Sixty-five shelter dogs were slated to travel from rural Missouri to Chesterfield Mall this weekend, hoping to find their forever home at a new adoption center.
But now Chesterfield Mall has kicked the pet center out, even before the non-profit planning to open it could take possession — and mall managers are blaming threats from customers to "protest and/or boycott the mall."
Amanda Sheffield, the president of the board of Diana's Grove Dog Rescue, says that language is a direct quote from an email she got from the mall yesterday.
The mall's general manager, Brian Voyles, did not respond to our email seeking comment.
Sheffield says the pressure on the mall has come from "the largest rescue groups in St. Louis," which disapprove of her shelter. (More on that in a minute.) But now, she says, 65 dogs are left without a chance at adoption — and more dogs will face the same fate every week.
"I want to call on the folks who decided that we should close to take the lead on helping these dogs," she says. "The need doesn't go away, and the need doesn't diminish, just because we're being stopped from opening."
Sheffield acknowledges that the complaints about her group are myriad — and include things like the fact that some rescue dogs are sheltered outside (albeit it heated igloos). "Our shelter is not the Ritz Carlton," she says. "It's basically a homeless shelter for a dog — it gives them food, a bed and fills their basic needs."
But the bigger problem may be a pair of high-profile incidents in the last year, as Sheffield allows. The group had a long-standing relationship with Petco, supplying rescue dogs for adoption at a store in Chesterfield. But the company pulled the plug on that relationship after a newly adopted puppy that came from Diana's Grove died. Sheffield says the cause was later determined to be pneumonia, not a virus, but says that rumors spread quickly and the damage was done.
And after that, things went from bad to worse. They had to send more than 100 dogs to the Humane Society of Missouri
, simply because, without an outlet for adoptions, their facility had quickly become swamped with dogs.
Demand on the shelter stems in part from its location, in rural Cabool, Missouri. Started in 1994 by a pair of women who never had any intention of operating a giant dog rescue, Sheffield says it grew and grew simply because its Ozarks neighbors resisted the sort of spay-and-neuter culture that's taken hold in bigger cities. In 2006, it became a non-profit; by 2016, it had grown to house 475 dogs.
After the troubles at the end of 2016, operational decisions are no longer being made by the founders, who are in their seventies, Sheffield says, and board members like herself have stepped up to run things. Some practices have been changed, she says, with more dogs in foster care. The dogs sheltered on site has decreased to just 164.
But despite what some St. Louis rescue groups seem to think, she says, those dogs continue to come without them doing anything to encourage it.
"I don't know how to get it into the heads of these folks who think they're animal rescue people," she says. "It doesn't require human intervention for a dog to get pregnant. That's not how it works." In 2015, St. Louis rescue groups adopted out a total of 6,513 dogs, she says; Diana's Grove processed 2,263.
"There aren't any other rescue groups in our area that have the capacity we have and that fill that need," she says. And bringing the dogs to Chesterfield for adoption, she says, has been the organization's way of ensuring a better life for them — including owners who will spay or neuter them.
It's not clear what happens now. Sheffield says she'd like her critics to answer that question.
The Humane Society of Missouri appears to be staying out of the fight. Asked for its opinion on the work done by Diana's Grove and the current situation, the organization expressed only sadness.
The Humane Society of Missouri is very sad to learn about any rescue group that is struggling. We are always at the ready to help animals in need, and this situation is no different.
Sheffield says that the adoptable dogs at Diana's Grove currently have been posted on the group's Facebook page
; she's hopeful the group can find homes for the remaining dogs currently in its care.
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