safe hands) was because of the dedication of a woman named Julie Sayre. Julie started with DDB as office manager, but ended up in the facility manager position because she proved herself time and again an employee worthy of trust. She showed up early for work, worked many hours over a normal schedule without a word of complaint, and loved the facility and the dogs with a passion that was evident in all she did.
As facility manager, it was Julie’s job to oversee adoptions, if not outright manage them herself. She was the last stop before me in the adoption decision-making process, and I got involved only as needed.
In December of 2014, while I was still with the org, a rescuer wanted to move our feral dog named Sheba to her rescue.
Sheba came from the infamous Olympic Animal Sanctuary, where as many as 125 dogs lived in horrendous conditions for years before activists forced Markwell to give them up.
I was among the folks holding a sign on the front lines outside the Sanctuary of Sorrow in Forks, Washington—the only activist arrested for protesting in violation of a restraining order obtained by Markwell through outright lies and deceit. You can see video of my arrest and hear the dogs crying in the background, below.
After the dogs were released to a rescue in the Arizona desert, I drove a van across country, 2400 miles one way, to pick up Sonny, a DDB dog who ended up at OAS. After we weren’t ‘allowed’ to have Sonny (apparently a common theme in my life) we instead took two of the Devore Shepherds back to the center with us.
Sheba has been at the Good Newz Rehab Center ever since coming back to Virginia with us in January 2014. She is fairly feral (meaning, not tame); although she knows the doggie door, she goes to her crate to eat and for bed and naptime, and she makes good doggie friends. She usually attaches herself to one or two of the female staff, and will follow them around and even touch them with her nose and yip excitedly in greeting. She takes treats from most caretakers. She loves to run and play in the field with her friends, and she has (or had, while I was there at least) a good life at the center.
When the rescuer asked us to transfer Sheba to her rescue last December, I told her that I would have to check out her facility before saying yes. We were all very protective of Sheba.
It was only then that the truth came out: Sheba would be LIVING OUTSIDE!
Um. NO. NONONONONONONONO.
Why would a RESCUER have dogs living outside? Aren’t we supposed to set the example for others to live by? What kind of message do we deliver to those who mistreat their dogs by keeping our rescues outside? Do as I say, not as I do?
It’s really not OK.
If you’re going to tell me that your rescued dogs get fed daily and walked daily, ok, I get that; but those differences are too minimal to make your position defensible. Others need to be able to look at your operation and realize they too need to do better for their pets because you’re setting an amazing example.
Two months ago, since I was gone, this same rescuer came back to DDB asking to move Sheba into her rescue. Even though she knew DDB policy—and that no DDB dog should EVER go to a place where he/she would live outside—she asked again.
AND THE CURRENT DIRECTOR OF DOGS DESERVE BETTER SAID YES. BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO “MOVE SHEBA ALONG AND HAVE THAT SPACE FOR ANOTHER DOG.”
Yes? To allowing Sheba—who has lived inside at Dogs Deserve Better since January 2014—to go live OUTSIDE somewhere?
AGAINST DOGS DESERVE BETTER POLICY?
The staff went crazy. When word got to me, I immediately put in an application to adopt Sheba. My dog Sloan had passed away in May, and I was taking a break before bringing another dog into the home, because I knew ‘my’ dog would come along. I had lived with anywhere from 5-16 dogs at all times for the last 13 plus years.
Sheba is a special needs dog. I understand Sheba, and I’m fine with allowing Sheba to be exactly who she is, making progress at her own pace or even not at all. I have a doggie door and a fenced area, so she could go out whenever she pleased. I planned to spend a week expanding and escape-proofing my fence for her safety and happiness before picking her up, so she could have a larger area to explore and safely watch the wildlife in my 35-acre woods while we got reacquainted. I also planned to adopt a doggie companion for her once she got used to living here.
I understand Sheba, I love Sheba, I accept Sheba.
But I was turned down to adopt her, by the organization I founded and ran for 13 years.
Let’s get this straight:
- Dogs Deserve Better’s leadership wanted to adopt former OAS dog Sheba to an ‘outside home’ with little concern about what that actually meant for Sheba.
- Dogs Deserve Better’s leadership refused to adopt her to the founder who raised over $3,735,338.00 for Dogs Deserve Better’s mission to free chained dogs—and who ensured proper use of DDB funds by paying off the facility where they now warm the cockles of their asscheeks. This property was paid in full as a direct result of two bequests the organization received for her actions on behalf of a dying chained dog, and her refusal to return Doogie to his abusers, keeping him safe despite the consequences to her.
- Dogs Deserve Better’s leadership refused to adopt Sheba to the woman who fought for her rights and took an arrest in the struggle to free her and her companions from their Washington state hell…who drove almost 5000 miles to bring her to DDB…who promised her she would always be well-cared for and safe, no matter what.
This, my friends, was an embarrassing and self-serving power play on behalf of DDB leadership; no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Julie stuck to her guns, and refused to allow Sheba to be adopted to the outside rescue. When she stood her ground, stating that as facility manager she deserved a say in the matter, she was told in no uncertain terms to “Sit Down and SHUT UP.”
Julie walked out that day and received no apology. She lost her income and the job she loved because she stood for what was right.
No staff was authorized to speak to me after that, and Julie was threatened with a lawsuit. Julie was acting in a whistleblower capacity, as management was in clear violation of organizational policy. They have no standing or grounds to sue her for seeking to protect Sheba.
I told the Board of Directors in no uncertain terms that the current director should be immediately fired for the policy breach and obvious disregard for the mission of Dogs Deserve Better. Two of the board members agreed that Sheba should come to me without question, that it would be a great happy ending story for her, and put an end to the trauma this had caused the staff.
However, instead, leadership staged a coup of those who spoke out. Two NEW board members (seemingly illegally) were brought in without the knowledge of the board chair, Kenny Sayre, overthrowing him and eliminating the last person who would stand for truth and adherence to the DDB mission statement.
To my knowledge Sheba is still with Dogs Deserve Better, and after the bruhaha they did not follow through with sending her to the outside rescue. But I can’t say this 100%. It is my opinion that she is no longer safe there.
Julie lost the job she loved and excelled at because she took the appropriate stand for Sheba and the mission statement of Dogs Deserve Better. She has my utmost respect for doing so.
Sheba lost a home where she would be loved, welcomed, understood and accepted due to a power play which shows an astounding disrespect of the person who built DDB and provided a safe home for the organization and the dogs.
Sounds about right. And so, alas, I became persona non grata and hence my ‘Disinvitation’ to The Premiere of “Why Me.”
But I went anyway…because they don’t own the song, they don’t own the world, and they don’t own me.
The current board chair of DDB tried to shame me into silence when I told her via e-mail I planned to go public with these facts. She said “Surely I hear you wrong…surely the founder of Dogs Deserve Better wouldn’t harm her own organization.”
Here is my—very public—response to her shaming attempt:
- As you’ve made abundantly clear, Dogs Deserve Better is no longer ‘my’ organization. I will neither support your work nor endorse your work until and unless I see major changes in leadership. I am ashamed—not of my actions, not of Julie’s actions, and not of Kenny’s actions—but of the current leadership’s actions.
- You no more care for the mission of Dogs Deserve Better than the current director does as you failed to immediately fire her when she put one of our dogs in harm’s way and staged a coup to rid yourself of the one person who stood for what was right. I believe actions, not rhetoric, and I encourage others to do the same.
- Yippee Kay Ay, Motherfucker.
P. S. Ostensibly the song “Why Me?” was written in my honor—a story that has since changed in a bit of revisionist history. If you’d like to see the moving video of the first public performance of the song and my ‘goodbye’ tribute by then-DDB employees, check out this link.
P.S.S. To all those who supported the work I did for chained dogs and the actions I took on their behalf from 2002-2015, I give my heartfelt THANK YOUs, and an apology for what has since occurred at DDB. I would fix it if I could. Only YOU can decide whether you will still support DDB knowing these disturbing facts. As I assume there will be a denial campaign and further smear against myself as a result, I would suggest that you look at actions, not words. During my tenure with DDB, I took action that most folks could not or would not undertake on behalf of chained dogs. Actions matter. Words mean less than the screen they are typed on. I wish you all the best, and I love you for the support you gave to me. Thank you.