Dog Adoption Battle

Whose Puppy Is This? Dog Caught In Ugly Adoption Battle

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The reputation of a well-respected Southern California animal shelter is on the line after it was accused of selling a stolen puppy.

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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; her 4-year-old son, Daniel; and their 8-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback named Raffiki, who went missing from their backyard on February 13. Torres says she has no idea how the dog escaped her fenced enclosure. The puppy was not wearing tags, nor was she micro-chipped or spayed.

Torres, who Yahoo Shine was unable to reach for comment, put up fliers, contacted the East Valley Shelter, the nearest public shelter to her home in Panarama City, 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 found her and took over her adoption process so she would avoid potential euthanasia. Great news, right? Well, it would have been, but here's where things get ugly.

On February 21, Torres left a voicemail at Karma saying she was the dog's owner. Later that evening, she submitted an online application (for Kami, Raffiki's temporary rescue name). "The application form says 'Why do you want this particular dog?' I said, 'Because she belongs to me,'" Torres told the newspaper. "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 Los Angeles Times columnist 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 contact her because the dog was not spayed or micro-chipped. Some media outlets pounced on the story with headlines like Gawker's "Rescue Shelter Sells 4-Year-Olds Dog to Another, 'Better' Family," and "Family's heartbreak after rescue shelter finds 4-year-old's 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 family has over 1,100 signatures.

"She's not just a pet. She's a family member. She's my daughter. She's my son's best friend," Torres told CBS Los Angeles, 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 it has 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."

In response to the public vitriol about the puppy, the organization issued a press release detailing the timeline of the adoption. It 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 p.m. on February 21 and they received Torres's application at 6:54 p.m. Karm says that staffers contacted the new owners to explain the situation the following day. It appears that the new owners, for whatever their reason, want to keep the dog.

It's a complicated and painful situation with multiple agendas and nasty allegations. At this point, the contested details would perhaps be better sorted out in a court of law — rather than the court of public opinion — and that's exactly where Torres and her lawyer now say they are going.

— Sarah B. Weir

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