Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bonnie Sheehan, with one of the thousands of small dogs she's rescued over the years.

Widely-Respected Long Beach Rescuer Was Released From a Tennessee Jail on Bail After Arrest For Carrying Some 140 Canines in a U-haul; She Began to Travel Home Wednesday
By Diana L. Chapman
Hearts For Hounds dog rescuer Bonnie Sheehan – arrested on 128 counts of animal cruelty charges for hauling some 140 dogs in a U-haul -- was released from a Tennessee jail Tuesday evening after her supporters pulled together $10,000 to bail her out.
She’s on her way home to Long Beach via car, having left Tennessee Wednesday, said Jay Williams, a spokeswoman for Hearts for Hounds.
The rescuer – who is widely respected in Long Beach community for saving thousands of dogs over the past 15 years – cried  when she got on the phone for the first time with Williams.
“All she could do is cry and say thank you, “ said Williams, a long-time friend and volunteer who hadn’t been able to talk to Sheehan, 55, since she was jailed Jan. 19. “It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had  since last week. I was so excited just to hear her voice. It’s such a relief.”
It is such a relief – even for me whose family has adopted three of Sheehan’s  dogs. I have written several stories about the rescuer’s heroic efforts to save small dogs and even agreed with her move from Long Beach to Virgina due to a souring economy that led to zero adoptions over the past several months.
Instead of paying $7,000-a-month to run her Long Beach kennel, Bonnie purchased an 11-acre farm with a house, barn and log cabin in Huddleston, Va., where she planned to continue her rescue operations.
Instead, she was arrested along with her long-time volunteer, Pamela King-McCracken, 59,  for hauling about 140 dogs allegedly in cramped and crowded U-haul and a mini-van. Animal officials called the conditions filthy, cramped and deplorable.
The group of Sheehan supporters are working with a “solid non-profit “that deals directly with dogs being retained as evidence to care for the animals, Williams said.
The arrests set off a nation-wide debate between the supporters who knew Sheehan and the many critics who did not. The comments became so derogatory at times, Williams said, that the group had to shut down the Hearts for Hounds face book page. Only basic information remains.
The real truth as I see it along with many of her supporters, is that most of those dogs she was traveling with would already be dead if it hadn’t been for Sheehan.
 “Nine thousand five hundred dogs were killed in Los Angeles County last year,” Williams said. “If it wasn’t for these two women’s devotion those dogs (in Tennessee) would already be dead. Bonnie made them healthy. She made them pretty and she loved them.”
Both women face  128 counts of animal cruelty. Their hearing  will be held in March. King-McCracken was able to bail herself out earlier.
While the story burned across the internet about the rescuers with often derogatory and threatening remarks, Sheehan’s supporters – including myself – were devastated and stunned to learn that the woman who has touched thousands of lives – both dogs and humans – had been arrested and jailed.
In fact, so many respected Sheehan that when the news broke, the veterinarian, Dr. Sam Shenouda in Long Beach, was swamped with phone calls about the rescuer’s fate. Shenouda and Sheehan had worked together for years saving dogs she rescued from the pound the day they were to be euthanized.
The office began taking funds from supporters to help pay the $100,000 bond and  attorney fees.
In the meantime, Sheehan’s followers  were horrified by the vitriolic, seething comments on the internet.
 “What they did is as bad as running “slaves,” one person wrote in a comment section of one news article while. Others accused them of being con-artists, running a “puppy mill’ and stealing other people’s dogs to sell them for profit.
 One person emailed me directly to say “unfortunately”  I had “been conned.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Those of us who know Sheehan have marveled for years at her remarkable achievements, finding homes for dogs more than many rescue groups combined. But as the economic downturn continued, instead of people adopting  “they called to ask if she’d take their dogs,” said Williams.
Ceci Giacoma, who works with a specific breed rescue and has worked for years on-and-off with Sheehan, said she’s pained by the brutal comments she read on face book and news media accounts. She said she’s convinced Sheehan’s outstanding dedication to her dogs will come out in court.
 “We never came close to saving as many dogs as Bonnie did,” Giacoma said. “I was always in awe of her because she rescued all dogs  and did so from one of the largest and most desperate shelters. Because she was utterly dedicated and pure-hearted in her mission she has been able to unflaggingly re-home so many dogs that the sheer numbers are profound.
“Were it not for Bonnie, none of those dogs would have survived long enough to have been in that truck and that is the real perspective.”
There are many questions that need to be answered before judging the two women:
--Why did Sheehan have so many dogs in the U-haul and minivan? 
She had personally told me she was only going to take about 65 dogs to the new property with King-McCracken’s help.  Virginia volunteers there, Williams said, had prepared the barn for the dogs arrival and were ready and waiting.
Her initial plans to only take half the dogs, Williams said, changed when Long Beach animal control appeared.
--Why did  Long Beach Animal Control officers show up the day of Sheehan’s departure along with Long Beach police and watch her and several volunteers steadily pack up the animals? 
They were there supposedly there because of a complaint that Sheehan was loading dead animals, but all the canines were alive and well. Many had been groomed before Sheehan left and given new blankets, Williams said. Watching all of this, animal control officer(s) allowed her to leave without saying the conditions in the U-haul were too crammed. Volunteers loading that day said animal control told Sheehan she had to take all 140 plus dogs with her and would not be allowed to leave any behind, Williams said. The rescuer then had to buy additional crates in order to do so. Why did they let her leave at all? An investigation into Long Beach animal control is ongoing.
--Why were more than sixty dogs of those found micro-chipped? Were they stolen? 
Sheehan micro-chipped every animal before she adopted them out and gave the paper work over to new owners. Some people were accusing the two women of stealing animals and believe that’s why they were micro-chipped. The truth is no dog leaves Sheehan’s hands without current vaccines, and a microchip.
--Was Sheehan running a puppy mill? 
I can answer that one. No. The breeds that some people consider so cute that they will pay big money for them, such as Chihuahuas – have flooded local shelters. If anything, Sheehan tried to save dogs that backyard breeders dumped or she was able to gather up from puppy mills. She refused to breed dogs. In fact, she would not save “unhealthy”dogs, because hundreds of healthy dogs are euthanized every day in this country.
--Why did Tennessee animal control officials call the animals filthy and then later turn around and say they weren’t in that bad of condition? 
The Tennessee animal officials accused the women of not watering or feeding the canines even though the women said they stopped and gave both to the dogs. Williams said the women, in information that he gathered from volunteers helping to load that  day, had left space in the trailer so they could provide  food and water. Crates were securely tied down so they wouldn’t topple, he added.
Nina Wingfield, the president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals in Memphis, told the media that the crates were locked tight with cable ties, so the dogs were unlikely to receive food or water. But she added “Overall, they are healthy,” she said in a statement, according to the Press-Telegram.
It’s hard for some to reconcile Sheehan’s reputation with the conditions of travel.
But here in Long Beach and elsewhere, Sheehan supporters all have dog tales to tell that came about because of Sheehan.
In Williams case, he adopted four of Sheehan’s dogs, Yorkshire terriers, including several from a puppy mill in Riverside.  Animal control turned the pups over to Hearts for Hounds, he said, to care for and to find them homes.
Even though the Yorkie puppies were four-months old, Williams said, they had never been out of their cages or given a place to grow and play. Therefore, several of them weighed only one or two pounds, when they should have weighed eight to ten pounds.
One reason Sheehan was considered a saint by some was her knack for matching dogs  well with prospective owners. They, in turn, recommended her services to friends and family. That caused a ripple effect in the Belmont Shore community where hundreds of residents either knew her personally or about her work.
Not only did people like what she was doing, they often returned to show off the dogs they adopted when Sheehan would set up nearly every Sunday at the Marina Village farmer’s market in southeastern Long Beach. She displayed a variety of small canines from cocker spaniels, to terrier mixes, bichon poodles to Chihuahuas
In my case, I came to know Sheehan about three years ago looking for a dog for my 83-year-old mom. Three-year-old Dara, a Havanese-Schnauzer mix snatched up by Hearts for Hounds the day she was supposed to be euthanized --. is now my mother’s closest companion. She is such a love bug that my sister wanted her.
Instead, my sister visited Sheehan’s kennel and fell for Lily, a Havenese who was rescued from a trailer park breeder. By the time she was 8-months-old , Lily, had given birth to three puppies at the trailer park,  all of which died, according to Sheehan.
Endless stories abound about what this woman did with King-McCracken routinely helping her. I’ve heard many, but I like this one written by Darel Talbot:
“I met Bonnie years ago, when I found an ugly mutt that no one wanted and it was going to be put to sleep. I tried everyone but no one would help me. Then someone suggested I call Hearts for Hounds. Bonnie took my ugly rescue, she paid for the surgery and I met the wonderful woman who adopted her. I have been loyal to (Bonnie) ever since..”
The only person who hasn’t had a chance to speak out in her defense is Sheehan who found herself jailed, a place she probably never thought she’d be.
Those who want to help Sheehan and her friend with donations for attorney fees can contact Jay Williams at jwilliams@dvisions.com.