Accusations of selling a stolen puppy are threatening to damage the reputation of a well-respected animal shelter in southern California. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times posted a column about the dog, which has ignited intense debate on social media. It tells the story of Rosa Torres and her 4 year-old-son who live in Panorama City whose 8-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback named Raffiki went missing from their backyard on February 13. Torres says she has no idea how she escaped the fenced enclosure. The puppy was not wearing tags, nor was she micro-chipped or spayed.
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Torres put up fliers, contacted the East Valley Shelter, the nearest public shelter to her home, and posted on Craigslist and Facebook. A week later, she learned the dog was listed online for adoption at Karma Rescue, a non-profit, no kill shelter. Turns out the dog had been picked up by a stranger and driven to a public shelter about 10 miles away where Karma discovered her and took over her adoption process so she would avoid potential euthanasia. Great news? Well, it would have been, but here's where things got ugly.
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On February 21, Torres left a voicemail at Karma saying she was the dog's owner. Later that evening, she submitted an online application. "The application form says why do you want this particular dog. I said because she belongs to me," Torres told CBS Los Angeles. "I said we love her and we miss her and we want her back home with us." But, earlier that same evening, the puppy had already been adopted by another family-for a $300 fee. The Times column suggests that Karma rejected Torres's application because she is lower income and "from a not-so-great part of town." A former volunteer named Jessica Gary claims the rescue group did know Torres was looking for the dog but had made the decision not to alert her that is was in their care by because she was not spayed or micro-chipped. Some media outlets pounced on the story with headlines like, "Rescue Shelter Sell 4-Year-Olds Dog to Another, 'Better' Family," from Gawker and "Family's heartbreak after rescue shelter finds 4 year olds beloved lost dog and SELLS her to a 'better' home after refusing to return her to her original owners" from the Daily Mail. A change.org petition demanding that the puppy be returned to the Torres and her son has over 800 signatures and Karma Rescue is getting slammed by some on Yelp.
"She's not a dog for us. She's not just a pet. She's a family member. She's my daughter. She's my son's best friend," Torres said. Adding, "How do I explain it to my son, you know? 'I'm sorry, but a rescue doesn't want to help us get your dog back.'" It's incredibly heart wrenching for the Torres family, but the reality is Karma Rescue doesn't have the power to give the dog back once its been adopted. The Times also acknowledged that contrary to being some shady dognapping front (as some have accused online), they have, "a good reputation in the city's animal world," and added, "The nonprofit pulls pit bulls from high-kill shelters and has found homes for hundreds of dogs that would have been euthanized." Some Yelpers who have worked with Karma, are praising the organization and their rescue mission.
In response to the public vitriol about the puppy, the organization issued a press release detailing the timeline of the adoption. They also explained that the $300 fee is a donation toward the shelter's operation costs and is waived in situations of financial need. According to Karma, the puppy was adopted at 6:03 PM on February 21 and they received Torres's application at 6:54 PM. They say they contacted the new owners to explain the situation the following day. At this point, it appears the new owners, for whatever their reason, are keeping the dog.
It's a complicated situation with multiple agendas. At this point, the contested details are would be better sorted out in judicial court-rather than the court of public opinion-and that's exactly where Torres and her lawyer now say they are going.
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