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Shelter Punishes Dogs for Their Own Neglect

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

Gomer, the dog being choked and pinned in the images above was simply over-stimulated after being neglected in a kennel for more than a year. Rather than providing him exercise and needed socialization the "leadership" at the shelter decided that Gomer was "aggressive" and needed "training."

For years, Animal Ark in Hastings was considered an industry leader in the world of animal sheltering. They not only focused their attention on saving the animals that were most at-risk, they also celebrated nearly 100% save rates for those same animals.

Unfortunately, two years ago, following a hostile takeover of the Animal Ark Board, all of that changed.

To accomplish the takeover, the incoming board needed to keep Animal Ark’s largest donors from voting at the annual meeting, so, they refused to count mail-in votes and arbitrarily nullified lifetime memberships.

Lifetime members were those who paid for a $1,000 lifetime membership. They represented Animal Ark’s top donors and the members who most supported the former leadership. During the time these lifetime memberships were sold, Steve Bell was the Chair of the Membership Committee.

Actual membership form from when Steve Bell was the membership chair at Animal Ark a few years ago.

In spite of that, at the January 2015 membership meeting, Bell and the new Board not only canceled all of those lifetime memberships, they hired an off-duty police officer to keep these members/donors out of the Annual Meeting to keep them from voting for Board positions.

The result of this, and other mismanagement, has been apparent, dramatic financial woes at the once respected animal shelter. They ended up closing their St. Paul adoption center and Thrift Store. Then, they began cutting the Hastings shelter operating hours, making it harder for people to come adopt pets. Unsurprisingly, the result has been a dramatic drop in adoptions. In the entire 3rd quarter of 2016, Animal Ark reported adopting only 21 dogs.

Even more troubling: When they announced the first cut to the shelter hours, by closing on Mondays, they also let their volunteers know that they would no longer be welcome to come walk dogs or socialize cats on those days, even though there were animal care staff in the building on those days who could have let the volunteers in. Here is the actual Facebook post Animal Ark made about the new hours:

On March 6 Animal Ark informed their volunteers they were closing on Mondays

and that the volunteers could not come walk dogs those days.

Animal Ark later announced they would also be closed on Tuesdays.

In other words, this new hostile management reduced adoptions, meaning dogs would remain in the shelter longer. They also reduced the amount of time dogs would spend outside their kennels being exercised and socialized by volunteers.

This new leadership also gutted or canceled many of their most progressive programs, including Doggie Play Groups (a video of which is on the right during a much happier time at Animal Ark), and other innovative activities, like biking with shelter dogs, that helped enrich the daily lives of dogs at the shelter.

With limited exercise or socialization, and with volunteers having reduced access to walk dogs, and with dogs housed in the shelter much longer, due to reduced adoptions, is it any wonder that some dogs would become anxious, and easily over-stimulated when taken out of their kennels?

Unfortunately, rather than fixing everything they broke, by giving dogs more outdoor play and socialization time, the new "leadership" at Animal Ark decided they needed to raise money to bring in a "trainer" to try to "correct" the natural behavior the dogs were displaying from being cooped up in their kennels too much. Then, as if to prove they could not do anything right, they hired a trainer whose techniques appear to be based in dominance/punishment methodologies, that have been widely discredited by credentialed behaviorists.

Before going farther, we need to make a couple of important points:

  1. You cannot possibly train a dog who is stimulated beyond the point where they can reasonably be expected to pay attention.

  2. You should not punish a dog for being stimulated when you take them out of a kennel in which they have been cooped up for an extended period of time, without first letting them blow off a lot of steam.

In spite of these obvious facts, Animal Ark paid a trainer to come and "teach these dogs a lesson." They then recorded a session with a dog named Gomer and posted it on their own Facebook page as an example of their um... expertise? Here is the video.

While they pin and choke Gomer, you can hear the trainer ask, at one point, "should we rope him?" The punishment... er... "training session" goes on for more than four minutes.

In response to this video, a substantial outcry has been made from experienced trainers, some of whom are equating this to animal abuse. It is hard to argue with that position. First, the organization locks dogs like Gomer up in kennels for extended periods. They reduce their exercise and socialization time. Then, they punish and discipline the dogs for the behavior the humans created in them.

To make matters worse, Animal Ark then sent a letter to those complaining. You can read it here.

As if they were unaware that people complaining about the video had actually watched the video, the new "leadership" at Animal Ark only made things worse by writing things like the following:

"The trainer in the video weighs approximately 100 pounds and is only using her finger tips to barely touch the dog. She is not restraining him in any way."

"Gomer (the dog in the video) often rolls on his back in an effort to control the handler."

They also say that Gomer is both human and dog aggressive. And, isn't that obvious? Don't you know that aggressive dogs often roll on their backs in order to attack or control you?

Needless-to-say, the letter only made things worse, with many commenters on Facebook expressing this sort of response.

Though, you won't find comments like that on the Animal Ark Facebook page. They have been busy deleting comments and banning users ever since.

Lest you believe Gomer is really dog aggressive (we believe the video proves he is not human aggressive, because if he was, that trainer would have gotten bit) here is a video of him before Animal Ark canceled Doggie Play Groups. Notice that the dog he is playing with, Peaches, mounts him repeatedly with no negative response.

Take Action!

If you are as upset about this as we are, help do something about it. Here are some easy things you can do to help Fix Animal Ark.

Contact Animal Ark and demand a change in leadership

Phone: (651) 772-8983 ext 206


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