By Kellie Stevens
"There's a new group of watchdogs on the scene fighting animal cruelty, and they call themselves The Pet Rescue Squad!
Started just under a year ago in June of 2015, Pet Rescue Squad Inc. is a nationwide animal cruelty intervention organization (say that 10 times fast!) that has already helped save the lives of over 200 dogs, 17 cats, 7 rabbits, 2 goats, and 2 turtles. PRS is an all-volunteer, grant-funded nonprofit organization that provides a number of resources to people using sites like Craigslist to try and find homes for their pets.
BarkPost spoke with Gillian Rogers, the brainchild or Pet Rescue Squad, on just how this group started. She told us: "It started with seeing a re-post from a rescue friend on Facebook for a Senior Dachshund that just reeked of being stolen for flipping (buying or stealing a dog in order to sell and turn a profit without caring who takes the dog), so I said 'Hell no, not on my watch!' and looked into it. I called the 'owner' from the ad and ended up buying the dog myself so that I could find him a home. Then I contacted the original Facebook poster, Jay Frederick (who had been cross-posting for rescues for years and very effective), so that I could tell him the story. I had the idea to start a page specifically for cases like this, and Jay agreed to come on board."
Gillian Rogers with her senior Dachshund Bunny and Jay Frederick with rescue Izzy.
In addition to buying the dog that she suspected had been stolen, Rogers also tried locating the original owner by tracking his microchip but it had not been updated with the owner's new address. She searched the area for people missing Dachshunds and even tried finding the owner by name, but to no avail.
She ended up working with three different rescues (Sophia's Grace Dachshund Rescue, PetResQ, and Connecticut Dachshund Rescue) to find the little guy a safe home. He is now named Gino and living with a wonderful woman named Anne Hudson - a happy ending to a story that could have ended up much worse.
Gino the Craigslist ad on the left, and now living a safe and happy life on the right.
The origin story will give you an idea of what the Pet Rescue Squad does, but it's really just the beginning to the incredible difference these rescuers are making. The need for online enforcement and policing sites like Craigslist and online sales groups has become imperative, and unfortunately rescue groups don't have the time to do this in conjunction with all the work they're doing as well. The Pet Rescue Squad has stepped up to be this "middle man."
In fact, this need was so strong that Pet Rescue Squad had to divide the work up among three other pages. A significant amount of people were liking the Facebook page and asking how they could get involved, so Gillian and her team decided to create more specific pages to organize tasks. Imagine, the need for animal cruelty intervention is so great that it takes four pages just to start tracking these people down!
Pet Rescue Squad volunteers search Craigslist and other online forums across the country to find people looking to give away family pets, and contact them to help re-home or retain the pet as well as educate them on the ways this can go terribly wrong for the animals. There are a lot of people out there (such as flippers) looking to take a dog for no to low cost and sell it for a large profit. There are also people looking for dogs to breed and worse, people looking for dogs to use as bait in training fighting dogs, for bestiality, or even as target practice.
An example of one of the educational flyers that has made a difference from Pet Rescue Squad.
PRS also works to track down puppy mills, backyard breeding, and dog fighting rings so that they can report them to law enforcement and the IRS respectively. This includes rescuing pets that need help and reporting the sales of underage pets. As you can see, there is a lot to be done.
Craigslist Watchdogs volunteers search for people selling puppies on Craigslist (which is actually against Craigslist policy but not enforced by them - only consumers enforce these rules), people in search of/offering stud services, exotics, and those running scams, flagging the ads to come down.
Puppy Mill Watchdogs disseminate a range of educational information. They inform voters of both pro- and anti-animal welfare politicians, alert consumers that the AKC is a registry and does not necessarily guarantee the health and breeding of a dog, and that there are big name animal organizations that block animal welfare lobbying for their own financial interests.
Pet Store Watchdogs work to educate people on how frequently pet stores use puppy mills to stock their stores with those cute little puppies you see in the windows, and spread the word that you can find those same cute little puppies in shelters and rescue organizations. They also stage pet store protests countrywide and distribute educational information as to why pets should not be bought from stores.
The amount of people who aren't aware of the ways in which animals are obtained and tormented is astonishing, and Pet Rescue Squad and their subsidiaries are working through every channel that they can to educate people as well as prevent and end abuse. "there's a really seedy underbelly that people aren't fully aware of," Rogers told us. Spay/Neuter education and low-cost resources are also very significant tools in preventing unwanted litters of puppies.
Perhaps most important of all, PRS is helping people find suitable homes for their pets by working with rescues all across the country. They even have a page called the League of Lost and Found Pets to reconnect lost pets with their owners.
Gillian had endless stories to tell of dogs that were looking for new homes that are now in rescue or have been adopted after finding themselves on Craigslist and other online forums.
Dexter is a senior 13-14-year-old Coonhound mix that had lived outside his whole life in Alabama and was given up due to the family moving. He was transported across the country, has had a benign tumor removed, and is now being treated for heart worm disease at the Senior Dog Sanctuary of Maryland. He is currently in a program where he is being read to by children and loving it! Even better news is that he received lots of interest through the Pet Rescue Squad page, and once he has finished treatment for his heart worms he will be adopted and live out the rest of his days with PRS follower Jill Steeley.
Dexter (left) being read to by a young child at his rescue shelter (right)
Another senior pup saved is Rosie the Tripod Schnauzer who needed cataract surgery and is now in foster care through One Love Rescue. Due to age and being special needs, she would be considered a hard dog to re-home without the aid of rescue. She is now in a loving foster to adopt home, getting ready for her cataract surgery, and being pampered and taken care of like any princess deserves.
Rosie the Tripod Schnauzer getting lots of love
Sonji the German Shepherd was being given up because she had some behavioral issues. She was taken in by Throw Away Dog project and found to have a real talent with her nose. She was a dog who lacked direction, but not that she's being given a purpose, is thriving in K-9 school learning to be a Narcotics Dual Purpose K-9 for law enforcement.
Another wonderful story which is last but certainly not least, is of a 6-month-old Pit Bull-type dog named Jaxie who was also a Craigslist surrender. She found foster with a woman named Colleen through Leader of the Resue Pack, and worked with Devoted to K-9s' trainer Nate Bonilla (who suspected that she had been bred for fighting). Jaxie, now known as Josie, has since been adopted and is doing well in her new forever home - with a baby even! (Another shining example of the resilience and love from the Pit Bull-type dogs.)
Josie (formerly Jaxie) during transport (left), and now in her forever home
Something we come upon often in rescue is the judgement that is passed on people who find the need to give up their pets. Pet Rescue Squad refuses to participate in judging these people, stating: "Judgement doesn't serve our purpose. A lot of people feel really bad about having to give up their pets, and we don't know what they're going through unless we are walking in their shoes. Instead, we treat them with kindness and understanding. It's not about us - it's about saving the pets."
Gillian Rogers told BarkPost that the number one reason people often have to give up their pets is because they are moving and can't afford to transport the pet, or because of housing and landlord issues.
"We can tell that a lot of these people don't really want to give up their pets, so we try to find a way to help them. The first question we always ask is 'Why?' and then we try to find a solution."
One of these instances was a woman named Leticia, who was moving from New York to South Carolina and couldn't afford to get her Pit Bull-type mix Roxie down there. Rogers asked if she could afford to keep her dog if they set up transport, and when she answered that she could, Pet Rescue Squad worked to get Roxie to South Carolina at no cost to Leticia. They are now living together happily!
Leticia with her Bully mix Roxie
Another story of Pet Rescue Squad helping someone keep their pet was Whitney and his Rottweiler Keeno. Gillian saw that he was giving up his beautiful purebred Rottweiler on New York Craigslist, so she contacted him and asked why. He told her that he had to relocate because of a family situation but that when he moved into his new place (where the lease stipulated that tenants were allowed to have dogs), the landlord told him that Rottweilers weren't allowed.
She could tell that Whitney was in a lot of distress over having to give up Keeno, so she asked him if he had any access to a mental health care practitioner. Whitney answered that yes, he did have access because he was a veteran, and they ended up being able to get Keeno certified as an emotional support dog so that he could keep his beloved dog. Another happy ending for someone who thought they had no option other than to give their dog away, and another example of why we can't judge a person's reason for giving their pet up when we don't know what the situation is.
Keeno the Rottweiler, looking so proud to be his dad's emotional support dog
Rogers told BarkPost: "Our goal is to offer to re-home pets and provide a safe alternative to putting them online. We get our pets by referral, searching, and intervening when we see abuse happening. The pages help to spread the word and educate people about the abuse that goes on so that they understand there are people out there who target these sites to find animals to hurt. As often as we can, we work to help people find a way to keep their pets, and if that's not an option, we help their pets find a safe home."
Gillian herself is a big supporter of law enforcement. She took a Citizen's Police Academy Course to help her understand even more the way the laws work. Rogers works full-time as a health and fitness strength coach and massage therapist, and she ran a health and fitness initiative with the NYPD. Through this program, she was able to make connections with law enforcement that now aid her in the process of reporting cruelty and bringing animal abusers to justice.
Gillian Rogers (second from right) graduating her Citizen's Police Academy Course.
Pet Rescue Squad is in the process of filing for their 501C-4 non-profit license, which differs from the 501C-3 in some very important ways. Because the 501C-3 takes tax-free donations there are a lot of politics that play into those organizations. Therefore, organizations cannot have any political bias nor can they attempt to sway any votes.
That doesn't work for Gillian and her mission because she wants to lobby for stronger laws and penalties against animal cruelty, and that means getting the proper politicians in office. "Animal lovers vote, and they need to know who is pro or anti-animal rights," she told us. With a 501C-4, they may not be able to take tax-free donations (which won't be an issue since they aren't a fundraising organization), but they will be able to speak freely on who will best help to get these animal advocacy laws passed.
While still a fairly new operation, Pet Rescue Squad already has an active team of about 10 members with many more supporters online, aiding in flagging ads, spreading the word, and working with transporting animals to rescues and homes.
Gillian Rogers runs strategy while Jay Frederick is rescue coordinator. Cliff Bethke is the transport coordinator (a transport can take up to 10 people at a time depending on the distance). Kelly Griffith Inal helps run the Craigslist Watchdogs page, while others still work with Puppy Mill and Pet Store Watchdogs. There are volunteers that organize and keep lists and data, trainers who take phone calls about behavioral issues or volunteer time if they are close enough, fosters who take care of animals while they transition from home to rescue, and drivers who help with transport.
But they need our help! "If everyone does a little, it adds up to a lot," Rogers tells BarkPost. Pet Rescue Squad is here not just to help save animals and educate, but also to empower others to take action as well. We asked if there are any states where this cruelty happens more commonly, and the answer was "The South." States like the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, and Florida have been seeing the worst of this. "It's a black hole that feels endless," Gillian says.
No matter what state you live in there is something you can do. Pet Rescue Squad is looking for rescuers, rescue organizations, researchers, networkers, fosters, transporters, public relations, videographers, trainers... the list is limitless! Gillian tells us that each page brings in a different group of supporters, so you'll surely find a place that's a good fit. Volunteers are frequently able to see the difference they make with a shorter turnaround than rescue alone (particularly with the flagging and removal of ads), and share a unique sense of humor to offset the emotionally difficult work that they do.
The kind of humor that Craigslist Watchdogs uses to help stop backyard breeding
Remember, you can make a difference - and Pet Rescue Squad can help you get started so reach out today! Be the voice for the voiceless.
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