Friday, August 1, 2014

RRR Service Dogs Scam and When Politics Rule

Raja Renata Ranch, RRR Service Dogs, whatever you want to call it, has been shut down. You can read my Dogster article about it here. You can read another blogger's coverage here.

What I wanted to expound upon was....

I. TOLD. YOU. SO.

Ok, ok, bear with me here. Back when I was more involved in the animal welfare community, particularly volunteering for a local shelter and encouraging rescue/adoption in the public, I got wind of a fake rescue. I investigated it and pushed local authorities until it was investigated, shut down, and the owner (somewhat) appropriately punished. In this journey, I met a lot of people passionate about saving animals AND ensuring responsible practices in rescue and individual ownership. We used a private Facebook group to contact each other and post updated information on various rescues.

Along came Raja Renata Ranch and Nicole/Niki/whathaveyou. The whole situation sounded shifty. We had evidence that she was running a breeding program along with her service/rescue dog program, and things weren't adding up. She had no credentials, didn't follow proper quarantine, and was evasive about questions regarding her facility, etc. Overall rating on the Meghan scale? Fishy as heck.

When I heard my local shelter was sending dogs there, I quickly voiced my concerns. I also contacted RRR Service Dogs to see what they would respond.

On Jan 7, 2013 5:37 PM, "Meghan Lodge" <meghan.hunt@live.com> wrote:
Hi,

I was interested in more information on your service dog program. Who does your training? Are they certified? Also, is it possible to self-train to train dogs? Do you do training outside of rescue dogs?

Thanks.

From: Nicole Schifando <rrrservicedogs@gmail.com>
To: 
Meghan Lodge <meghan.hunt@live.com>
Sent: 
Thu, Jan 10, 2013 16:44:35 GMT+00:00
Subject: 
Re: Service Dogs
Hi Meghan,
  Charlene McCuller told me we would possibly be hearing from you.  I believe we answered all of your questions when you posted on the page. 
Thank you.

Apparently, I came with a warning. HAHA.

On Jan 10, 2013 11:02 AM, "meghan.hunt@live.com" <meghan.hunt@live.com> wrote:
Nicole,

Yes, I saw where you had answered my Facebook post. I still have more questions, however.

Do you have your 501c3 status yet?

How does a soldier go about getting one of your dogs? Is it a private cost for them or something covered by their VA benefits? How long is their training?

Locally, we had a training course for therapy dog teams that would be visiting nursing facilities. The course lasted about 6-7 weeks and the CGC was administered by a licensed CGC representative afterwards. The dog were then tested by Therapy Dogs International. These dogs were still limited in their service abilities to welcoming facilities only.

I know each soldier's need is different, but can you give me examples of what your dogs have been trained to do beyond CGC requirements?

Thanks,
Meghan

From: Nicole Schifando <rrrservicedogs@gmail.com>
To: 
Meghan Lodge <meghan.hunt@live.com>
Sent: 
Thu, Jan 10, 2013 17:25:44 GMT+00:00
Subject: 
Re: Service Dogs
We currently have a lawyer working on our 501c3 status for us.   The paperwork should be ready to submit to the IRS within the next 60 days.  However, we are a registered non-profit with the state of Tennessee and are licensed by the state gaming commission to solicit funds.
In order to receive a dog, a Soldier must go through an extensive application process and home visit including providing medical documentation of their condition.  We must also speak with their care provider and we interview the Soldiers at length.  Obviously, everyone is not suited for a dog so this process is very indepth.
There is absolutely NO cost to the Soldier or the VA.  The VA has also stopped funding any type of psychiatric service dog and now only funds seeing eye dogs, etc.  Funding is done exclusively through donations to RRR.  The only thing the Soldier ever pays for is the regular cost associated with owning a dog such as food, yearly check ups, etc.  We provide their heartworm prevention, shots, etc for the life of the dog.
Training depends on each team.  Some dogs already know basic obedience when they go to the Soldiers, others do not so they are literally starting from the ground up.  We have been very lucky that though we have not yet received our ADI certification (the process takes over a year), Fort Campbell has been very willing to work with us after reviewing our program and seeing the benefits to Soldiers.  With the training we do (where the veteran/Soldier works with the dog on a specific task or two all week and then we review their work and proceed to the next task or command the next training) the process usually takes six months to a year but the Soldier is still receiving the benefit of having the dog with him during that time and they are forming a stronger bond.
Therapy dogs and service dogs are very different.  Service dogs are covered under the Americans With Disabilities act and do not require certification the way a therapy dog would.  The only 'requirement' the ADA needs for a dog to be granted public access as a service dog is that the dog perform three tasks to accommodate it's owners disability.  There is no other required training etc, hence why we personally require the public access test provided by ADI and the CGC.  CGC testing is done by a licensed CGC evaluator, as there is no other way to get granted that.  
As an idea of what tasks our dogs are trained for that assist with disability...we have dogs who alert to seizures, interrupt flashbacks, dogs who provide balance assist, some have been trained to wake their Soldier from night terrors/nightmares, we even have one who wakes his Soldier when the alarm clock goes off because he can't hear very well while sleeping due to his prescription medication. We are VERY proud of the work the guys put in with these dogs and how far each of these dogs have come.  I am also attaching a letter that was initially sent to a commander here at Ft Campbell when one of our Soldiers was seeking exception to the rules to bring his dog to work.  Not only did they approve him, the dogs behavior was complimented multiple times by leaders within his unit and his unit commander.

*Nicole

From: Nicole Schifando <rrrservicedogs@gmail.com>
To: 
Meghan Lodge <meghan.hunt@live.com>
Sent: 
Thu, Jan 10, 2013 18:08:53 GMT+00:00
Subject: 
Re: Service Dogs
Megan, 
I understand your concern.  There are many people who unfortunately don't like or appreciate our stance on some issues and they have bashed us plenty for it.  I, however, am a person of my word who holds true to my beliefs and doesn't back away from what i believe in just because someone distorts it or doesn't agree.  I obviously don't get much appreciation for that lol but any time you feel like you have a question are welcome to come to me and you will get an honest answer.  I can't always guarantee it will be what you WANT to hear but it will be honest.  You are welcome to keep watching updates of Simmer, now Layla, and Church, now Mika, on our page or ask me personally. 
Thank you.

If you've read Nicole's blog at all, you'll see that Nicole wasn't a total idiot. I have little sympathy for someone that steals from soldiers, children, the community, and starves animals; however, one might hypothesize that Nicole was (seriously) mentally ill. She wrote as though she fully believed in what she was doing and that it was right. I have no clue how she validated the dead/dying/starving dogs in her mind, or the fact that she wasn't delivering on any of her promises, but I reckon that's something she'd have to answer.

Anyhooo, I've wandered off topic.

When I warned the shelter about this rescue, I almost ended up banned as a volunteer. The then-president of the board and her henchwoman had seized control over the rescue operations as self-proclaimed rescue coordinators. Said president called me a "rogue volunteer," and said it was not my place to contact rescues to screen them. Well, as a US citizen, it's my right to question anyone I darn well please. (Of note, we citizens are also entitled to this wonderful thing called the Freedom of Information Act. Look it up.) I wasn't a paid worker of the shelter, and I didn't say I was doing it on their behalf. I would usually note that I volunteered there, simply so the rescue would know I had a reason to be concerned, but also so they would know that I was not in a position of any type of power.

Ah, power. I think that's what this whole situation boiled down to. See, I have no interest in the politics of the little empires these people and others likes them have built. My only concern then was (and continues to be) the well-being of the animals. If I knew a rescue wasn't good, even if I had nothing more than scant evidence and a serious gut feeling, why not at least take a little more time investigating it before shipping dogs off to whatever?

It would have been better if I had been wrong. That would mean there would not be 37+ bags of animal remains where Raja Renata Ranch operated. There wouldn't be dead puppies in the house, or disabled children lacking a service dog that their families had raised money for.

I'm such a troublemaker. *eyeroll*

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