Spindletop Refuge, the nation's largest and one of the oldest pit bull rescues in the nation was raided on July 17, 2012 in response to allegations that 38 dogs had suffocated to death when a building housing them lost power in sweltering heat. Two nanoseconds after the story was published on the internet, roughly 36,000 rescue angels simultaneously typed, "Oh the poor precious babies!" And ten minutes after that the first Facebook community victim page was created with a name that, with infallible nutter predictability, placed the blame in the wrong place. The facebook group page is called Victims of Spindletop Raid.
The raid, of course, did not victimize but saved the pit bulls and lesser dogs from their miserable living conditions. It was Leah Purcell, owner of Spindletop Refuge in Willis, TX, all of pit bull advocacy, all of no kill advocacy and all their collective blind eyes that victimized over 300 dogs, most of them pit bulls.
Montgomery and Harris county law enforcement and the HSUS removed all of the surviving dogs to safety at an undisclosed location (which the Victims of Spindletop Raid facebook page has repeatedly disclosed).
They reportedly found 298 animals, most of which had been kept in cruel conditions. Purcell had a small number of actual dog kennels, but most dogs were warehoused in stacked crates fouled with urine and feces inside sheds. After announcing the raid and announcing that the Mongomery county Constable Tim Holifield was the point man, supported by multiple county agents, the HSUS and Animal Farm Foundation, people immediately began clamoring for their dogs back. The situation will probably sound unfamiliar to owners and rescuers of normal dogs. The persistent question has been, if these dogs have owners, why were they at Spindletop?
Though none of this is explained on her website, by reading the comments one can discover the procedure for getting a dog into Spindletop. Instead of relinquishing ownership of dogs to Spindletop refuge, owners and rescues paid $750 or more per dog for 3 months board, retaining ownership. This included medical care and "rechipping" the dog. In that time, Purcell was supposed to be rehabilitating and training the dogs which often came to her with aggressive behavior problems because of her "stellar reputation" as a rescuer, magical rehabilitator and trainer. After three months, one could choose to retrieve the dog, relinquish ownership so Purcell could adopt it out (board-to-rescue plan), or continue to pay board and retain ownership of the dog.
Many if not most of her dogs were sent to her by a shelter or rescue that raised the $750 fee in order to sent an unadoptable, often dog aggressive dog to Purcell. I've seen two people active on the facebook page that were actually boarding their own dogs at Spindletop, and one person who paid to have her own dog trained for three months.
This odd, and paperless, arrangement (Purcell didn't keep any kind of records, evidently) left Montgomery county with a huge mess. With dozens of owners and rescues clamoring for their dogs back, Montgomery county asked people to provide proof of ownership and photos to ID the dog, so that at Purcell's hearing people could begin to get "their" dogs back.
Before one single dog had been returned, owner/rescuer/fosters were already issuing pleas to others on the Victims of Spindletop Raid page to help find a home for "their" dog; "I can't keep it because I have other dogs," they cried. Many people mention that they left a foster dog or a rescue dog with Leah because the dog was dog-aggressive and they either could not keep it or, as a rescue, could not find a someone to adopt it.
|The righteously defiant "rescuers" who dumped dogs at Spindletop and then wanted them back|
A saintly, pit lovin', no kill believin' foster fur mommy nursed Justice back to health and he looked like this:
And that foster fur mommy, who had passed the buck on Justice, desperately wanted the poor precious dog-aggressive baby Justice back.
Everyone on the Victims of Spindletop Raid facebook page was tormented with guilt and found the wait to see if the dog they'd passed off on Purcell was still alive "excruciating." They loved their perfect sweetheart lovebugs, but they couldn't keep or adopt them out because they attack other dogs:
There are sobs of grief and remorse as these rescue angels, who couldn't keep a dog-aggressive dog themselves, or find a home that wanted a dog aggressive dog, smack headlong into reality: there is no magic land where dog-aggressive dogs can live out their natural lives in peace and tranquility.
Nevertheless, rescuing dog-aggressive dogs is Purcell's specialty. In fact, Purcell can be said to have lain the groundwork for adopting fight bust dogs into child and pet filled homes and communities all over the country. She garnered a good deal of attention when she adopted a fight bust dog named Big Boy that had just killed a puppy when the police burst in. Back in 1999 animal controls and shelters all felt that it was safer for the community to put down pit bulls in general and fight bust dogs in particular. Thanks to pioneers like Purcell, the Pittsburgh assistant "doggy DA" Deb Jugan, who hoped to prove fighting dogs can be rehabilitated, and reporter Linda Wilson Fuoco, who kept giving Purcell publicity and plugs, adopting out a dog that wanted to kill other dogs began to seem normal. By the time Michael Vick was busted for dogfighting in 2007, rescuers were primed to convince the public that fight bust dogs could make dandy pets. And today, because of Purcell and friends' efforts, we and our pets all stand a much better chance of having a fighting dog move in next door to us.
Purcell's specialty, "rehabilitating" dog-aggressive dogs, made her a superstar in the pit rescue community. However, this episode shines a light on the fact that it is impossible to provide a "sanctuary" to house aggressive dogs for the majority of their natural lives....ten years plus. It is not financially feasible, and not practical. You have finite constraints with space and supplies, and to do it humanely costs a fortune. These are not livestock you can turn out to graze all day in a pasture, dogs need attention, excersize, and human interaction every day. Because there is a glut of unwanted pit bulls that have no homes, and the pit bull community won't accept restrictions on breeders, they have to convince themselves another solution exists.....the proverbial "farm in the country" fantasy. These dogs can't be housed or exercised communally, so its a nightmare...they are just warehoused in cages. Its cruel and inhumane, but pit advocates don't want to know or don't care. While they rail against the evil Leah Purcell, they refuse to admit that this practice of do-gooders to remove a seriously ill and weak pit bull from a kill shelter, nurse it back to full vigor, discover the pit is aggressive and shunt it off to a "sanctuary" cannot work.
Here is a glimpse into the fate of another pit bull named Texas who was improperly transfered out of a kill shelter to a rescue to save him from being euthanized which promptly turned around and sent him off to Spindletop. Now he is back at the kill shelter because AFF and HSUS, inundated with unadoptable third and fourth hand pit bulls, wants every dog with a known owner to haul them off. Acrimony and recrimination bounce around like superballs in the facebook pages.
To put all this time and money spent on unadoptable pit bulls in perspective, think about the accepted estimate of one million pit bulls killed each year. That's 2,739 pit bulls killed every day. 114 killed every hour. Two pit bull are killed every single minute of every single day in the US. And many of those dogs are healthy and not known to be aggressive. From the first time Justice was rescued in March 2010 until the time that he was re-re-re-rescued in July 2012, about 2,246,575 pit bulls had been euthanized. The rescue angel has vowed to build cage for him, so that she can keep him herself.
|I will have to fundraise to build him a play yard (fencing) on my acreage because he does not do well with many dogs.|
The lawyer defending her now, Zandra Anderson, has been with Purcell as a friend, client and as a lawyer since her breeding days. Anderson bills herself as the Texas Dog Lawyer, but she is a breeder lobbyist and has successfully quashed legislation that would have protected dogs from puppy mill breeders. Anderson also founded the Texas Dog Commission to support anti-BSL lobbyists and her organization spearheaded opposition to BSL proposed in the wake of the death of Justin Clinton.
Several comments from purported long-time friends and associates describe Purcell's journey from breeder to rescuer to breeder to abuser. Some say that they noticed things going amiss at Spindletop in the early 2000's. One friend describes how she discovered, almost a decade ago, that Purcell warehoused pit bulls in crates when she was called to help move some dogs after a fire broke out at Spindletop while Purcell was away:
(note: this person is describing the first, much smaller Spindletop property in Houston)
Some people knew what was going on, said little and did not report her. Other people claim to not have known and to have been fooled by Leah's glamorous and powerful bearing.
She seemed to be asking for a lot of money to take these dogs, a minimum of $750 for three months, and if she were taking in $250 a month for each dog plus receiving donations from breeders groups and other private funders, she would have been raking in money. But most of these "owners" were rescues pawning off unadoptable, aggressive pit bulls using that arrangement called "board to rescue" for which she required a one-time $750 dollar fee. If she had been able to adopt out all these dogs within 3 months, that might have been lucrative, however, it turns out, not even Purcell could reliably adopt out these dog-aggessive dogs. Several people reported discovering that a dog they had been told had been adopted, sometimes many years previous, was still at Spindletop when it was raided. These rescuers were told pretty little lies with details about the happy family the dog was adopted to, even when the dog hadn't been adopted at all.
This one-eyed dog had supposedly been adopted:
So, taking in a pit bull with behavior problems from a rescue for a $750 fee kept Spindletop going another day, but then she had another unadoptable dog to then feed and warehouse.
There's no doubt she's a grifter, warehousing dogs in crates, spending money to make the front of the property look nice, using hurricanes and floods as fundraising tools, and latching on to high profile dogs that helped her promote herself, but she didn't seem to be very good at math either. Who knows, maybe it will come out later that she's sitting on a pile of cash somewhere, but right now it looks like she's been in this for personal glory.
She was the magical rehabilitator. And with no care or concern for the dogs' welfare she did everything she could to make it look and seem as if she were indeed magical. People idolized her because she was always there to take a problematic dog off a desperate rescuer's hands and lie to them to preserve the fairy tale that there are homes and communities that will embrace dog aggressive monsters and let them snuggle on comfy blankies on soft beds, well-fed, preserving peace and tranquility for the maulers until the maulers die of old age.
After this horrific scam has been revealed, have these rescuers learned the essential lesson from this? Nope. Still blaming the wrong thing. The rescue angels are still wondering what went wrong and how the queen of all rescue angels could turn into an evil abuser. They have not figured out that things were never right, but people so wanted to believe Purcell's fairy tale they were willing to turn a blind eye to reality.
For a real laugh, you can follow rescuer Cindy Marabito (she of the Big Ladder Lie) in her allegiances. Just a few months ago, she was helping Purcell plead for money after Spindletop was flooded. Later this year, Marabito placed some dogs with Purcell. Now that Purcell's villainy has been exposed, Marabito has placed her faith in yet another enormous Texas dog sanctuary, Dogtown in Elgin, TX, and the dentally challenged founder, Angela Sera. Dogtown took some of the Spindletop dogs, probably Marabito's cast offs. However, Dogtown itself is now involved in a really stupid debacle itself.
A very ugly pit bull was transported from California to Texas to get training to be a therapy dog. The therapy dog got startled and chewed through not one, but two, welded wire fences, and escaped. He was brought back to the sanctuary, but Sera, exhausted and confused by the anxiety and fatigue of searching for the ugly pit bull for several days, allowed some guy who was unknown to her to take the dog because the unknown guy said the pit bull needed veterinary care. However, the unknown guy was really a thief hired to return the ugly pit bull back to California...
This is going to go well.
In this morass of slow kill rescue angel madness, I found one light. Someone posted a link to this blog post from a renegade, rational and humane no kill proponent, notesfromadogwalker:
I believe that the most loving thing we can do for animals is to stand with them until the very end. Sometimes the end is providing excellent life-time management, sometimes it’s rehoming them, sometimes it’s finding a good shelter or rescue that has a committed staff or volunteers, but sometimes the end is death. Putting them to sleep, in your arms, can be the greatest act of love you give to your pet. You are giving them an end with dignity. We need to consider this as part of our responsibility to our pets.
If you are a rescuer: saving an animal doesn’t end at pulling them off the euthanasia list or picking them off the street. If you cannot commit to the process of housing, managing, adopting out, and providing owner support to the pet that you are “rescuing”, then you need to examine what it means to “save” an animal. The glory of pulling a dog from the “to be killed” list isn’t the end zone. The real success comes when the pet is in a home that you or your group is providing ongoing support for. If you can’t do that, do not point fingers that no one will help you. You committed to caring for this animal, once you saved it, so the animal is now your responsibility. See it through, even if in the end, there is no glory.
The Animal Orphanage Volunteers return from a long journey
accompanying maudlin video of joyous return of defective pit bulls (start watching at about 3:00 to see one handler attempts to pet another dog while keeping the 2 obviously dog aggressive dogs apart)