Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bad Karma

From everything I have heard and know about Karma Rescue in Los Angeles, it is a great rescue and does a lot of good. So when I heard about their behavior recently with regard to a lost dog named Raffiki who ended up in their care and whom they refused to return to her rightful guardians, I was not only extremely upset for Raffiki and her family, but disappointed that an otherwise great rescue would show such a terrible lack of judgement, and a propensity to elitism.

The story:

Several weeks ago, Rosa Torres’s dog Raffiki got out of her back yard and got lost. Ms. Torres did all the right things to try to get Raffiki back: flyers in the neighborhood, Craigslist, Facebook, and searching the East Valley pound, which is the one closest to her Panorama City neighborhood. As it turns out, Raffiki was taken to the pound, but not the East Valley location, rather she was taken to the West Valley location, miles away.

While Ms. Torres searched, Raffiki was pulled from the West Valley pound by Karma Rescue and put up on their web page as adoptable. In her search, Ms. Torres saw Raffiki on the Karma website and immediately called and left a message on the group’s voicemail. But no one at Karma bothered to return her call. So in desperation, she put in an adoption application for Raffiki, now called Kami by Karma. But according to Karma, Ms. Torres’s application–to adopt her own dog–"did not meet the qualifications that Karma looks for when adopting a dog to a home." Raffiki was quickly adopted out to another family. All this happened within one week.

Raffiki was a family member who was ripped from her loving family, including Torres’s four-year-old son, and placed with strangers. Ms. Torres told the L.A. Times that her son "cries whenever he looks at [Raffiki’s] picture" and that he keeps asking when Raffiki is coming home.

Karma states that they had "spoken with" the adopters, "to apprise them of the situation," which means nothing. In light of their statement that Ms. Torres wasn’t qualified to adopt from them, I’m sure they didn’t recommend that the new adopters give Raffiki back to her real family. In fact, I would guess that they actually did the opposite and advised the adopters not to give Raffiki back.

Karma’s attorney, Susan Willis, is quoted in the L. A. Times as saying about Rosa Torres, "had she been a little more diligent, we would have spoken with her." This is pure nonsense. Ms. Torres called Karma as soon as she knew Raffiki was with them. I would like to challenge who was and was not being diligent here.

Some people have stated that Karma is within their legal rights in everything they have done, and they are correct. But although Karma acted legally, they did not act ethically to do whatever they could to get the family reunited. After Raffiki was adopted to her new family, she legally belonged to them, and so the adopters are also acting within their legal rights. But again, knowing now that Raffiki has a family who loves her, including a broken-hearted four year old boy, the ethical thing for the family to do would be to give her back to them. Just because all parties are acting within their legal rights does not mean they are doing the right thing. And here’s a thought: What if the new adoptive family should realize that Raffiki should be reunited with her real family? I don’t know about Karma’s adoption agreement, but it is standard procedure for rescues to require that, should adopters for any reason want to give up their animal, they return him or her to the rescue. So, if the new adopters DO decide to give Raffiki back, Karma would have to agree. Would they agree? I have contacted Karma and asked them this very question, but have yet to hear back from them. I’m not holding my breath.

A press release from Karma states that they acted "in the best interests of the dog." So, they really feel that Raffiki’s best interests are to be torn from the family she loves and placed with strangers? Really???

It has been said in defense of not giving Raffiki back that she wasn’t spayed or microchipped, had no identification tags, and got out of her yard. Therefore, they conclude that this means her family was "irresponsible" and not worthy to get her back. This self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude is prevalent among rescuers, and needs to stop.

If a dog is being mistreated, I’m all for doing whatever it takes to get him or her out of the abusive situation. Otherwise, the fact that someone doesn’t do exactly the things you think they should do is none of your business. Period.

Raffiki was just the opposite of abused. She was well-loved and well-taken care of. But because she wasn’t spayed, chipped, or wearing any tags, and her family lives in a relatively low-income part of town, and she got out and got lost, according to Karma Rescue, and sadly, a number of others in the rescue community, this means her family was "irresponsible" and not worthy to have her, and was justification not to give her back. What makes these people arbiters of what a "good" home is? What gives them the right to decide who does and does not deserve a dog, doesn't deserve their own dog? What gives them the right to, in essence, steal a family’s dog? It is this behavior that is irresponsible, not Raffiki’s family’s.

Jessica Gary, a former Karma volunteer, has resigned over this incident, after attempting to get Karma to do the right thing and give Raffiki back to her real family. According to Ms. Gary , she saw posts on Facebook that Raffiki’s family was looking for her, and she called someone at Karma to discuss the situation, but was told "the dog wasn’t spayed or microchipped. She’s not getting her dog back." That was hours before they adopted Raffiki out to someone else, who, according to Ms. Gary, already had a dog who was not neutered. This refutes what Karma is alleging.

Aside from the sadness of the story as it pertains to Raffiki and her family emotionally, returning a dog or cat to his or her guardian is one important thing we can do as part of a program to stop the killing in pounds . Raffiki already has a home, and another family wanted to adopt a dog–an opening for another dog who could have been saved.

I certainly hope that both the adoptive family and Karma Rescue will come to see what’s right and let Raffiki return to her real family.

And I hope, for the larger picture, that rescues with unreasonably tough standards for who should and shouldn’t have a pet will realize that they are hurting, not helping the situation for animals. While they turn down loving homes, animals are being killed by the thousands in "shelters" every day.

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