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.
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.
***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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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………..