A former volunteer for Purrsons United for the Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Relocation of Animals (PURRR) in Pierce County recently told me that more than a dozen dogs the rescue pulled primarily from California shelters have lived outside in kennels for at least a year.
This information was confirmed in a November 1 post on Facebook by a current PURRR volunteer saying that she and PURRR director Diana VanDusen walked, fed, and watered 17 dogs living in outside kennels.
I first heard about PURRR in December of 2014 when Tacoma News Tribune writer Brynn Grimley reported that multiple people claimed PURRR had adopted out dangerous dogs (The dog rescuer: Lakewood woman faces criticism for adopting out dangerous animals, December 13, 2014).
In the article, Grimley noted that three of the dogs PURRR adopted out killed two cats and two dogs in three separate incidents during a 40 day period the previous summer. Two of the dogs were euthanized after the attacks.
“There are aggressive animals out there that she has adopted out that I don’t know where they are,”Lakewood Animal Control officer Bill Mathies told Grimley.
After reading the article I found information about attacks by two more dogs adopted from PURRR.
A Lakewood Police Department report said a border collie mix adopted from PURRR attacked a 6-year-old boy in Lakewood in July, 2013. (Dog adopted from PURRR Rescue mauled 6-year-old in 2013, 1/6/15).
And in January of 2015, a pit bull a woman adopted from PURRR mangled a cat so badly “you couldn’t even tell what color it was” (Another dog adopted from PURRR Rescue kills a cat, 3/18/15).
VanDusen told the TNT reporter that she “didn’t get in too deep until she entered the California rescue scene in the summer of 2013.”
“I couldn’t say no,” she said. “They’d send me a picture and say ‘Diana save this dog, it’s going to die.’ ”
Many of these dogs were in shelters due to behavioral problems, but VanDusen claimed the people who sent her the dogs “didn’t disclose they were aggressive.”
It’s possible VanDusen didn’t know the dogs were aggressive, but responsible rescues won’t put a dog for adoption without conducting an extensive behavior evaluation to determine not only whether it has the temperament to be adopted but also learn about any specific behavioral triggers (like cats or other dogs) that can’t be in the home that adopts him.
VanDusen apparently realized she couldn’t keep blindly taking pit bulls that could have behavioral problems because she told Grimley that she stopped taking in adult pit bulls…because “most of her bigger dogs are pit bulls and are hard to place because they could be “trigger” dogs — animals that could have aggression issues.”
At the beginning of 2015, VanDusen had over 20 of these hard-to-place dogs living in outside kennels covered by tarps. (Why is PURRR Rescue keeping 20+ dogs outside in tents during Washington’s rainy winter?, 2/9/15).
Almost 3 years later, 17 PURRR dogs are still living outside. PURRR wouldn’t give me any information about the dogs, but I assume that at least some of them have been living in outside kennels since I wrote about them in early 2015.
Furthermore, posts on the PURRR Facebook page show VanDusen is once again bringing pit bulls from California to Washington.
I don’t know if any of these dogs have behavior problems, but unless PURRR conducted behavior testing on them, some of them may be unadoptable and shouldn’t be placed in homes.
This means PURRR’s Tent City for Dogs could grow in the coming months.
VanDusen does appear to be doing what she can to create a hospitable, comfortable environment for these dogs because:
- the kennels look sturdy and provide the dogs some room to walk around
- the tarps covering the kennels will do a better job of protecting the dogs from wind and rain than the ones used in 2015
- each kennel has lots of straw and a doghouse to help keep the dogs warm
- PURRR claims it’s putting something in the dog houses called a “snuggly safe” which is heated
in a microwave and keeps the dogs warm for up to 10 hours
But regardless how well PURRR tries to provide an appropriate environment for these dogs, I believe it falls way short of what they need to live happy, healthy lives.
One concern I have is that these dogs are not getting nearly enough daily exercise. Most dogs need approximately 30 mins to 2 hours of exercise per day.
Washington law, which exempts rescues like PURRR, requires breeders to give their dogs a minimum of one hour of exercise per day.
Pit bulls are considered higher energy dogs, and the general consensus is they need about 60 minutes of exercise every day.
Assuming PURRR still has 17 dogs living outside in kennels, 1 person would need 17 hours a day to give the dogs adequate exercise. 2 people would need 8-1/2 hours. 3 people would need 3-1/2 hours.
The former PURRR volunteer told me that when she was there, “the dogs would be out of their kennels 20 min max, one person would clean the kennel and another would walk that dog on the trail or up and down the driveway. She has a very sad looking “play yard” but they rarely used it. “
She added, “The dogs never had free play time, they were always on a leash.”
Another PURRR volunteer appears to confirm that the dogs don’t get much exercise in a November 1 post on her Facebook page when she wrote that in 2 hours she walked all 17 dogs while VanDusen cleaned their kennels.
That averages out to just over 7 minutes per walk per dog.
Unless PURRR has multiple dog walkers at the property for several hours every day – and I don’t think it does – these dogs are not getting enough exercise.
My other concern is that the dogs live outside 24/7.
As I said, PURRR has made an effort to protect these dogs from the elements. But fall and winter in Western Washington tend to be windy, wet, and cold – in November we had 2 major rain/windstorms with wind gusts up to 70 mph – and as you can see in the pictures, the spaces between the tarps will not completely protect the dogs from the elements.
PetMD notes that “cold temperatures should not become a problem for most dogs until they fall below 45°F, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable. When temperatures fall below 32°F, owners of small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, and/or very young, old, or sick dogs should pay close attention to their pet’s well-being.”
The average daily temperature in Roy from November through March is less than 45°F – it ranges from 37°F to 44°F. And from October through May, the average monthly low temperature is below freezing. In December the average low is only 8°F.
Even though PURRR has made an effort to keep these dogs warm, they cannot be completely protected from the weather. Furthermore, pit bulls can be particularly susceptible to cold weather due to their extremely short coats.
The former PURRR volunteer also told me that although VanDusen has had caretakers at the property, they don’t always stay overnight, so the dogs spend long periods of time alone.
Although PURRR appears be what it can to care for these dogs, having them live outside 24/7 for months or years with limited exercise and human contact is simply not humane. I’ve volunteered at municipal animal shelters where the dogs get more daily exercise and human contact than PURRR’s dogs – and they live inside.
I’m sure PURRR will find some of these dogs good homes, but others could be unadaptable and wind up living outside in Roy for the rest of their lives.
Some of the dogs would have ended up being euthanized if PURRR hadn’t pulled them, but a growing number of dog trainers and behavioralists believe that euthanizing a dog is more humane than keeping in a kennel virtually 24/7 for years.
Furthermore, as Grimley noted in her article, some of the pit bulls in California shelters PURRR “rescued” a few years ago ended up euthanized in Washington anyway because they attacked people or animals in homes where they should never have been placed.
Before writing this article I sent several questions to VanDusen regarding the dogs in Roy. I also wrote that “My main concern is how much exercise these dogs get and how long they’ve lived outside. I’m also concerned that you are bringing up pit bulls from CA given the problems you had a few years ago. And I recall you saying that you weren’t going to bring any more pit bulls to WA. If you want to answer these questions please do so asap. If not I’ll go on the information I have.”
The only response I received was from PURRR’s lawyer who told me to “cease contact” with her. If anyone at PURRR has evidence that contradicts what I’ve written they can send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In her article “Open Letter to Rescue Groups,” Michelle Edwards wrote, “Some rescue groups need to think more with their heads, instead of their oversized hearts… They need to be open-minded and honest with themselves about the fact that they (like ALL of us) sometimes let their heart cloud their judgement and make mistakes. They need to take responsibility and learn from their mistakes.”
In 2014 VanDusen acknowledged that the pit bulls she brought to Washington from California shelters are “hard to place” and “could have aggression issues, ” so I don’t understand why she’s started bringing them up from California again.
I hope Ms. VanDusen learns from her past mistakes and stops taking pit bulls from California as some could be unadoptable and end up spending the rest of their lives in Roy living in kennels outside.