BFAS Responds to Responses

Previously, we wrote about BFAS Responds to Questions concerning safety and a recent dog dying there. Many of their responses had come from Patty Hegwood, their Director of Animal Care. Here and elsewhere, many of their donors, former employees and other animal lovers took issue with her lack of honesty and denials.

A bit ago, BFAS had fired their Volunteer Manager for inappropriate performance. Now, they made use of that opening to appoint Judah Battista as the new Director of Animal Care and move dear Patty Hegwood to Volunteer Manager, with an appropriate adjustment in salary. We’re waiting to see how that this one lasts, as Patty doesn’t play well with people (or dogs, for that matter). If Judah’s last name sounds familiar, think of the BFAS founder named Frances Battista.

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BFAS Responds to Questions

YesBiscuit said in part:

Regarding the recent incident of a dog death at Best Friends, I contacted Patty Hegwood, Director of Animal Care at BFAS, for some clarifications on the information that has been put forth regarding the circumstances of the case. With her permission, I’m sharing the exchange below.

You can find and leave comments on the BFAS replies at

Q & A with Patty Hegwood of BFAS

Update 10/20: In that discussion, look for the comment posted by Thomas Cole. In there and his blogs, he speak of many things that much of the public rarely hears. We encourage all of you to follow his links and spend some time reading, and to tell your other animal friends about this. Don’t stop with just the below link, but check out the other issues and archives.

Training Fosters to Rehab

and, for a view of the current state of things,

How No Kill Failled This Dog – A True Story


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Is the Truth in Here Somewhere?

The following was posted by BFAS as a comment on Sad News from Dogtown.

Thank you for voicing your concern so that I can address it. Please know
that we have a comprehensive fencing protocol. Our caregivers meet
regularly with Dogtown management to point out any maintenance needs and to
draw attention to any concerns about a given dog’s fencing requirements. Our
Team Leaders in Dogtown check all maintenance requests that are turned in
and insure their proper completion.

Many of the dogs that we manage require special considerations. Our primary
concern is the animal’s safety and welfare as well as their emotional
health. In conjunction with the physical requirements like fencing, our
caregivers work diligently to meet the emotional needs of each individual

Caregivers do express concerns as the needs change for different dogs. If a
dog needs a different type of fencing than it currently has, the decision is
made to either move the dog to a run that already has the appropriate
fencing or to add the appropriate fencing to the dog’s current run. We have
runs that have normal fencing between runs, we have runs that have double
fencing between runs and we have runs that have cement board visual barriers
between runs. All of these types of fence lines meet specific needs for the

In most circumstances it has not been necessary to have double fencing on
fence lines that are not shared with other dogs. Obviously in this case we
were tragically mistaken and work has already begun to prevent this from
happening in the future.

Patty Hegwood
Director Animal Care

The exact same text appeared on a mailing list with the author given as:

Aileen L. Walden
Sr. Manager Member Experience
Best Friends Animal Society
(435)644-2001 ext 4817

While this was obviously a staff prepared reply, the difficulty here is in both finding and revealing the truth. Reading through this text carefully, it is not at all consistent with my experiences at BFAS. Nor have I ever heard, ether then or now, any caregiver freely and directly express what BFAS has stated above. Instead, I’ve heard a rather different story from Michelle Besmehn and Ed Fritz of BFAS when requests were made. And more recently, rather upset comments coming from others at BFAS after this all happened.

In addition, among the comments on that BFAS blog is one that strikes a memory from years ago. From both the name and wording I’m pretty sure who she is.

Vicki Mcdog

I worked at BFAS and I know how hard it is to get a request for fencing or whatever for the dog’s completed. We worked soooooooooooooo hard to get barrier fencing in dog run’s where dogs were redirecting on each other out of barrier frustration. So, I for one beleive Holly Smith’s blog reply.

Note that in some cases like Vicki notes, we’re not speaking of a large expense. Sometimes a Plexiglas or board strip is enough to prevent an incident. And then another familiar name appeared in a comment.


Like Vicki, I used to work as a caregiver at Best Friends. (Hi, Vic!) Many of us tried so hard to get double fencing put on all the lodges. But management said that there was no money to do so. Again and again, we saw dogs with chewed off ears, tails, legs–all wounds done thru fences. (Example: Nicole got her lip totally damaged because a dog in the next run pulled on Nicole’s lip and tore it to pieces.) We begged, we cried for double fencing, but the answer was always the same, “No money.” If Beans and Tug and Denzel HAD been in double-fenced runs, none of this would have happened. None of it.

So, where are we? It is reasonable to assume that no current employee of BFAS who wishes to keep their job would publicly contradict them. While there are many others who have direct knowledge of the truth here, no amount of any such statements would be real proof, and this remains a he-said/she-said argument.

Enough that, in the past, it has been very difficult to convince people. Looking back at emails with even a single former BFAS supporter, I must have sent over a dozen page-long emails. What finally happened is that my comments sensitized her to more carefully read postings and news from BFAS over several weeks. She caught and challenged them on major items that either conflicted or just didn’t make sense. So after hours of effort, one single person turned around.

Lacking $43 million dollars in donations and staff writers, I know that we can accomplish little in the way of real changes there. However, each time BFAS puts their foot in their mouth, a few more turn around and perhaps help their local shelters instead. Of course, there are a few hardcore cases that come up occasionally, like the recent one on BFAS and Oreo’s Law.

But where are we at and where can we go on this? As most people naturally want to believe in “good” things and as really hard proof will be rare, what do people want to hear in order to decide that it’s a truthful story? Here I an taking my own experiences at BFAS, together with, whenever possible, multiple direct reports from people who have witnessed incidents and situations at BFAS. I am trying to include as many details as possible, many that are carefully omitted by BFAS. If anyone has a better idea on this, I’d really like to hear it.

Finally, for context, we have a situation quite unlike that with PETA. Instead, BFAS does have many good people and does some good things. Considering their size and resources, we are asking them for honesty, integrity and reasonable responsibility. For better treatment not only for the animals, but especially for the many good people. Over the years so very many people have relocated to the Kanab area to follow a dream, only to be cast out for caring too much, for being too responsible, and sometimes just for asking too many questions. In all this, both animals and people have suffered.

For more discussion: Best Friends Responds to Fencing Issue

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Safety – BFAS Responds

Within hours of our posting Safety is Too Expensive, Best Friends responded with Sad News from Dogtown. In there we find:

We had a very sad incident at Dogtown this weekend. One of the dogs escaped from his run, and while we can only speculate on the sequence of events, it seems that he broke into one of the runs of Tug, a dog rescued from the Michael Vick dog fighting case, who in turn broke into the run of Denzel, another of the Vicktory dogs. A fight ensued.

Not until the later comments do we find that this initial dog was named Beans. Putting their story together with reported facts, it seems they are saying that the docile Beans broke out of his run, then broke into Tug’s run. The two of them trotted back  inside Bean’s run, where Tug killed him and Bean’s body was found in the morning. Tug then left and broke into Denzel’s run and attacked him.

Hmm…why have an unnamed dog as the one who started all of this? Only one thing comes to mind here. That Tug is one of the former Michael Vick dogs and Beans is not. That BFAS was supposed to take special precautions with the Vick dogs and this may not have happened. That a Bay Area animal group has recently challenged BFAS on their care of the former Vick dogs, citing their methods and progress as inappropriate and poor, and registering their complaints with the court that issued the original order for the disposition of the Vick dogs.

Now, if this were the case we would expect, in true BFAS fashion, that they would start some rumors and accusations pointing in another direction. Paging down through the comments we find a response from Judah Battista to a reader comment, which almost appears as though that sequence was staged. Note how Judah draws him out.


It seems incredibly coincidental that this happened with these exact dogs so close to the annual conference. BF houses many dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs and animals. Yet this involved these “high profile” dogs and a third dogs housed a distance away. I hope that this was a tragic accident but if it was not an accident, I hope that those responsible enjoy many sleepless nights.


My name is Judah and I am am responsible for organizing the conference. I am confused by your posting and wonder what you mean.


As BF prepares for their conference to bring the national spot light on the plight of homeless animals, this tragedy occurs. Those that wish BFAS harm have been placing their spin on the issue hours before BF passed along the tragic news.

I *really hope* that this was an accident as it seems on the surface. The venom that a few hold towards BFAS does make me worry that someone would put their agenda above the lives of these precious dogs in order to overshadow the good that the conference does each year.

This sounds like laying the groundwork to reveal some nefarious plot against them, where people who are against that BFAS conference may have broken into the BFAS Sanctuary with wire cutters or something and let some dogs out of their runs. We’re waiting to see if BFAS builds on this one and when the book will be published. Do we sound paranoid? Well, is it really paranoid if they’ve done this many times before?

As for people with venom, our message here is clear and simple. That BFAS should listen to their caregivers, ensure the safety and well-being of the animals and generally start doing what they have been claiming to do. This also includes science and not fantasy. Go and do some searches on the “expert” BFAS used for the Vick Pits. Compare his theories against real texts and professional groups, and note that they refused to publish his works.

That BFAS blog also mentions:

We have already begun to take steps to additionally reinforce all fencing in the area occupied by our dogs that can only have supervised interaction with other animals, and we will institute an all night patrol watch.

That blog was yesterday, October 11. As of this morning, we were told that no fencing work has yet been done. On the patrol watch, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. In general this blog has few updates because we are simply too far away from BFAS, and more news begins to flow only when their own people have had too much to tolerate.

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Safety is Too Expensive

Tug - The Victory Pit

While a few years ago, many people remember the fighting pits from Michael Vick. Some may remember all the publicity when the courts gave a number of them to Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS). As part of that agreement (and the money that came with it), BFAS had to guarantee a level of care and that they would keep both people and other dogs safe from these fighting-trained pit bulls.

If you check back on the BFAS site, you’ll see plenty of publicity and fund raising that was related to the “Victory Pits”. All sorts of claims from BFAS and TV’s Dogtown about how well the dogs were doing and how they were the “experts” at helping these dogs.

Several items appeared here and elsewhere that indicated a rather different situation, but BFAS just continued to pull in donation money with their stories. After all, people want to believe in good.

In background, there are a few dogs at the BFAS Sanctuary in Kanab who are able to actually chew through the metal fencing in the dog runs. One breed that tends to do this is the Pit Bull. There are a few dog runs with double fencing that are chew resistant, but only a few…

For several years now, BFAS caregivers have been warning their management about several dogs, that double fencing was badly needed. The BFAS management simply repeated that they didn’t have the money for this. Even though their donations have increased to nearly $43 million dollars, a safety concern from their own employees was ignored.

Even though the courts required BFAS to guarantee safety, it simply cost too much for them. Other instances such as the torn off leg of Blue Bear have just faded into the background.

Beans - Sweet and Docile

On Saturday, October 9, 2010, it apparently happened again. A Victory Pit named Tug chewed through the fence at dog run #9 at the Lodges. With nobody around, he walked over to Lodges #5, finding a very docile and sweet dog named Beans. He broke into that run, and Beans was no match for a fight-trained Victory Pit.


Tug then went to Lodges #2 and broke into Denzel’s run. A somewhat fairer fight, as Denzel was another Victory Pit. Sunday morning, there was blood all over the place. Beans was found in his run. Tug was hurt, and Denzel had to be rushed to the clinic with life-threatening injuries.

We are now hearing that BFAS patched the torn fencing at Tug’s run and intend to return him back there. Still no money available for double-fencing, Bob tells us.

Update 10/15: An inappropriate and inflammatory detail was removed, with my apologies.

Update 10/18: An interesting discussion on the BFAS responses to the fencing issue is ongoing on Best Friends Responds to Fencing Issue at YesBiscuit. It also seems to have evolved into some of the more general issues at stake, and the hard lines taken by some.

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The Challenge Cometh

Are you ready to make an impact? Just look the latest from Best Friends Animal Society:

Are You Up for a Challenge? Double Your Gift.
In the above from Best Friends they say,

A group of generous donors is challenging you to match their donation! They’re going to match your gift to Best Friends dollar for dollar until we have $100,000 to help homeless animals!


Because the number of special-needs animals coming to the Sanctuary for help has increased steadily over the past three years; 837 admitted in 2008, more than 1,000 admitted in 2009, and we’re on track for another 1,000 or more admitted this year.

Now, it’s been written many times that all donations to BF always go directly into their General Fund, and from there to anywhere…along with the rest of their $38 million dollars each year.

As for doubling your gift, Best Friends does already seem to double theirs, as Pets Alive said in Paying It Forward

Yes, Best Friends, this is true. Well MOST of it. It wasn’t a million dollars you spent here.

That bill, before it was waived, was just under $500,000.

And, the numbers of special-needs they claim to have helped out in 2008 approaches half the total number of animals at their Sanctuary then, but we know they’ve reduced that number in subsequent years, with visual counts from visitors substantiating this. So, how many animals do they have? We’ve already seen from Pets Alive that Best Friends doubles numbers, and Best Friends’ recent 3 Reasons to Meet the Match claims 1,700 animals. If that were true, then their goal above for another 1,000 or more admitted this year sounds a bit odd. Then, if we apply their doubling, Best Friends will admit many more animals to their Kanab Sanctuary then they will have or ever have had in the Sanctuary. What??

Now, are all special needs? Go visit them or read their forums or facebook pages for what people think they have seen there. Yes, they do have some special needs animals, but dozens and not thousands.

During the past few years, many who have contacted them were told they were filled up, yet they publicly denied this.  With people getting frustrated, this appeared on the BF forums:

posted 01/4/09 at 08:32P by jeffpopowich

Hello Everyone

My name is Jeff. I am the Animal Care Operations Manager here at Best Friends.
I read through most of this string and what I see is a group of people who just want to see that Rufus is happy, healthy and well cared for.
Our number one priority for all our sanctuary animals is to see that they have the best possible life while here with us, and hopefully get adopted into a permanent, loving home.
I can see that a few of you are frustrated, and I would love to help you out. Like I said, caring for our animals here is the number one priority. But we also care about our volunteers, visitors and yes, donors. Because without them, we wouldn’t be here.
So if any of you feel like talking, please don’t hesitate to call me. My number is 435-644-2001 x4860

While that forum centered on one dog, enough questions came in and enough donors left because of the answers, that we’ve never heard from Jeff again. But, we did hear from some people that spoke with him, and their message was simple:

To help animals three times as much, instead of BFAS, donate to your local shelter. There you can see where the money goes and you can see the animals that are helped. Real animals, not the often fabricated pretty stories from paid writers.

In my view, that is a The Challenge worth pursuing.

If you don’t think so, then please give a call to Jeff. Ask him about this and other articles you’ve read here. I’m sure he’ll convince you on the right direction to follow.

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The Value of an Animals life

Much of the recent flurry on Best Friends’ response to Oreo’s Law has been discussed elsewhere. But, this one item stood out as so very simple and so utterly stupid, that I had to take note of it here.

BFAS Statement on Oreo’s Law

” We also felt the reporting requirement in Oreo’s Law was unrealistic for
some small rural shelters to meet”
Best Friends Animal Society

Response from Nathan Winograd

“In other words, the shelter would have simply had to post to a website that
the animal is scheduled to be killed, and one other method such as a mass
e-mail to rescue groups. Two strokes of a keyboard would have met the

…and another response from Pets Alive reads in part:

Being the Change

“Look…we owe our existence to Best Friends.  As do many other organizations I imagine.   We have been struggling with our feelings of disbelief and betrayal and disappointment over their role in all this, unsure of how to address it.  I was standing in line at the bookstore yesterday and I looked up to see the famous Ghandi quote:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

And I suddenly understood.  For us to remain silent in this means that we are doing exactly what Best Friends did…not pointing out to someone on our side that they are on the wrong side of this.  I guess where the wheels fall off the bus for me is that instead of admitting they screwed up and played politics with the lives of 25,000 animals, Best Friends decided to spin this and villify Nathan Winograd, one of their longtime supporters.

Looking over the debate on Facebook, they’re not really fooling anyone. “

There are a number of issues regarding the proposed Oreo’s Law, some rather debatable. However, this single item is so very crystal clear and simple, that one must really wonder about Best Friends Animal Society. Wonder if they are truly that dumb, or they just believe that their donors are.

For more discussion, see YesBiscuit’s blog:

Best Friends Animal Society and Oreo’s Law

Should All Rescues Be Allowed to Pull Death Row Shelter Pets?

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