Category Archives: City of Palm Springs

“Operation Desert Dogs” – Part 2 – The Raid

Continued from “Operation Desert Dogs” – Rescue or Publicity Stunt?

The plan came together on the morning of January 22, 2013. The day started like any other for Rutgard, who was out in his backyard, cleaning after feeding his dogs. His cell phone rang at about 8:30 a.m., and when he answered it, he was told by Officer Tisdale of Palm Springs Animal Control to come out in front of his house because she was there to get some of his dogs. When Rutgard walked out his front door, he was shocked at what he saw. There were about 40 people gathered in front of his house, including uniformed police officers, animal control officers, and a group of “volunteers” in a park across the street all wearing matching t-shirts with emblems on their sleeves that looked suspiciously like uniforms of a sort. There were also a number of assorted official city vehicles in front of his house, many with flashing lights for added drama. They even called in some Palm Springs Fire trucks to embellish the scene.

As it happens, it’s no accident that the Animal Rescue Corps shirts look like uniforms. Haisley likes to give the appearance that he and his band of followers are operating in an official capacity (under color of law), alongside city officials, and have the authority to be doing what they’re doing. It’s that impression that’s landed Haisley in court more than once, but that apparently hasn’t deterred him. He had brought in people from Los Angeles as well as from other states to raid Rutgard’s house in a plan that was orchestrated with Palm Springs Animal Control, Palm Springs Police, and members of the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter.

The whole scene would have been way over the top if it were really for the “rescue” of 13 dogs. As it was it made for spectacular video and photos, which is really all that mattered to the organizers of this outrageous publicity stunt. The whole escapade was captured from start to finish by a professional videographer that Haisley brought in from Los Angeles. It was also all photographed by Aimee Stubbs, a professional photographer from Tennessee with whom Haisley has worked extensively for years. These appear to be some of the most important players in this “rescue” event. The volunteers are more or less extras who probably by and large really thought they were rescuing animals (other than the ones on the board of Friends, Tanya Petrovna and Carl Johnson, who knew exactly what they were doing and why). I wonder how many of the volunteers would have been so gung-ho to trespass on private property to take animals that didn’t need to be rescued if they had known the truth.

I also can’t help but wonder what they were told about the situation in advance to convince them to take part in the “rescue”. The warrant that was obtained by Palm Springs Animal Control sheds some light on the extent of the fabrication of facts to justify the raid.

If the images don’t display properly, go to the full screen view at the bottom right of the image.

Warrant by marlukha

It was issued on January 18, 2013, but at no time was it served on Rutgard, a fact which is confirmed in the return of warrant filed with the court. Animal Control Officer Nickerson submitted a sworn affidavit in which he made material misrepresentations to establish probable cause for a warrant to be issued by the court. The misrepresentations include:

Item 3 – Nickerson states that the affidavit is in support of the search and seizure of twenty (20) to thirty (30) dogs from Rutgard’s property. Nickerson could not have reasonably believed that there were 30 dogs on that property in light of the number of times he had been to Rutgard’s property. However, he had an incentive to inflate the number to increase the likelihood that a warrant would issue.

Item 4 – Nickerson states that the City of Palm Springs received complaints about unsanitary conditions on Rutgard’s property on or about April 20, 2012. He states that he investigated the incident further and found numerous piles of feces. However, Nickerson does not make any notation of such a finding on the notice he issued to Rutgard on April 21, 2012. He only noted too many dogs on that document. See Exhibit 2 of Part 1 of this story.

Item 5 – Nickerson states that on or about June 2, 2012, he responded to Rutgard’s property and saw excessive amounts of animal feces and waste in the front and back yards. However, Nickerson did not make any report of his findings and introduces that information for the first time for the purpose of the affidavit.

Item 6 – Nickerson states that he responded to a call to Rutgard’s property on August 2, 2012 for what he describes as a dog “impaled” on the wrought iron fence. Veterinary records do not support Nickerson’s characterization as the dog having been impaled, but it sounds more dramatic.

Item 9 – Nickerson states that on September 27, 2012 he noted that the property had been cleaned, but that there were approximately 20 bags of feces that needed to be removed. Nickerson made no such notation about bags of feces on the notice issued to Rutgard.

Item 10 – Nickerson states that on January 6, 2013 Animal Control Officer Tisdale observed that several dogs belonging to Rutgard were seriously injured. Nickerson cites a January 6, 2013 Police Report (Exhibit B of the affidavit), as support for his statement. However, the Police Report states that only two dogs were bloody. In fact, two dogs had injuries of unknown cause(s). Once again, Nickerson exaggerates to make the situation appear worse than it was. In the Narrative Report by Palm Springs Police Department (Exhibit B of the affidavit), Officer T. Beckert makes a number of false statements based purely on his own speculation. For example:

a) “no evidence of food or water were [sic] evident, at least in the front yard.” Of course there was no evidence of food or water outside. It was all inside the house.

b) “Suspect Richard Paul Rutgard left a large amount of adult dogs on his unattended property and for extended periods of time without proper care and attention, resulting in significant physical injury to at least two dogs, in violation of 597.1(a) PC”. Officer Beckert had absolutely no basis for stating that Rutgard had ever been away from his property for “extended periods of time”, much less on that occasion. In fact, Rutgard had been at the grocery store on that occasion and returned home within minutes of the call from Tisdale.

c) It is also noteworthy that Officer Beckert states that Tisdale told him that she could not take the dogs because there was no room for them at the animal “shelter”. It was only about two weeks later that the same dogs were in fact taken to the “shelter” as part of the much publicized “Operation Desert Dogs”.

Item 11 – Nickerson states that on January 10, 2013 Palm Springs Police Department was called to “the scene” of a veterinarian’s office for suspected animal cruelty. What Nickerson fails to mention is that the veterinarian is Dr. Kunz, President of the Board of Friends, who had been treating Rutgard’s dogs for approximately two years. By January 10, 2013, Dr. Kunz and Friends had already been working with ARC and had planned the raid on Rutgard’s home. Dr. Kunz was giving Palm Springs Animal Control and Palm Springs Police Department the “evidence” they needed to justify seizing Rutgard’s dogs.

Item 13 – Nickerson states that he suspects that Rutgard may be housing animals at a warehouse he owns. Nickerson does not cite any evidence to support his suspicion.

Item 14 – Nickerson states that he has information that Rutgard’s dogs were being treated at two animal hospitals and gives only the addresses of those facilities. He omits the fact that one veterinary hospital is VCA Palm Springs, where Dr. Kunz is Medical Director. The other animal hospital is VCA Indio which is affiliated with VCA Palm Springs and whose staff had been communicating and cooperating with Dr. Kunz to generate “evidence” against Rutgard.

Nickerson Affidavit by marlukha

***The most remarkable aspect of the Affidavit is not what it contains, but what it omits. Nickerson conspicuously fails to even mention the fact that Rutgard had tried to relinquish nine (9) of his dogs to the Palm Springs Animal Shelter two (2) days earlier. Nickerson was undoubtedly aware that a judge was not likely to issue a warrant for seizure of dogs that Rutgard had been prevented from voluntarily surrendering just days earlier.

The existence of the warrant was a moot point anyway, though, because it was never served on Rutgard. As Haisley explained in one of countless interviews about himself and his acts of heroism, he’s learned that it’s to his advantage not to take people’s animals pursuant to warrants, because typically when animals are taken with a warrant, they are impounded and kept by animal control until the conclusion of any criminal prosecution. Instead, Haisley claims that it’s better to have animal owners voluntarily relinquish their animals to ARC.

To conduct a warrantless search and seizure of property, police and animal control would have needed Rutgard’s consent. But that seems to have been too much bother. Why ruin a perfectly good plan with the possibility that Rutgard would say no? Why ask for consent? Better to just invade his property and take his dogs without asking any questions and hope nobody figures it out. In fact, no such consent was given. Palm Springs Animal Control, Palm Springs Police officers, Haisley, and his ARC volunteers were all trespassing on Rutgard’s property. But, who was he supposed to call? The Palm Springs Police? They were already there!

Not only were they all trespassing, they then proceeded to take all of his dogs, take tons of photos and video and then plaster them all over the internet. Just hours after the raid, there were 61 photos on the websites of ARC and Friends as well as on their respective Facebook pages. They kept adding more photos because they were so proud of what they had done. They also supplied the local television stations with their professionally produced (and edited) video to show on the evening news. All of the publicity served the dual purpose of self-promotion and solicitation for donations, because, as Haisley explained, rescue work costs money.

Props for Dramatic Effect by marlukha

Captain Testosterone Commanding His Troops by marlukha

A Lot More People Than Dogs at Rutgard's House by marlukha

Ellen Lavinthal at Rutgard's by marlukha

Palm Springs Police Department even issued a press release on the afternoon of the raid touting the success of their joint effort. It’s really pathetic that a police department and animal control would brag about being so incompetent that they had to bring in a private self-proclaimed “rescue” group, dozens of volunteers, police officers, and animal control officers just to take 13 dogs from a private citizen who had tried to surrender most of the dogs to the city less than a week earlier.

PSPD Press Release January 22, 2013 by marlukha

In one of the many news stories, then Director of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Pat Brayer, even admitted that the shelter refused to take Rutgard’s dogs when he tried to relinquish them.

Owner of 15 Dogs Speaks About Giving Them Up by marlukha

If Dr. Kunz and the rest of the members of Friends, Haisley, Palm Springs Animal Control and Palm Springs Police Department were genuinely interested in animal welfare and upholding laws related to animals in Palm Springs, why didn’t they raid the homes of their fellow Board members, Tanya Petrovna and Tamara Hedges? They both had more animals than Rutgard did. From what I’m told, at the time of the raid on Rutgard’s home, Tanya Petrovna had approximately 15 dogs and dozens of cats at her house in the City of Palm Springs, in violation of the very law that city officials alleged was violated by Rutgard. She claims to be doing TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) of “feral” cats in Palm Springs. Apparently, she’s modified it somewhat and opted to skip the return part in favor of housing cats in a cattery that she had in her front yard until Palm Springs Code Enforcement made her take it down because it violated city ordinances.

I was at Tanya’s house a couple years before the raid on Rutgard’s house and I saw a lot more than three dogs (at least ten) and a lot more than three cats even at that time. From what I’m told, she had amassed an impressive collection after that. She had enough cats that she built an illegal structure, a cattery, in front of her house for the cats. Tamara Hedges had well over the legal limit of animals at her residence in Palm Springs at the time that she and other Friends’ board members were planning the raid on Rutgard’s. Last time I was at Tamara’s house, a few years ago, she had two dogs and a dozen cats. She posted photos of three dogs and mentions cats (plural) on her Facebook page. Why weren’t Tanya or Tamara cited even once, much less multiple times, for having too many animals? Why no raid on their houses?

Tamara Sophie Sam and Cats by marlukha

Tanya Petrovna can be seen in photos of the raid carting off Rutgard’s dogs like a good little ARC minion. How she could possibly do that, knowing that she had way more animals at her own house, is incomprehensible! What’s even more appalling is the comments she made about Rutgard on Facebook after the raid. She actually had the audacity to call Rutgard a hoarder in one of the posts about the raid.

Carl and Tanya at Rutgard's by marlukha

It’s beyond me how she could fail to see the hypocrisy of what she did to him and what she said about him, knowing that she had more animals at her own house than Rutgard did. Maybe she just thought the people involved in the “rescue” would be hailed as heroes for their daring “rescue” and no one would question them. Or maybe she figured that she was a board member of the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter and special rules apply to her. Whatever her reasoning, her actions were despicable.

Tanya Petrovna Comment on FB by marlukha

Tanya Petrovna Comment About Hoarding by marlukha

A few weeks after the “rescue”, Palm Springs Animal Control officers Nickerson and Tisdale responded to a complaint about the number of animals at Tanya’s house. According to an e-mail from Nickerson to employees of Palm Springs Code Enforcement, they counted at least 15 cats and could hear at least one dog in the house. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tanya hid several animals at a house she inherited from her father that’s a few miles from her house. In any event, the visit by animal control wasn’t a surprise to her. She had been notified in advance, so she had time to do whatever she needed to do to avoid letting city officials see how many animals she had.

E-mail From Tedd Nickerson to Code Enforcement 2.14.2013 by marlukha

Tanya Petrovna wasn’t the only one that trashed Rutgard online. She was just one of the most blatantly hypocritical. In response to photos that ARC and Friends posted on their pages, there were plenty of people who couldn’t resist weighing in to defame Rutgard even though they knew nothing about what had really happened. They believed the story that was fed to them without question and commented accordingly, and viciously. They bought the narrative that Haisley created for them as part of his self-promotion. They believed Haisley when he told them that the scars on Bowser were from fighting with Rutgard’s other dogs over food or other resources. How were they to know the truth, that Bowser was the dog that Rutgard rescued off the street when he was left for dead after an attack by several other dogs?

Haisley wouldn’t have told anyone the real story if he’d bother to find out, and it’s not likely that Dr. Kunz would tell him or anyone else. It wouldn’t have mattered to Haisley anyway, because the facts would have just gotten in the way of the plan. The truth didn’t fit Haisley’s narrative; that Rutgard’s animals were all neglected, and that the conditions were deplorable, there were high levels of ammonia, etc. Haisley uses virtually identical language in many of the videos he uses to solicit donations after ARC raids. When you watch several of Haisley’s post-raid “interviews” back to back, it all starts to sound eerily familiar, as if he has a pre-written script and creates a scene to match his pre-existing narrative. Dr. Kunz knew the truth because he was the one that treated Bowser when Rutgard took him off the street. I guess he didn’t feel compelled to set the record straight.

The photos of Rutgard’s house did not depict a house that would be a candidate for Better Homes and Gardens, but again, no one bothered to ask why it looked like it did. Had they asked, they would have found out that Rutgard had been remodeling the house before he ended up with all the puppies. He suspended construction inside of the house and instead built an enclosed patio in the back of the house with special dog-proof screen material, big dog doors to the backyard, and two swamp coolers. The house wasn’t the cleanest in the world, but the penalty for having a dirty kitchen is not invasion of privacy, confiscation of property and widespread defamation based on lies and fabrication.

Kibble on the Floor by marlukha

If you really look at the photos, you won’t see any feces or urine spots. The sofa was destroyed, but isn’t that the kind of photo that people show on Facebook with clever subtitles to make people laugh? In this context that photo was used to destroy a person’s reputation by people who had no business being in Rutgard’s home and for their own self-serving reasons. What you will see in the photos is a lot of kibble that was reportedly spilled intentionally to create a more convincing scene. There are also trays of freshly cooked skinless, boneless chicken breasts. Do any of the dogs in the photos look like they’re underfed? Do any of them appear to be unsocialized and badly behaved? If they were, would it be possible for an army of strangers to intrude on their territory without anyone so much as being scratched, much less bitten? In fact, there is at least one photo of Haisley carrying one of the dogs out of the house. If that dog were as unsocialized as Haisley claimed, why would he hold the dog inches from his face? Nonetheless Haisley had a metal wire pulled tightly around the dog’s neck, much like a noose, undoubtedly for dramatic effect. It gives a macho feel to the whole testosterone fueled raid.

Haisley With Rutgard Dog on Wire by marlukha

After a couple hours of photography, videorecording, and taking Rutgard’s dogs, Palm Springs Animal Control officers insisted that Rutgard take them to his warehouse nearby. They claimed, without any basis in fact, that he was hiding dogs there. Standing outside the entrance to the warehouse, Haisley’s sidekick, Karla Goodson (aka “Cupcake Girl”), presented Rutgard with a document for him to sign without bothering to explain what it said or what it was. She only told him that he would have to sign it if he wanted a copy of the list of dogs they took from him. She insinuated that he would be arrested if he didn’t sign it, and gestured toward a police car standing by.

ARC Transfer of Guardianship by marlukha

As it happens, the form was a Transfer of Guardianship that purportedly granted ARC ownership of Rutgard’s dogs. This is apparently what Haisley considers a voluntary relinquishment of animals. In fact, considering the circumstances, there was nothing really voluntary about it at all. The form was presented to Rutgard hours into the whole ordeal, under duress, and with no explanation about what it was and what it meant. But, who’s checking? If this were legitimately a voluntary transfer, it would be easy enough to capture the entire transaction on video in case anyone should question it later. After all, the videographer is already there taking all kinds of footage of the raid. How hard would it be to sit with the animal owner for a few minutes at the beginning of a raid to explain exactly what the document means, the legal effect of it, and what would happen next? If the idea is to have a person voluntarily relinquish his animals, why wouldn’t that conversation be recorded?

Within hours, ARC and Friends were bragging all over the internet about their successful “Operation Desert Dogs”, as the raid was dubbed. Nothing says publicity stunt quite like a clever moniker and photos plastered all over the internet within hours. How much money was given to Animal Rescue Corps in the name of this “rescue”? What was the real purpose of this event? Was it really to “rescue” 13 dogs that the owner had already tried to relinquish to the animal shelter less than a week earlier?

Stay tuned for more of this saga and the “Sunshine to Maritimes” transport of these and about 40 more dogs which were inhumanely crammed into a RV for an eight day drive to Nova Scotia in the dead of winter………..

“OPERATION DESERT DOGS” – RESCUE OR PUBLICITY STUNT?

Palm Springs city officials, Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter and Animal Rescue Corps plan a “rescue”, but is that what it really was?

How it All Started

In September 2010, a Palm Springs man, Richard Rutgard, got a dog from the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. The dog, later named “King Kong”, was a three month old large mixed breed dog. About six months later, in early 2011, Rutgard came across two abandoned female dogs that had wandered into the yard at his house in the north end of Palm Springs, California. He took the dogs in and named them “Ginger” and “Daisy”. Admittedly, he should have had the female dogs spayed, but he didn’t think too much about it because staff at Palm Springs Animal Shelter had given him a certificate of sterility when he got King Kong. His not spaying Ginger and Daisy didn’t justify what was done to him.

If the documents are hard to read, click on the full-screen icon below each one to see it better.

King Kong Certificate of Sterility and Receipt by marlukha

It wasn’t until both Ginger and Daisy got pregnant that Rutgard realized that King Kong hadn’t been neutered. It turns out that King Kong had undescended testicles (or some similar condition) that apparently went unnoticed by shelter personnel. Staff at Animal Medical Hospital (which was identified as the facility that performed the sterilization) didn’t catch it either, if he was indeed taken there for any kind of exam before being adopted to Rutgard.

One day while Rutgard was at his warehouse not far from a warehouse he owned near his home, he saw a large black dog being attacked by 3 other large dogs in the street. He ran over to the severely injured dog, put him in his car, and took him to VCA Desert Animal Hospital in Palm Springs for treatment. It took a major surgery to re-attach his rear leg, which was nearly severed, as well as additional treatment to fix the dog, who Rutgard named “Bowser”. Bowser eventually recovered, but he had extensive scarring from the incident.

In November 2011 Ginger gave birth to 6 puppies. Less than a month later, Daisy gave birth to 10 puppies. Needless to say, Rutgard was not sure what to do with all those puppies. He didn’t want to just turn them over to the Palm Springs Animal Shelter because he knew that there had recently been a lawsuit against the City of Palm Springs for violating a number of provisions of state law related to animal shelters. The suit also included a claim for false advertising against the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter for claiming that the animal shelter was “no kill”, when in fact the kill rates were very high.

The puppies grew very fast and it didn’t take long to see that they were going to be very big dogs. The puppies ate and ate and ate. And they ate very well. Rutgard fed them fresh beef and chicken daily along with 4 different types of premium kibble. In fact, in the year or so that he had the puppies, he spent approximately $30,000 on food for the dogs alone! During that period, Rutgard also spent approximately $30,000 on veterinary care, mostly provided by VCA Desert Animal Hospital, with some veterinary treatment at VCA Valley Animal Medial Hospital in Indio as well. It’s important to note that Dr. Douglas Kunz, DVM was Medical Director of VCA Desert Animal Hospital during this time, and still is. He is also the President of the Board of the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter (“Friends”), which currently operates the city animal shelter by contract with the City of Palm Springs. Dr. Kunz’s relationships with Friends, the City of Palm Springs, and Rutgard are very important to this story.

When the puppies were a few months old, Rutgard began contacting rescue organizations to see if any would be able to take the puppies for placement with other people. He had very little success finding homes for even one dog, much less all of them, so he felt like he didn’t really have a choice, but to keep them until he found safe places for them. Palm Springs Animal Control did nothing to try to help him, in spite of the fact that they were aware of his dilemma. Instead, they began harassing him, telling him that he had too many animals and was over the limit of animals he could keep at his home.

In August 2012, after receiving a citation from Palm Springs Animal Control for operating an illegal kennel, Rutgard contacted a local television station, KESQ (CBS affiliate), about the situation. They came out to his house to interview him about the City officials’ harassment of him for a problem that they actually created. Here is a link to the print story and the video: http://www.kesq.com/news/Palm-Springs-Man-is-in-the-Dog-House/16045814. After the story aired, Palm Springs city officials began harassing Rutgard even more, never once offering any help or suggestions for finding homes for the puppies.

Palm Springs Man is in the Dog House by marlukha

The City of Palm Springs zoning code defines a kennel as “any lot or premises on which four (4) or more dogs or cats at least four (4) months of age, are kept, boarded or trained, whether in special buildings or runways or not.” Animal Control Officer Tedd Nickerson did an inspection of Rutgard’s home in late September 2012, noting that the property had been cleaned and that he had too many dogs and also suggesting that Rutgard apply for a conditional use permit to be allowed to have more than 3 dogs. Nickerson also noted on the inspection paperwork that the City was willing to work with Dr. Kunz to spay and neuter Rutgard’s puppies at a preset rate. It finally appeared that the City was going to do something to help Rutgard with his dogs. At least they were offering to help him get the puppies fixed for a reduced rate of $50 each. Or, so Rutgard thought.

Palm Springs Citation September 27, 2012 by marlukha

How it Really Worked Out

Unbeknownst to Rutgard, there was a major upheaval in the City of Palm Springs with its Animal Control and Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter and who was going to run the new animal shelter facility that had been built at a cost of more than $8,000,000, mostly of taxpayer money. Friends really wanted to run the facility, and gave all outward appearances of being committed to turning the shelter into a progressive, no-kill facility. The board members of Friends talked a really good game. They held fundraisers and said all the right things.

But, they didn’t do all the right things. In fact, they did all the wrong things. Somewhere along the line, apparently in early 2012, Friends got the bright idea to hire a “consultant” to tell them how to run the shelter. In their infinite wisdom, they chose to hire a man named Scotlund Haisley, president of Animal Rescue Corps (“ARC”), most likely based on a personal affinity for him by one of the Friends’ board members, Tanya Petrovna. It apparently didn’t occur to the rest of the board of Friends to do their due diligence and actually check Haisley’s qualifications (or, more aptly, his lack of qualifications) for the job. If they had, they might have thought twice about hiring him to do anything for them.

All it takes is a few minutes on the internet for any person with a few functional brain cells to see a whole lot of red flags associated with Haisley. He parted ways with the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) in 2010 after working in its emergency services division for a few years. It’s unclear whether he was fired or his departure was strongly urged by HSUS president Wayne Pacelle. What is clear is that during his three year tenure with HSUS, his conduct was questionable at best. So much so that Haisley and HSUS were named as defendants in at least three lawsuits in federal court for deprivation of property under color of law without due process, among other things, stemming from “rescues” they conducted under dubious circumstances. (For those that are really interested the lawsuits are: Christensen v. Quinn, et al; Garwood v. State of Indiana; Pang v. Burns, et. al.) At HSUS Haisley refined his vigilante animal “rescue” tactics, which were praised by Wayne Pacelle at the time, who said that he liked Haisley’s cowboy ways.

That is, until Haisley and his cowboy ways landed himself and HSUS in court one too many times. Then apparently it wasn’t so good. In the short time that Haisley was heading up HSUS’s emergency services, several people in that division quit, citing Haisley’s recklessness and lawlessness and the danger that he created for them and others. Haisley wasn’t going to let something like a few lawsuits (at least one of which is still ongoing) get in his way, after all, they didn’t cost him anything because HSUS hired attorneys to deal with them. In early 2011, Haisley went out on his own, recruited a few true believers, and started his own “rescue” group, and ARC was born.

By his own admission, Haisley doesn’t have much in the way of education, nor does he have much in the way of certification or training that qualifies him to teach others how to run an animal shelter or do much of anything else. But, that’s not enough to stop someone like Haisley from selling his services to others. To some, he must be very convincing, because people seem to take him at face value and not check his credentials before getting involved with him.

Haisley Responses to Interrogatories in pending federal lawsuit by marlukha

Who knows what Haisley told Friends he could do for them, but whatever it was, they fell for it. Given the history and collective wisdom of Friends’ board members, it’s not surprising. They had already blown at least one great opportunity to hire a progressive shelter director. In any event, at some point, Friends, ARC, Palm Springs Animal Control and Palm Springs Police Department all decided to work together, not to help Rutgard, but to stage a “rescue” of his dogs. By late 2012, Palm Springs Animal Control had stepped up its game and began citing Rutgard more, which in retrospect was clearly just intended to lay a foundation for a plan that would be executed in early 2013.

In December 2012, Animal Control issued notices to Rutgard, claiming that neighbors were complaining about his dogs barking. As usual, they did nothing to offer to help find homes for any of the dogs, although they did capitulate and take in two of Rutgard’s dogs on separate occasions in late 2012. Rutgard took them to the animal shelter to relinquish them after he was told by VCA Palm Springs that Dr. Kunz would no longer honor the reduced rate sterilizations that had been agreed upon by the City and Dr. Kunz. The justification given to Rutgard was that the shelter was no longer being operated by the City of Palm Springs (Friends took over running it on November 1, 2012), so VCA would no longer honor any agreements made by the City. (He found out much later, after a thorough review of his invoices and payment records, that VCA Palm Springs had only actually done one sterilization surgery for the reduced rate of $50. He paid hundreds of dollars each for several more.)

On January 6, 2013, Animal Control Officer Leslie Tisdale called Rutgard on his cell phone to tell him that he had to get home right away because his dogs were in the front yard and some of them where fighting with each other. Rutgard was at the grocery store getting more chicken for the dogs and arrived home within a few minutes to see Tisdale and some police officers in front of his house. Their presence right at his fence was making his dogs very agitated. Apparently two of the dogs had gotten into a fight, which was likely provoked by the presence of uniformed officers right outside the fence. Two of the dogs needed veterinary care, and Tisdale ordered Rutgard to take them to VCA Indio, telling him that she would call there to make sure he took the dogs there. Why should it matter to her where someone takes his dogs? Why would Palm Springs Animal Control concern itself with what animal hospital a person takes his animals? That would become clear in a couple weeks.

Palm Springs Police issued Rutgard a citation, alleging violation of California Penal Code §597(b), for “animal neglect/crimes”. The alleged violation was amended the following day to Penal Code §597.1, failure to provide proper care and attention for animals. The reason for the change in “violation” also became clear later. Rutgard had taken his dogs to Dr. Kunz at VCA Desert Animal Hospital for a couple years and continued to do so after he ended up with the puppies. What Rutgard didn’t know was that Dr. Kunz had been in contact with Palm Springs Police Department and had been reporting to them that Rutgard was neglecting his dogs. Apparently it didn’t occur to the police to ask Kunz how he would know that or how much money Rutgard had paid to VCA facilities in Palm Springs, where Kunz is Medical Director, or to the VCA Indio facility. Nor did it occur to them to ask Rutgard how much money he had really spent on veterinary care in the past year. But, then, why should they when they were all working together?

If they had bothered to think about it, it might have occurred to them that the fact that Rutgard spent approximately $30,000 on veterinary treatment for his dogs in a year pretty well defeats a claim that he was failing to provide proper care and attention. But, by early January 2013, the plan was in full swing and Friends, Dr. Kunz, ARC, and the others weren’t going to let the truth get in the way of their publicity stunt. After receiving the citation in early January 2013, Rutgard was advised by an attorney to immediately get any and all veterinary records from both VCA facilities. VCA in Indio gave him the requested records right away, but the bulk of the records he needed were with VCA in Palm Springs, which is where Dr. Kunz is Medical Director. Rutgard tried several times to get records from that facility and was repeatedly told he couldn’t have them with different bogus reasons given every time. Staff initially told him he couldn’t have the records because he owed them money, which wasn’t true. Even if he had owed money to them, they couldn’t legally refuse to give him any records. Another time a staff member told him that he couldn’t have the records because the Palm Springs Police told VCA staff not to give Rutgard his records. Since when can a police department dictate policy for a private veterinary clinic? Still, no records from Dr. Kunz’s facility. Coincidence?

On January 12, 2013, Animal Control posted a Notice of Intent to Seize pursuant to California Penal Code §597.1, on Rutgard’s property. The reason that the code section on the citation was amended several days earlier is because PC §597.1 has a provision that permits a hearing to justify seizing animals, either before or after the seizure. In this case, city officials opted for the pre-seizure hearing, probably just to give the entire operation an air of legitimacy. Rutgard continued to try to get records from VCA Palm Springs, because those would have been evidence that he had actually provided more care for his dogs in a year than many people do in a lifetime.

The pre-seizure hearing was scheduled for January 16, 2013 at 1:30 PM. On the morning of the hearing, a rescuer from the San Diego area met Rutgard at his house to take three of his dogs. Two of his other dogs were at VCA in Palm Springs. One dog, Maxwell, had been there for weeks with no explanation whatsoever of why he was being kept so long. When Rutgard asked staff, they wouldn’t tell him why. That didn’t stop VCA from charging Rutgard for “boarding” Maxwell though. On the morning of January 16, 2013, Rutgard loaded nine of his dogs in wire crates and onto his flatbed truck to take to the animal shelter, because he had been told by shelter personnel that he could relinquish his dogs. Furthermore, PC §597.1 actually instructs a person to bring the animals to a pre-seizure hearing for inspection. When he got to the shelter he was told that they wouldn’t let him relinquish his dogs. He went to VCA Palm Springs to try one last time before the hearing to get veterinary records, but was, once again, told he couldn’t have them.

The Pre-Seizure “Hearing” and Decision

The “hearing” was a hearing in name only. It was nothing more than a charade. The City of Palm Springs was represented by an attorney, Kane Thuyen of Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart (the law firm that Palm Springs uses as its “City Attorney” at a cost of about $1,000,000 per year to taxpayers) as well as Palm Springs Animal Control Officers Tisdale and Nickerson. The hearing officer, Rodell Fick, a local attorney, was selected and paid by the City to administer the hearing and render a decision. Rutgard had brought with him some records from VCA Indio and at least payment receipts from VCA Palm Springs to show that he had, in fact, provided extensive veterinary care for his dogs. The hearing officer didn’t want to see his evidence and didn’t accept it when Rutgard offered it. In his decision, Fick stated, “No relevant exhibits were formally submitted by R. Rutgard for review.” What does that mean? What does he mean by “relevant”? And what does “formally submitted” mean? Apparently trying to hand evidence to the hearing officer and his rejection of it doesn’t count somehow, or maybe it’s just not “formal” enough.

Decision from the Pre-Seizure Hearing on January 18, 2013 by marlukha

On the other hand, the City produced what Fick referred to as “Exhibit 1”, which consisted of 57 pages of evidence that they conveniently forgot to give to Rutgard as due process requires. Undoubtedly just an oversight. It didn’t matter anyway, because the decision to seize Rutgard’s dogs had already been made well before the hearing. In fact, in a police report dated January 16, 2013 10:43 a.m., Officer Tisdale wrote:

“Palm Springs Animal Control, with the assistance of the Palm Springs Police Department and the Animal Rescue Corps intend to seize all dogs and puppies and any other animals found at the property where the animals are being kept at [address omitted] as well as from any veterinary service providers where Mr. Rutgard has animals for treatment as per CA P.C. 597(b) Crimes Against Animals and will be charging the owner, Richard Rutgard, of [address omitted] with animal cruelty.”

What? Officer Tisdale knew the outcome of the “hearing” a full 2 hours and 47 minutes before it even started. How could she possibly have known the outcome of and administrative hearing in advance? The answer is very simple: It was all part of the plan.

PSPD January 16, 2013 Police Report about Seizure of Rutgard's Dogs by marlukha

When City officials and the hearing officer were finished making a mockery of due process, at the end of the “hearing”, Officer Tisdale told Rutgard to take his nine dogs to the shelter because they would let him relinquish them then. When he got to the shelter about 15 minutes later, he was once again told by staff there that they wouldn’t take his dogs. Rutgard was told that some rescue groups would be coming out to his house the following Tuesday or Wednesday to take some of his dogs. That struck Rutgard as odd, but he could never have predicted what Friends, ARC, Palm Springs Animal Control and Palm Springs Police Department had planned for him and his dogs!

To Be Continued………