Sunday, August 29, 2010
This summer we decided to foster dogs and were quickly drawn to Midwest Animal Rescue (MARS) located in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Most of their dogs are rescued from high-kill shelters in the south. We went through the application process and began fostering. We were so excited! However, our experience quickly turned from something exciting to something terrible.
When we went to pick up Burke, our first dog, the atmosphere was one of chaos. While this might have been somewhat expected since they were getting 50 dogs in that weekend, it was really out of control that night. It took quite awhile for anyone to acknowledge us and when they did, they handed Burke over to us without any explanation or checking to see if we had any questions. I made the comment that night that it was good we were familiar with dogs because it would be weird to just be handed a random dog and pushed out the door if we didn’t already have canine experience.
We quickly fell in love with Burke! He was a nice, mellow dog who adjusted quickly. Kristin sent many pictures and updates to the woman we had been working with. A week or so later, his rep contacted us upset that she hadn’t received any updates. Apparently the updates had not reached her. No one had told us where to send the updates, but apparently it was our fault for not figuring it out.
When a family showed interest in adopting Burke, we took him in for his meet and greet. When the woman said she wanted to take him home they started going through what he still needed as far as shots and his neuter appointment. They told her that we hadn’t brought him in for his appointments for shots, so those would need to be restarted. No one had ever told us he had appointments, but it still seemed to come down to negligence on our part for some reason.
When we first got Burke his ear was red, inflamed, and warm to the touch. We called MARS who told us it was probably just dirty and we should buy some ear wash and clean it, which we did. When we took him to the groomers a week later she said he had an ear infection and should have it looked at. We called MARS again but they refused to let us take him to a vet or have their vet look at him. When we took him in for his first meet and greet, one of staff/volunteers looked at his ear and said it was not infected. She was furious that we kept saying that it was (she, by the way was not a vet or vet tech). She must have somehow missed the pus coming out of his ear. Anyway, he went home with the family.
That adoption didn’t work out (the other dog in the house didn’t like having another dog in the house), so the girl returned him. Kristin went to pick him up, as we had agreed to foster him again. The girl was entitled to half of her $400 adoption fee back. She said she would just like to donate the entire fee to MARS because she felt so bad that it hadn’t worked out. The staff at MARS didn’t even thank her for the donation, simply shuffled the girl out the door and sent Kristin and Burke on their way (with a dirty, disgusting crate).
When we took Burke in for a meet and greet with a second family, Kristin mentioned that Burke needed to be watched especially close right now because he was teething and chewing on everything. She mentioned he had chewed on a friend’s window sill, for example. One of the MARS reps gave Kristin a “don’t tell them that!” look. Apparently getting Burke adopted was more important than warning the family of issues that may arise (Update 10/19: Burke was adopted by that family and aside from a ruptured ear drum (from the ear that was definitely NOT infected), seems to be doing well!).
While the whole MARS organization seemed wildly disorganized, we decided to foster again because we really had loved Burke and hoped we could help another dog. We got Turk a few days later (see previous entry for how that worked out) and the craziness continued. For example, anything negative we put in his updates that might be important for a potential family to know was removed before they were posted online. When we were talking to them about what breed Burke may be they told us they don’t ever know (which is true of all shelters/rescues), but they try to pick something that lots of people like. One staff member told us that a dog had been in a foster home for awhile. They were trying to figure out how to get him adopted and decided to change his breed to a golden retriever even though he was obviously not one in order to get more people to consider him.
After our experience with Turk, the loss of Sabrina (see previous entry), the overall disorganization of MARS, and the seeming lack of resources to take care of all the dogs they are trying to rescue, we have decided not to foster or adopt through them. While we loved the dogs and felt like we were helping a worthwhile cause, we just decided it’s not worth being made to feel like we are doing everything wrong and blamed for any issues instead of being appreciated for helping their organization.
For those out there who are looking for a new pet, I would highly suggest skipping over this group. Their adoption fees are high, they don’t seem to care about the animals’ health, completing adoptions seems more important than telling the truth to potential families, and they are difficult to work with.
This past Wednesday, Turk got out. Before I get into that, let me say that when we went to pick Turk up to foster him, we had fallen in love with another dog, Sabrina. We had applied to adopt her and were approved to pick her up on Saturday. More on that later.
So Kristin let Turk out into the yard so she could apply Ellie’s ear medication. At that point we had had Turk for 11 days, and he had never once tried to jump the fence or leave the yard. Several Midwest Animal Rescue (MARS) staff members had told us that while animals could never be unleashed in an unfenced area, it was fine to leave them unsupervised for short periods of time in a fenced yard after several days of close monitoring to assure the animal would not leave.
So Kristin let him out. Five minutes later she went out, and he was gone. While it remains unclear as to how this happened, the general consensus is that someone most likely opened the gate to the fence in our backyard, removed his collar, and sent him on his way.
We notified MARS and searched around the neighborhood in the car. An hour and a half later we heard from Animal Control who had captured him. Turk was found running around the Capitol. When they attempted to catch him, he ran in and out of traffic, nearly getting hit by cars several times. The Animal Control officer said that Turk was lucky to be alive. They also told us that he could be picked up, but that there would be a charge of $11 to license him in the city of Saint Paul as well as a fee of $109 for additional penalties and fees. The officer explained that all dogs, including foster dogs, needed to be licensed in the city of Saint Paul.
Kristin called the MARS office to make sure they were aware that Turk had been found and to ask about whose responsibility it was to pay the fines. She was informed that it would be our responsibility to pay the fines since Turk had been in our care. Kristin said that we would pay the fines but that perhaps we should talk about finding him a different placement since we were worried he might escape again and didn’t want to pay the fine again. A different woman came on the phone and reiterated that we would be responsible for paying the fine since Turk was our responsibility. Kristin told her that we understood we would need to pay the fine but needed to look at finding Turk a new placement in the coming few days. Kristin also said that we felt it was somewhat unfair for us to be required to pay all of the fines since a large portion of them were due to the fact that Turk wasn’t registered in the city of Saint Paul. Even if we had known he was supposed to be registered, MARS would have needed to initiate that process, which they didn't. The woman acknowledged they weren’t aware dogs needed to be registered (kind of seems like an important detail for a rescue to know) in Saint Paul and that she was working with the impound to get the fee waived. She asked us not go pick up Turk until we heard back from her.
Two hours later we still hadn’t heard back from MARS, so I called to check on the status of the “negotiations.” Our greatest fear at that point was that Turk would be left at the pound overnight. The woman at MARS said that someone from MARS was going to pick Turk up at impound and that he would be taken to a new foster home. When I expressed shock that he would not be coming back to us temporarily she said “what, are you changing your mind now? Isn't that what you wanted?” I said that we felt it was probably in everyone’s best interest to have Turk go to a different home but didn’t expect it would happen so abruptly. The woman said that everything was taken care of and hung up on me.
We were confused because just two hours before the plan was for us to pay the fee (if it wasn’t waived), pick Turk up, and discuss better living arrangements for him (if he seemed likely to escape again) at a later time. When we called two hours later suddenly MARS staff were going to pick him up and place him somewhere else.
A couple of hours later, a MARS staff member called saying she was on her way to pick up Turk’s things. She asked multiple times on the phone if we had his collar. I told her he was wearing the collar when he went out that morning. She seemed so concerned about the collar that I walked around the perimeter of the yard looking for the collar thinking maybe he got caught trying to get out and ripped it off somewhere. The collar was nowhere to be seen.
When the woman showed up, I helped her carry Turk’s crate and things to the car. She asked again if we had his collar. At this point I just kind of looked at her like “are you serious?” because I really didn't know what else to say. She asked yet again and I said “we DO NOT have the collar. He was wearing it when he went out this morning.” Turk was in the van, and I attempted to talk to him (Kristin and I had both become extremely attached to him in the 11 days we’d had him and I kind of wanted to say goodbye), but the woman told me not to talk to him (he might get wound up before their long drive home) and asked the other woman in the car to close the door. Which she did. I told the woman that we both felt terrible about what had happened and were extremely sorry. She stated that it is “always sad when people don’t watch their animals and let them run away” after which she got into the van and left.
And now I come back to Sabrina. Remember her? The one we were slated to adopt? Well, it appears that throughout the day on Wednesday an employee or volunteer at MARS twisted the story into something different than it was. We’re still not sure what the story morphed into (most likely something like that we were abandoning Turk at impound and refused to pay the fee), but while everyone was supposedly running around wild over fear of Turk’s safety, someone decided we were not only unfit foster parents but shouldn’t be allowed to adopt Sabrina either. On this crazy hectic day that decision wasn’t enough, however. It was also decided that one of the MARS staff members should drive to Wisconsin to do a home visit and then promise Sabrina to a family there.
We spoke with the foster rep several times that evening once she told us that we were not allowed to adopt Sabrina. She agreed to talk to the director and see if the director would contact us. The director would not, but after hearing our side of the story through the rep, she agreed to put us back on the “good” list so we could foster and/or adopt through MARS again. The rep said they couldn’t go back on the promise to the new family, but that if the adoption didn’t go through we would be second in line for Sabrina. The new family fell in love with her, of course, and she went home with them today. I guess we’re supposed to feel ok about it because we can still foster and adopt other dogs through MARS again. Great.
The thing that still bothers me is that everyone we talked to from MARS told us that Wednesday was a crazy day there and everyone was super busy. I still don’t understand why anyone would think it was so urgent to set Sabrina up with a new family that they would drive all that way to Wisconsin that very day and then promise Sabrina to another family when we already had a meet and greet set up. I also don’t understand how the director could just hear whatever story the staff member was telling her and agree to never let us foster or adopt again before even speaking to us (especially since we had been fostering for them for several months without incident). The whole thing seems very vindictive, shady, and unprofessional.
The important thing is that Turk was found safe and unharmed. We loved him like crazy and were just so happy to hear that he was okay. It was just unfortunate that everything ended the way it did, and that the MARS staff acted so completely unprofessional and cruel.