When HSUS Comes a-Knockin’

If you’re a dog breeder, we're sure you’ve already heard of the Humane Society of the United States's "animal rescue team." The idea is that in cases where animal abuse is reported, HSUS can send its people to raid private property and "liberate" abused animals. (And, of course, shoot video for fundraising purposes.) Until his recent departure from HSUS, one such team was led by Scotlund Haisley, who was the group's Senior Director of Emergency Services.

(That's him in the Facebook picture at left, kicking in a door with his HSUS garb on. And that was him, featured on HSUS's Twitter feed, until last week when HSUS started circling its wagons and his photo disappeared.)

If anyone knows what became of Mr. Haisley since he was "released" from HSUS, we'd sure like to know. Mainly because he left HSUS in a cloud of controversy stemming from a raid in South Dakota last September. Originally, HSUS teamed up with a local group called Second Chance Rescue to storm the property of a hunting dog breeder on September 2. HSUS seized 172 dogs, issued a press release, and touted the operation as a success.

The breeder was charged with animal cruelty. But Magistrate Court Judge Tami Bern ruled in January that the September search warrant HSUS helped execute was illegal.

Shortly thereafter, the HSUS backpedaling began.

In September, HSUS was bragging that the raid was their fourth one that week, and put out a self-congratulatory press release. But by February, HSUS was acting as if it had nothing to do with it, telling South Dakota's KELO-TV that HSUS “did not have any involvement in the case,” or even in making sure what it was doing was legal.

That seems to contradict testimony from the animal control officer who got the warrant. In January the officer “admitted that the Humane Society of the United States was sitting at the Turner County Fairgrounds ready to take [the breeder's] dogs before she even had a warrant for the raid.” Sounds pretty gung-ho to us.

Here’s how KELO-TV recounts HSUS’s denial:

The Humane Society of the United States was also involved in seizing the dogs from Christensen's property. The HSUS was actually sitting at the Turner County Fairgrounds the day Rosey Quinn of Second Chance Rescue Center went to ask a judge to issue the warrant to raid Dan Christensen's property. …

HSUS told KELOLAND News it was simply asked by Second Chance to help with the removal of Christensen's 172 dogs and did not have any involvement in the case, obtaining the warrant or making sure what they were doing that day was legal. But back in September, they said they were playing a role in the case.

"We're collecting evidence; we're safely and humanely removing them. Some animals may be fractious.  We're providing the animals with all the necessary medical care and the sheltering personnel. Sheltering personnel for 172 dogs is dozens and dozens of people scheduled on a regular daily basis," Scotlund Haisley of the HSUS said on September 3, 2009. 

So HSUS showed up to South Dakota and, according to news reports, waited around while an animal control officer went to get a search warrant.

But they didn’t know anything? Color us skeptical.

Following the raid, Haisley was HSUS's go-to guy for hyped-up, over-the-top accusations:

"[We] found 172 dogs found in absolutely horrible conditions, deplorable, dilapidated buildings living in their own feces and urine, a lot of sharp objects around. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst conditions I've seen, this is definitely a nine."

If Haisley was so concerned with the dogs, why didn’t he and HSUS care for them? Less than one week after the raid, KELO-TV reported that HSUS had already packed its bags and left, leaving the local Second Chance Rescue folks to find volunteers to help care for the scores of dogs. (And some of the people fostering those animals are growing impatient.)

Second Chance Rescue's director admits that 28 dogs died in the group’s care following their seizure. And while none of the dogs were sick when they were seized, many became ill after HSUS left town:

A letter from Veterinarian Laura Byl says none of the dogs had the disease, but another document shows at least ten of the dogs contracted the virus while they were in the care of Second Chance Rescue and some got so sick, they died.

So much for Haisley’s September 3 boast that “[w]e're providing the animals with all the necessary medical care and the sheltering personnel.”

We think we can judge a lot about HSUS’s animal rescue team from Scotlund Haisley’s Facebook picture. Is this a mission of mercy, or a bunch of adrenaline junkies playing SWAT? We're not joking: Some HSUS animal rescue team members are even given badges. How is this not a case of impersonating a police officer? (More on that another time.)

It’s hard to believe HSUS gets away with this kind of reckless conduct, but I'm hearing from many, many people who have found themselves on the wrong side of one of these raids. It seems to me that the group is in it for the PR that the raids inevitably generate. They swoop in, raid someone's home, and fly off as fast as they came—often leaving underfunded local rescue groups to clean up their mess.

Maybe—just maybe—Haisley's departure signals a change of tactics. But this isn’t the only case. Stay tuned.