A few weeks ago people began sending me messages and texts claiming that Scalawaggles Pet Rescue is selling sick puppies in the Seattle/King County area.
Here’s one message from June 28 similar to the others I received:
“There have been reports of Scalawaggles Pet Rescue adopting out sick pets. They have been known to have adopted out puppies with parvo in the past. They had an adoption event at the Benson Pet Pros in Renton 2 weeks ago and there have been pups that tested positive for kennel cough. One pup ended up with pneumonia. Sherry Halfon is the Founder and Director of this organization. There’s a rumor that she is running more of a puppy mill than a rescue.”
Not long afterwards, a woman named Kayla Hanus told me she adopted an extremely sick puppy from Scalawaggles.
Last June 17th she adopted a cute, black and white terrier mix puppy she named Rico at a Scalawaggles adoption event in front of Pet Pros in Renton. Other than telling Kayla that she treated the puppy for fleas, ticks, and worms, Ms. Halfon told Kayla that he didn’t have any health problems.
Two days later he began to “(have) trouble breathing and stopped eating or drinking water.” Kayla took him to an emergency vet who diagnosed him with an upper respiratory infection.
The next day Kayla took Rico to another veterinarian who performed more extensive testing and diagnosed him with bronchopneumonia, which is “an inflammation of the lungs in response to a disease-causing bacteria.”
Kayla told me the vet said “there is no way he was not sick when I got him” and “it is not possible for him to contract it in the time I had him.”
The next day she took Rico to the emergency vet again “because he stopped breathing and was rolling his eyes back in his head.”
Kayla ended up paying approximately $1400 in vet bills to treat the bronchopneumonia Rico had when she adopted him from Scalawaggles.
Ms. Halfon agreed to reimburse Kayla the $1400 (approximately) she spent on Rico’s medical treatments. After the rescue sent her about $700, Scalawaggles co-founder Pam McGriff sent her this letter in late September (I added all bolding and underlining):
I believe these statements in the letter are either false or misleading:
- “you have incurred vet bills for this poor dog who could have been helped immediately had you returned Sherry’s texts and allowed her to help.” Kayla took Rico to the emergency vet just two days after adopting him because he was lethargic, wouldn’t eat, and was coughing up clear foam. The next day she took him to a regular vet who diagnosed him with bronchopneumonia, gave him medication, and scheduled 2 follow up visits to ensure he was recovering. Nothing Ms. Halfon could have done would have quicker or more effective.
- “you have not had your dog neutered as per your contract with us.” This is true but misleading. Rico’s vet wouldn’t neuter him until he fully recovered from bronchopneumonia. He was neutered after he recovered.
- “when we asked for the bills you had issue with, you did not respond in a timely manner.” This is simply a lie. I have an email showing Kayla sent the bills for Rico’s initial treatment to Ms. Halfon on June 26, less than a week after he had been treated for bronchopneumonia. She sent bills for Rico’s follow up visits in late July and August as soon as she had both of them.
In my opinion, this letter is contemptible. It not only deflected responsibility for Rico’s condition from Scalawaggles to Kayla but also blamed her for allowing Rico to “suffer unnecessarily.”
Ms. McGriff continued to add to the guilt trip by saying that the partial reimbursement Scalawaggles sent to Kayla literally caused dogs to die: “You also need to realize that the funds given to you have deprived many dogs of rescue. They are no longer alive because we did not have the funds to protect them.”
Ms. McGriff’s statement that “The Board has agreed that Sherry has gone far beyond what we would have encouraged in this adoption” is also misleading because the only people on the Board are Ms. McGriff and Ms. Halfon.
To Ms. Halfon’s credit, she contacted me to give her side of the story after she learned people told me that the rescue adopted out sick puppies. She claimed Scalawaggle’s has spent thousands of dollars on veterinary care and found homes for about 700 dogs.
Unfortunately, she spent most of her time making false accusations against anyone she thought had contacted me about Scalawaggles’ sick puppies. For example:
- She claimed someone she thought gave me information about Rico adopted a dog from Scalawaggles. A week after I asked to see the adoption contract to verify her claim, she changed her story to say one of this person’s relatives adopted a dog from her. That wasn’t true either, and I still have no evidence to back up her statement.
- She said the dog the person above adopted had kennel cough and maintained the Petco that hosted the adoption event paid the vet bills to treat the nonexistent dog for kennel cough.
- She said Kayla waited 3 months to send her Rico’s vet bills. This is an outright lie. I’ve seen emails with the vet bills Kayla sent to her within days after she got them.
- She said the rescue holds dogs/puppies 10-14 days before making them available for adoption. Rico and his littermate were available for adoption less than a week after they arrived in Washington. One former volunteer said Ms. Halfon told her the puppies at an adoption event had arrived the previous day.
- She told me, “Never have we had a dog get well then worse over and over again, which shows inconsistancy in care on her (Kayla’s) part.” Based on Rico’s vet bills that I’ve seen, this statement is false. Rico went to the vet 4 times – his initial treatment on June 19th/20th, an emergency visit when he stopped breathing on June 21st, and follow up visits in July and August to make sure his recovery progressed as expected; he never “got well then worse over and over again.”
- To explain why Scalawaggles had adopted out sick puppies, she claimed that “(she) asked 3 other rescues what they do if an adopter adopts a dogs who gets sick, every one of them told us the same thing they pay the vet bills… We also we laughed at because they all said it happens, dogs get sick.” I spoke with the founders of 2 of the 3 rescues she listed, and both denied saying this to Ms. Halfon. They both also noted that they’ve never adopted out a sick dog because they keep them quarantined for an extended period before they put them up for adoption.
Kayla isn’t the only person claiming to have adopted a sick puppy from Scalawaggles. One of my sources sent me screenshots of reviews by 4 people on the rescue’s Facebook page claiming they adopted sick puppies from Scalawaggles:
At some point someone deleted these reviews from the Scalawaggles Facebook page. Now no one can post a review or comment on it.
Ms. Halfon justified adopting out these sick puppies by noting that the adoptions were only a fraction of the approximately 700 adoptions by Scalawaggles over the last year. And as I noted earlier, she claimed all rescues adopt out sick dogs or puppies occasionally.
I’m not a fan of the “they do it too” excuse. It doesn’t absolve you from responsibility from what you’ve done; and in this particular case it’s not even true. Legitimate rescues also have policies and procedures in place, like quarantining new dogs for an extended period before making them available for adoption, that ensure they don’t adopt out sick dogs.
The only rescues that I know adopted out sick puppies or dogs are ones that, like Scalawaggles, have no quarantine policies in place and put the dogs for adoption as quickly as possible.
I also don’t look at these adoptions in a vacuum. Their similarities indicate a disturbing pattern, and I believe more than these 5 people adopted sick puppies from Scalawaggles.
Furthermore, Scalawaggles’ mission statement is misleading. It says, “We are dedicated to the rescue and rehoming of pets who have been abandoned, neglected, abused, and especially those who have been sentenced to death unfairly. We have a special care for seniors and those with special needs.”
But virtually all the dogs pictured on their Facebook page look like puppies. If it has pictures of senior or special needs dogs, I couldn’t find them. Some of the puppies came to Scalawaggles with their mothers but I didn’t see any pictures of them either.
Without seeing documents showing the source of all these puppies (I asked Ms. Halfon for them but she never sent anything), Scalawaggles appears to be more of a puppy adoption service than a “pet rescue.”
As the rescue charges about $450 for a puppy adoption, and Ms. Halfon said they have found homes for 700 dogs, the rescue has made in excess of $300,000 since she and Ms. McBride formed it in the spring of 2016.
I asked both Ms. McGriff and Ms. Halfon for the tax filings they are required to file with the IRS so I could see where all this money went, but they never sent them. The IRS requires that they send these records to anyone who requests them within 30 days, so they have until the end of the month to provide them.
This statement sent to me by a former Scalawaggles volunteer is additional proof that Scalawaggles appears to be more interested in adopting out as many puppies as possible as quickly as possible rather than taking the time and expense to ensure the puppies are healthy before they are adopted:
“I responded to an ad posted for an assistant with Scalawaggles pet rescue. I did a working interview with them during an adoption event at PetSmart in Renton.
Upon my arrival they seemed to be very disorganized. They had a uhaul van stacked 2-3 high with crates with puppies. There was so much feces I could not believe it. They were working on getting the crates all sprayed out and puppies hosed down when I arrived.
Inside I met with the slightly rude and very disorganized “leaders” of this rescue, Sherry Halfon and Pam McGriff. There was another girl there for a “working interview” as well, she had to wash disgusting feces covered water bottles in the sink at PetSmart. We were then told to attach these water bottles to the crates for the puppies. (talk about risk of cross contamination). We were just supposed to clean up the poop when the puppies pooped in the crates, take the pups for potty walks outside and talk to potential adopters as they came in. As I was cleaning up poop from the puppies, mostly diarrhea, I noticed blood in the stool. I mentioned it to Pam and she basically blew me off about it. I think that there were three puppies that I saw this with.
Most of the dogs were young puppies, a couple about 1 year and then 1 dog I think was few years old. (what rescue has only puppies…. ) Pam even brought a litter of 4 week old puppies (not ready for adoption yet)… but too young to be exposed like that in my opinion.
Before adopters started to show up Pam mentioned that they just got some of the pups in last night. Then as the adopters came through Pam and Sherry claimed that all puppies had been through vet checks and that they did their best to have their current vaccinations. I HIGHLY doubt that these puppies had been through vet checks, especially the ones that they had just gotten the night before.
ALL puppies and dogs through them were $400. It didn’t matter if they had vaccinations, young, older. $400 flat fee. NO collars, or leashes included. No real adopter screening.
I stayed for a few hours and then got out of there. I was disgusted and heart broken at the same time! Those dogs deserve so much better!!!”
Terms of employment would have been cash, under the table. $10 an hour. When I had spoke to Pam initially she said that they paid very well and had great opportunity.
Initially on the phone, Pam also mentioned that they “did have an issue with Parvo a few months back but that it had all been taken care of. That they cant possibly know with all of the puppies that they have coming in so these things happen.”
In a separate email she added, “I forgot to mention also, Sherry had me administer de-worming meds to a puppy before the potential adopter came in. She said this one has them really bad, needs them most and then give this other pup a little too.”
I have no doubt that dozens, or even hundreds of people have adopted healthy dogs from Scalawaggles, but I believe these adoptions were by accident rather than by design.
If the group is serious about adopting out healthy dogs it would require all its dogs to be checked out by a veterinarian after they arrive in Seattle and quarantine them for a period of time that would ensure they were healthy before the rescue put them up for adoption.
Scalawaggles claims all their dogs are examined by a veterinarian before they are transported to Washington. That could be true since all dogs coming into Washington from other states must have a health certificate from a vet verifying the dog is healthy.
But transports often group dogs going to different rescues in the same van, and many of shady dog rescues bring in sick dogs that haven’t been examined by a vet. So even if a dog gets a clean bill of health for transport, they can still be infected by one or more sick dogs during the trip; this is why responsible dog rescues quarantine new dogs from out of state and having them examined by a vet in Washington before putting them up for adoption.
Starting a dog rescue doesn’t make you a saint. It doesn’t immunize you against criticism. And it doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of running it ethically, transparently, humanely, and most importantly, in the best interest of the dogs you purport to save.
If Ms. Halfon and Ms. McGriff continue to lash out at critics and refuse to answer questions honestly they will only invite more scrutiny regarding how they run Scalawaggles Pet Rescue.