A south Texas no-kill shelter is being accused of "dog laundering" in a civil lawsuit.
UPDATE 04/25/22: Filings on the Hidalgo County website show that a full settlement was reached on January 4, 2022. Filings on April 4, 2022 show that the minor child was granted $750,000 for her injuries -- three quarters of a million dollars. Out of that sum, $30,000 was allocated to the bystander injuries of her mother, Evelyn Reyes. The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys John W. Thomas and Kurt D. Metscher of the Austin-based law firm, Thomas Williams McConnell PLLC.
The Court finds that said Compromise, Settlement, Release and Indemnity Agreement is in all things proper and just and that the same should be in all things approved. It is therefore ordered that Defendant Palm Valley Animal Society will within five business days of the signing of this Order Approving Minor Settlement, wire the total $750,000.00 settlement proceeds... - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society
The Redacted Complaint
Hidalgo County, TX - In October, a lawsuit was filed in Hidalgo County against the Palm Valley Animal Society (PVAS) located in Edinburg. The lawsuit was filed after a child was bitten in the face by a dog her family had adopted from them eight days earlier. The complaint is unlike any complaint we have read before, given the volume of details and allegations contained within it. The narrative reads more like a juicy manuscript, instead of a straightforward statement of facts.
Part I: Background and the Bite
On page two, the underlying allegations begin, "PVAS describes itself as 'a lifesaving leader in south Texas dedicated to ending the killing of shelter animals in the Rio Grande Valley' that is committed to 'progressive lifesaving.' PVAS covets this 'no-kill' status and is willing to risk the health of both people and animals to achieve it." The complaint then quickly alleges that PVAS routinely adopts out dangerous dogs without disclosing the dangerous histories of the dog.
"PVAS has undertaken a laudable goal of saving animals to an unreasonable extreme by placing a higher value on that than on public safety. They regularly adopt out dogs they know are dangerous and with bite histories to unsuspecting members of the public without disclosing the dangerous histories of the dog.
Even worse, PVAS misrepresents the dog's characteristics. They post pictures of the dog looking happy and wearing a bandana. They post the dog on social media in a way that gives the false impression the dog would be a good family pet when PVAS knows it has a history of aggressive behavior towards people and in some instances when the dog even has a bite history. Then, when potential adopters come to look at the dog, they make similar misrepresentations about how the dog would be a good family pet. They then try to cover their tracks with pre-printed forms and releases they put in the new owners' hands in a stack of other paperwork as they walk out the door." - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society
Our nonprofit has identified most items in these two paragraphs in previous special reports (2020 Edition: 125 Behavior Terms for Shelter Dogs Decoded that Mask Aggression in Dogs Available for Adoption and What's Behind the Clickbait Web Advertisements of Aggressive Shelter Dogs Available for Adoption?). However, PVAS trying to cover their tracks by placing a stack of "pre-printed forms and releases" into the adopter's hands as they walk out the door is new mutation.
Next, the complaint alleges how PVAS benefits through a public-private partnership (when a private humane society receives funds through a government partnership, which is common among no-kill shelters). Moreover, the complaint alleges that PVAS profits from this fee-based arrangement, and does so while "avoiding the oversight a government entity would have." Indeed, public-private partnerships involving no-kill shelters are typically designed to avoid oversight.
"PVAS has a contract with McAllen, Edinburg, Hidalgo County, and other Texas cities to take in a quota of around three- or four-thousand animals per year. For each animal PVAS takes in after they meet the quota, the city or county pays them an additional flat fee. They always go over the quota, and they always profit when they take another animal in. PVAS wants their community to think they are a purely charitable organization, but in reality, they have discovered a way to turn abandoned dogs into a multi-million-dollar cottage industry. PVAS has successfully monetized suffering while avoiding the oversight a government entity would have." - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society
The next three pages spell out the history of "Bo," Animal ID A44864298, the dog that is the subject of this complaint. Bo was picked up by animal control on June 17, 2020 and came into PVAS on a catch pole, indicating it was aggressive towards people. PVAS records state the dog was an owner-surrender due to aggression toward animals and livestock. Additional PVAS records indicate the dog was characterized as "aggressive, snaps, [and] growls," states the complaint.
The dog was neutered and microchipped, indicating that it could have been in a shelter before. PVAS also implanted another microchip.1 The complaint then dives into the "dog laundering" allegations, a term that was invented by dog bite attorney Kenneth Phillips. This is also known as "shelter swapping," when no-kill shelters swap unadoptable dogs with other shelters, which changes the Animal ID, often involves renaming the dog and facilitates hiding bite histories.
"No-kill shelters such as PVAS launder dogs with aggressive histories like criminals launder dirty money. They transport them to other no-kill shelters and frequently change their names in order to hide their aggressive backgrounds and launder them. The no-kill shelters usually do this in a swap where they trade undesirable dogs and launder them for each other." - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society
On August 9, the Reyes family adopted Bo. At no time, alleges the complaint, did PVAS disclose on the web advertisements for Bo that he was surrendered for aggression or that he exhibited aggressive behavior while in the shelter. Reyes has four children under the age of ten. She asked if the dog was safe with children. The PVAS adoption facilitator told Reyes, "Bo was kid friendly, had no bite history and was very playful," states the complaint. Bo is a "good family dog."
The complaint alleges Bo did have a history of aggression, according to PVAS records, including, "acting aggressively, snapping and growling at the PVAS veterinarian who examined him," and being owner-surrendered due to aggression. None of this was disclosed to Reyes by the PVAS adoption facilitator, states the complaint. Reyes trusted PVAS and relied on their representation that Bo was a "good family dog." Reyes was not given the dog's full history, states the complaint.
Reyes adopted the dog. The complaint alleges PVAS only supplied Reyes with partial medical and behavior records. Eight days later, the dog bit the little girl in the face. "Reyes heard screaming," states the complaint. She rushed into the other room and saw her 6-year old daughter "bleeding out, with half her face hanging off." Reyes applied pressure and called 911. She then locked herself and her children into a nearby bedroom to avoid further attack, states the complaint.
"Bo went berserk and animal control officers had to mace the dog repeatedly in order to control and detain him. After some time, the officers took the dog away. Donna Police described the dog as 'very aggressive,'" states the complaint. The child was transferred to Edinburg Children's, where she underwent treatment and plastic surgery. Due to Covid-19, only her mother could stay with her, separating the mother from her three other children. Both returned home four days later.
Leading Up to the Facial Bite
- Bo was owner-surrendered due to aggression toward animals and livestock.
- Bo came in on a catch pole and "his demeanor was aggressive toward people," states the complaint.
- PVAS notes characterized Bo as "aggressive, snaps, [and] growls."
- Bo was characterized by PVAS as "kid friendly, had no bite history, was very friendly" and was a "good family dog," states the complaint.
- This history of aggression was not disclosed by PVAS to the adopter.
- No previous bite history is alleged in the complaint, just aggressive behavior.
Part II: After the Bite & Dog Laundering
After Reyes emailed PVAS, informing them of the facial bite, PVAS told her that Bo is "back at Trenton and is under quarantine," states the complaint. However, Bo was quickly made available for adoption. Bo was listed for adoption on August 18, one day after the dog bit the child. On August 22, PVAS published new photographs of Bo, even though he was supposed to be in a bite quarantine block for 10 days after the bite, not posing for adoption photos, states the complaint.
"Subsequent adoptions demonstrate that PVAS is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve 'no-kill' status. This process is called 'dog-laundering.'"
Advertisements of Bo after the facial bite also did not indicate aggression, a bite history or a bite quarantine holding period. Bo was adopted on September 1 to "another unsuspecting family," states the complaint. The new adoption was made public on the PVAS Facebook page, but PVAS turned off comments on the adoption post for Bo. It can only be speculated as to why. Eight days later, Bo was returned to PVAS "due to aggression towards people," states the complaint.
"PVAS allows Bo to be adopted a third time. On September 12, 2020, PVAS adopted Bo out to another family. PVAS records again show that Bo has a bite history, and still characterized him as 'aggressive.' This adoption, merely three days after Bo had been surrendered for being aggressive, and less than a month after Bo bit [the little girl] on the face, shows not only that PVAS is willing to continue laundering these animals in order to obtain their 'no-kill' status, but that they do not care if anyone gets hurt along the way. To PVAS, the 'no-kill' status is more important than the well-being of people, and the well-being of the dogs. - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society
Count 37 alleges that PVAS is "knowingly putting the public at risk by adopting out dogs like Bo without taking corrective action, without full disclosure" and "by lying about the dog's behavior." Such conduct, according to the complaint, "is just as negligent and reckless as shooting fireworks in the city, speeding," or other conduct that society cannot tolerate." PVAS might as well "fire a machine gun into the air without caring where the bullets might fall," states the complaint.
Counts 38 and 39 allege that the primary duty of any government is to protect the health and safety of its citizens. "Here, PVAS acting on behalf of the government, is negligently recklessly, and knowingly, endangering public health and safety. PVAS knows full well that dangerous animals should not be released to the community," states the compliant. "PVAS cannot hide its reckless conduct behind a veneer of animal welfare and conservation," states the complaint.
The complaint lists five counts of damages: negligence, fraudulent inducement, common-law fraud, bystander injury (the mother's shock and anguish of being near the scene and seeing her daughter's face mauled by the dog) and negligent misrepresentation. The complaint also seeks exemplary damages and has requested a jury trial. Discovery is scheduled to be completed by September 27, 2021 and the trial is scheduled for October 25, 2021. All dates can be amended.
After the Facial Bite
- "Bo went berserk," after the bite. Responding officers had to "mace the dog repeatedly," states the complaint.
- Bo is immediately put up for adoption again, even before the 10-day bite quarantine period was complete.
- Bo's previous bite history or any history of aggression was not seen on any of the adoption advertisements, according to the complaint.
- Eight days after Bo was adopted out again, he was returned due to "aggression towards people," states the complaint.
- Bo was quickly adopted out a third time, indicating that PVAS is willing to continue "laundering" these animals to obtain their "no-kill" status.
Though we are not attorneys, nor did we attend law school, we do have one unusual advantage. We have reviewed many dog bite lawsuits and do understand parts of cases that could prove tricky. This appears to be a case of documented aggression that was undisclosed to the adopter, but not a case of an undisclosed previous bite to Reyes. That could change during the discovery process, if plaintiffs uncover new evidence. We hope that plaintiffs do find this evidence.
The conduct of PVAS after the facial bite -- "rinse and repeat," the continued laundering of a known dangerous dog -- truly speaks to the heart of the complaint's allegations of negligence, fraud and misrepresentation. But there are also many unknowns. Did PVAS disclose to the second and third adopters Bo's documented aggression and previous bite? This deception among shelters is so bad that two states, Virginia and California, have passed mandatory bite disclosure laws.
This complaint should be widely distributed to Texas legislators so that it can become the third state to pass a mandatory bite disclosure law.
Overall, the complaint expresses the same themes we have been documenting in no-kill shelters since 2016. The single metric 90% "save rate" trumps public safety. Failure to disclose aggression and bites to potential adopters is just one aspect. Shelters will also drug dogs, using Trazodone and other drugs to mask aggressive behaviors and not disclose to adopters what the medication is for. In a 2019 case we wrote about, the shelter told the adopters it was "transitional" medication.
Despite the complaint being loaded with details, allegations and conclusions before and after the facial bite, instead of a traditional statement of facts, it carefully lays out the alleged actions, motivations and profitable payment scheme of PVAS. This entity "wants their community to think they are a purely charitable organization," but in reality they are "monetizing suffering." Moreover, "PVAS cannot hide its reckless conduct behind a veneer of animal welfare and conservation."
We have not expressed these latter points enough in the past. There are the widely discussed issues of the single metric 90% "save rate," which can result in deception and attacks, as well as no-kill shelters hiding behind public-private partnerships to reduce oversight. There is much less discussion of the "laudable goal" of "saving animals," when in reality, the entity has "discovered a way to turn abandoned dogs into a multimillion dollar cottage industry," alleges the complaint.
Manipulating Public Trust
There are many people like Reyes, who rely "completely on PVAS's representation that Bo was a 'good family dog.'" They do not believe a shelter would lie to them. They also falsely believe the shelter has the best interest of the animal in mind. The only interest PVAS seemed to have in Bo was clearing an adoption at any cost, whether it took 3 failed adoptions or 15. Bo was a known unstable dog; shuffling him to multiple households with unprepared adopters made him worse.
We have warned the public for over five years that many shelters can no longer be trusted -- especially no-kill shelters. We have also warned that "it is critically important to understand that 'disclosure' is not the same as 'full disclosure.'" In order to gain full disclosure of the dog's medical and behavior history, you must request the complete case file. You have the right to request all behavior memos, medical documentation and bite records for a dog prior to adoption.
Whether this lawsuit is successful or not, it should put all no-kill shelters on notice that attorneys for victims are figuring out their game plan, which includes mass instances of dog laundering. Notably, the complaint states that after the facial bite, it was "business as usual -- PVAS continued to move their product," that product being a known dangerous dog, moved from household-to-household or transport-to-transport to keep it a "live release" instead of a behavior euthanasia.
When Adopting From a Shelter
- Do your research
- Go in with questions
- Bring a trainer with you to the shelter to evaluate for signs of aggression
- Request all intake records for the dog
- Request all behavior records for the dog
- Request all medical records for the dog
- Request all "outcomes" for the dog (if the dog was returned to shelter)
- An example of what these records look like
2In a 2018 post, we discussed what shelters tell the public about a dog's behavior, versus what they tell new holding facilities, be it a transport, shelter swap or sanctuary. Given that Bo was "urgent" and "could be killed any day," according to a social media post, it would be interesting to see communications between PVAS and any rescue, transport or sanctuary about this dog. The swapping arrangement does not work if parties lie to each other!
01/04/21: Working at an Open Intake Shelter: Deliberate Breed Mislabeling, Aggressive Dogs...
03/20/20: Do Not Adopt A Pit Bull, Especially Right Now: Rescue and Shelter Shenanigans...
11/16/19: A Pit Bull Adoption Disaster: Animal Aggression, Anti-Anxiety Medication, Ceasing...
05/11/18: What Shelters Tell the Public About Behavior vs. What They Tell New Holding Facilities
Our lives are worthless; our lives have zero value according to the Dangerous Canine Industry (DCI). The DCI lied. The DCI lies, and people die. The DCI lies, and peoples lives are destroyed. It will be a miracle if the victims in this tragic case receive a penny from any party that comprises the DCI. Who is the Dangerous Canine Industry? Many parties, and any party that deploys powerful financial, political and legal forces to insure that the river of blood and the river of tears and the river of tragedy is allowed to flow continuously, unabated and unmitigated. The victims are weak. The victims have relatively zero financial power, relatively zero political power and relatively zero access to the legal means to reduce the public health tragedy that has been forced upon millions of hapless victims per year in this country. What percentage of the time do the Courts allow for justice to be applied to the criminal, and allow justice to be applied to the victims of dangerous canines? Almost zero percent of the time. To the powerful DCI lobby, our lives are less than worthless. Our lives are a liability and a threat to their powerful de facto legal standing in the near universally biased courts and law enforcement agencies. Our lives are a liability and a threat to their powerful financial interests. Most all locally biased authorities are not just simply passively complicit in the perpetuation of manifest massive injustice. Most all local authorities are actively complicit in the enforcement of dangerous dog owners’ rights to physically, legally and financially annihilate their victims. Will this and millions of other annual tragic cases receive reasonable news media attention? No. Is it because the news media is also complicit?
You know it’s truly messed up when Lady Gaga’s dogwalker is shot and her dogs are dognapped…
And everyone’s more concerned with the dogs than the potential lifetime suffering of the dogwalker.
So she puts out a 50k reward for *the dogs’ return*–not information on the perpetrator of the shooting. And everyone thinks this is normal behaviour.
no questions asked, return of the dogs.
Yes, it is kinda disgusting. Equally disgusting that this has since been twisted to being “possibly politically motivated” because she performed at Biden’s inauguration. The purpose of this was two-fold: 1 to get the FBI involved for what really is a robbery in which the victim was shot over a rich person’s dogs and 2 to blame right-leaning people/Trump supporters for this robbery. At this point, the human victim has become a footnote in this case.
Dog Worship Culture is disgusting from all angles.
Concerning this case, just do not get dogs from shelters. Period. These places only can be trusted to sell cats and kittens. They can’t even be trusted to sell puppies because they will purposely mis-breed label them to push pits out. Most adult dogs taken to these places are problem animals. This particular dog was so effed up in the head and they knew it. I do not blame this family in anyway because they thought they were getting a good, safe breed in getting a lab.
I agree 100% !!
I agree with what you say but as a dog lover, I must point out that pit lovers can’t be dog lovers because pits kill other dogs at alarming rates. They can’t be wildlife lovers either or love horses or other pets because pit bulls tear wildlife, horses and all manner of other pets limb from limb. My heart will always be first and foremost with people and that is what I love about dogs the most- the way they love people and bring them together. I love the way dogs have such an affinity with children too. But it is wrong to own a dog that puts others in the position that that they live or die based on the continued goodwill and judgment of a dog. Dog cannot be man’s best friend if the dog kills our children not to mention our elderly and other precious hxmanbeings.
Those responding officers to the first bite should have ended that beast on sight. Would have at least prevented the shelter from reselling the dog again, twice! Shelters can’t be trusted anymore. It’s up to the public to protect ourselves from viscous dogs since no kill shelters would rather just lie and push attacking dogs right back out to unsuspecting people.
We need prominent voices to take this to the media! No kill polices need to be ended.
If prominent voices won’t take this to the media, how about us? Why don’t we make this happen?
It’s one thing to say that we need this, that, or the other thing to happen, or for someone else to cause things to change. It’s another thing to actually bring change about.
I doubt if he’s 100% Lab. Likely heavy admixture of one or more fighting breeds. Has a DNA test been done?
I don’t know, usually with fighting breed mixes, the fighting breed features are in full force. 9 times out of 10 they’ve got that notable blocky head. This dog looks pure lab to me, but of course it could easily be a mix.
Either way, the breed doesn’t matter. This dog should have never left the shelter alive. I’m glad they’re being sued. Honestly, I wish this was more common.
Even if Bo is a pure lab (there’s a few bad strains of neurotic chocolates out there according to dog forum rumours) there’s absolutely *zero* excuse why this dog is not dead.
Bo is a mentally ill dog. Clearly. Since we have no way of rehabbing mentally ill dangerous dogs, there’s only one solution, left.
This shelter is guilty of criminal negligence and fraud. They knew what they were doing, they knew it was wrong, they misrepresented the dog and they foisted a dangerous dog *through fraudulent claims* on an unwitting owner.
AND they sold that dog, a minimum of twice, knowing it was dangerous. They’re a nickle away from negligent homicide. And the fact it’s probably a Labrador, is the only thing that saved people from being killed due to lesser bite strength.
What happens when these same reckless clowns decide to cover up for a pitbull? How many bodies on the deck, then?
But-but-but he’s a sweet boy! How dare anyone even mention that he be put down?
I agree that shelters should not be knowingly adopting out dangerous animals. We need to deal with this in another preventive way as well. In the Rio Grande Valley, dog fighting is illegal but laws are not enforced. The people that
She make huge money off these fights dump huge numbers of dogs. Some have been bred and training to be extremely dog and sometimes people aggressive. Plus the valley is FAMOUS for the large number of horrifically abused, tortured, starved and dumped dogs. The animal
Protection laws are not enforced and some of these once innocent dogs have become dangerous. If we enforce the laws against abuse snd neglect and enforce spay/neuter laws, these dogs won’t be out on the streets in the first place. Dealing with the problems caused by cruel, thoughtless dog owners costs the community in blood snd dollars cleaning up their mess,
I don’t understand why labs are such popular dogs. They’re too much dog for most people who just aren’t willing to do more work for having a dog than a food and water bowl. Plus many get huge.
Ken Phillips words were best: children should only be around SMALL and GENTLE when mature dogs. Labs are not much of either.
Because they are bred to have soft mouths coupled with the ability to tolerate loud noise and discomfort.
Granted even labs should not be around infants and toddlers. But for older children, they are a great choice.
You’re probably right about older children. Labs are quite high energy though, requiring a good deal of exercise. Unless a family jogs together I’m not seeing it. Maybe once the kids are big enough everyone can walk the dog. Family on the next street from me got a lab puppy, it’s not there anymore. Family next to me got a lab, never walks it, it barks all the time. Family on the north street from me got a lab, never walks it, the hole in the fence is big enough for the dog to get its entire head through. Someone’s lab tried to kill me for the act of passing its owner on the sidewalk.
Labs are popular because they have a aisolid reputation as friendly hunting and disability dogs with little protective instinct built in.
Note the difference here.
Labs are a LOT of dog.
They’re bred to work, not hang out in the backyard or house, entertaining themselves all day. Sure, they’re great for children to play with *if* they have been out hunting or working for many hours, burned off their need for stimulation and are now in their downtime on cruise mode.
The problem is people getting them thinking that they don’t have to do anything with them, chuck them out in the yard to amuse the children and somehow, the dog will figure out human society all by itself.
I hope the Reyes’ lawsuit is infinitely successful. I hope it shuts down this criminal operation and sends a message to the others like it.
Those shelter employees should be ashamed of themselves. How can they sleep at night. I am a dog lover but I in no way condone what is going on in shelters. All dogs have the potential to be killers. I used to have doberman dogs. I love this breed but I also know to always have control of them. They are a large and powerful dog. I would never hesitate to have a beloved dog put down if they bit for no reason especially a child. The only person that deserves to be bit is the one who is trying to kill another human being. No excuse for any other bite to human or animal.
I’m shocked. I’m from Edinburg, I’ve taken strays to PVAS that animal control wouldn’t pick up. They are the only and largest animal shelter that takes in animals in the area, and because of this the dominant shelter that adopts dogs and cats out in the area. They are the go to place in the Rio grande valley. I never imagined they’d actively lie and hide a dogs history. Its abhorrent. And I’m only eating about this here!?!?
Justice is served, but no amount of money is worth what that little girl went through.
Who values peoples’ right to be and feel safe? People who deny the dangers dogs pose should be prevented from exposing others to dangers they deny. The right to enjoy freedom from the dangers dogs pose is a worthy cause. Spreading denial of these dangers is not. Something I look for in the politicians, businesses, institutions and policy makers I choose to support or not support.