Spartanburg Humane Society and New HSUS Policy

When I read the Best Friends announcement on the new HSUS bust dog policy, I noticed a listing at the end naming the “major stakeholders” invited to the HSUS meeting:

Participants at the meeting included Best Friends Animal Society, The Humane Society of the United States, BAD RAP, ASPCA, National Animal Control Association, Maddie’s Fund, Nevada Humane Society, and Spartanburg Humane Society.

As I am a SC resident, the Spartanburg Humane Society (SHS) jumped out at me. Although I’m not familiar with the shelter, I was interested in learning about their record on saving bust dogs so I sent them an inquiry. In the meantime, I used The Googlie.

The President and CEO of the SHS is Sandy Christiansen.

USA Today reported in 2007:

Sandy Christiansen, president of the Spartanburg (S.C.) Humane Society, consults with law enforcement in several states, has been on about 30 dogfighting raids and also has served as an expert government witness at trials.

I decided to surf the web for any specifics I might be able to find on these raids and what the outcome was for the seized dogs.

According to an article published 11-23-04 regarding the sentencing of a SC man who plead guilty to 41 counts of dogfighting, Christiansen is described as a “dogfighting expert with the Humane Society of the United States“. (More specifically, another 2004 article uses the title “program coordinator for the Tallahassee, Florida-based Humane Society of the United States”.) 49 Pitbulls were seized in that case:

Tant’s guilty plea means more than 40 pit bulls he owned will be put to death.

The animals have been kept on what Tant called “death row” in a Charleston County shelter since spring, pending resolution of the trial. But Charlie Karesh, a shelter official, said the pit bulls are too vicious to adopt out and should be euthanized. Housing them cost the county more than $100,000.

By the next day:

All 49 of his pit bulls, including 8 puppies were euthanized.

Prior to that, Christiansen was involved with a Schenectady, NY case in 2002 involving 13 seized Pitbulls:

The dogs were confiscated as physical evidence in the cases against their former owners, Christine and Thomas Provencher, both facing a total of 29 animal-cruelty and drug-related charges in Schenectady County Court. The pit bulls were put down two months after the couple failed to post the court-ordered $24,872 bond for the dogs’ care.
The death of the 13 dogs raises the issue of whether an animal bred to fight is a menace to society and should be put to death, or should have other options available for it.

“We offered to take the puppies and attend to them so they would not be allowed to go back with the people, but nothing came of that,” said [Cydney] Cross [president of “out of the Pits”]. “The older dogs maybe weren’t suitable for placement, but there would’ve been options for the puppies. The fallacy with game-bred dogs is that they can’t be rehabilitated.”

Cross said that some of the most amazing dogs she ever adopted were former fighting dogs. In fact, one of the pit bulls that she rescued from the fighting world, Alexis, has gone on to become a therapy dog working with recovering alcoholics and people in nursing homes and prisons.

But Cross may be outnumbered on this matter. Sandy Christiansen, director of field services for the Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County, agrees with [Gordon] Willard [executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation of Schenectady]. He said that with dogs trained and bred to fight like Rapid Roy, the dangers outweigh the success stories.

“With dogs that are so purposefully bred for fighting, animal shelters are being put in compromising positions,” said Christiansen. “You need to be selective when considering what kind of homes the dogs will be put in. If a dog is predisposed to aggression and the worst does happen, are you going to be OK with having taken that risk?”

Considering the motives and meticulousness with which breeders and trainers in the world of dogfighting turn pit bulls into killing machines, Christiansen said the 13 dogs could have met worse fates.

“Euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen to a dog,” said Christiansen. “When they’ve been set up to go against other dogs and to rip each other to shreds, there aren’t many other options.”

Christiansen was also a member of the HSUS team involved in a 2003 case resulting in the arrest of James Fricchione in NY. 17 adult Pitbulls and one puppy were seized. They were held in a shelter for one year and killed within hours of the defendant’s sentencing.

In 2005, Christiansen was involved in the Floyd Boudreaux case (more here) where all the seized dogs were killed before the defendant had his day in court and was ultimately cleared of dogfighting charges.

An HSUS magazine featured Christiansen in a 2006 article about dogs seized in fight cases:

“People get attacked for euthanizing these critters, and what gets lost in the shuffle is what the option is,” says Christiansen, who’s seen some of those terrible options up close. Dogs who aren’t rescued and taken in by a shelter are left to die in the brutal fights of the pit, or, if they fail to perform or get injured, the dogfighters often take the matter into their own hands, says Christiansen. For fighting dogs who haven’t had the fortune of intervention, this can mean a death by any means from bludgeoning to electrocution.
“The alternatives are far worse. … The euthanasia debate should focus on that. These animals are saved once somebody gets them out of the hands of the people who’re abusing them.”

No, these animals are saved when they get out of the hands of “rescuers” who want to kill them and into homes where they can live as pets.

See this is where I’m having a hard time seeing how groups like HSUS and SHS, headed by Christiansen, can honestly embrace the new bust dog policy. I understand about people learning and growing and changing their minds. I can appreciate that. But in my experience, that usually happens in small increments, over time, such as “I used to believe X but I educated myself and came to feel that XY instead” – not, “I used to believe X but now I feel that PANTS”. Know what I’m saying?

I checked the dogs available for adoption on the SHS website and there are many – 74 to be exact. Knowing that Pitbulls and Pitbull mixes are common in SC shelters, I expected there to be a fair number at SHS. There are, at present, zero. This could be a simple matter of coincidence, or perhaps SHS is so fantastically good at getting Pitbulls adopted immediately upon entry that they don’t even make it on to the website. Or it could be something else: Maybe SHS doesn’t adopt out Pitbulls. I don’t know.

What I do know is this: I have questions. How does SHS qualify as a “major stakeholder” in the Pitbull community? How do they normally handle Pitbulls and mixes at their shelter? What are they putting into practice right now to help get bust dogs evaluated and into rescues? Are they going to be able to whole-heartedly embrace the new HSUS policy they signed onto while under the leadership of Christiansen?

If I hear back from SHS regarding my inquiry, I will blog it. And I’ll continue trying to find the answers to my questions.

Leave a Reply