CUBA — The missing dog that was the catalyst for social media backlash against Joyful Rescues has been found safe and returned to his family, who are not backing down from their criticism of the Cuba-based animal rescue organization.
Rexx, the 10-year-old vizsla who had been missing since Jan. 27, was spotted and picked up by a local man driving his truck down Haskell Road Wednesday morning, said the dog’s owner, Mindy Langworthy of Happy Hollow Road in Portville.
“Until we saw him we were kind of thinking: Are we going to get our hopes up and it’s not going to be him?” said Langworthy, who with her husband Dale picked up Rexx from the man. “But once we saw it was him it was an absolutely amazing feeling.”
The Langworthys and their friends’ search for Rexx over the last week and a half led to heavy online criticism of Joyful Rescues, which is located off Jolly Town Road within a couple miles of where Rexx went missing on East Windfall Road.
Joyful Rescues, which currently has about 50 dogs and 20 cats, did not let the Langworthys or New York State Police search the shelter to confirm Rexx was not there Jan. 29. The Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office was allowed to search the Turock Road property the next day and did not find the dog.
The Langworthys have accused Joyful Rescues of having their dog and then moving him prior to the sheriff’s office search. Their Facebook post about Joyful Rescues last week caused many local residents to post grievances against the shelter, as well as accusations they’ve had difficulty getting their missing pets back from the shelter.
Joyful Rescues owner Joye Turock, who last week called the allegations “ridiculous,” did not return a request for comment Wednesday, but Julie DeCarlo, president of Joyful Rescues’ board of directors, told the Olean Times Herald the nonprofit organization is “thrilled” Rexx was found.
“It’s just unfortunate they thought we had the dog. This is not what we do. We don’t steal dogs from people,” DeCarlo said. “All the dogs we have are surrendered legally and trust me, we don’t want a dog where we know there’s an owner out there because we try to rescue them from euthanasia and find them homes.”
Capt. Shawn Gregory of the sheriff’s office, who personally conducted the search of Joyful Rescues, called the backlash against the shelter a “witch hunt” last week.
However, Langworthy said Wednesday she still believes Rexx was being held by Joyful Rescues and was simply let loose by the shelter due to the attention.
She said Rexx would not have survived being outside during last week’s subzero temperatures, adding said she took him to a veterinarian Wednesday afternoon and he was healthy other than dropping about 15 pounds.
Langworthy also noted the area where Rexx was found on Haskell Road is located just a couple miles away from Joyful Rescues, and that two other dogs were found in the same area over the last few days. She said another loose dog was found on Haskell Road Wednesday and taken to the SPCA in Cattaraugus County, while a missing dog from Creek Road returned to its home Monday.
“I truly believe that they were being held, and there’s so much publicity going on and so much backlash going on that I believe they decided they should probably get them out of there,” she said of the three dogs.
DeCarlo said “this is not anything we would ever do,” adding any animals brought in or found by Joyful Rescues would be scanned for a microchip and turned over to their owners if the animal had one.
“I’m sorry that they think that way. It might never change their mind, that’s fine,” she said. “ … We can debunk probably every fact that they would have put in front of us.”
AS FOR THE numerous residents who’ve alleged they found their missing pets at Joyful Rescues, and were either forced to pay an adoption fee or were unable to get their animals back at all, DeCarlo said such “confusion” stems from Joyful Rescues’ previous animal control program.
“Joyful Rescues had an agreement with animal control, where if a pet was found in town, the pet would be brought to Joyful Rescues,” she said. “After 10 days if the pet had not been claimed, the pet could be put up for adoption.”
As Turock said last week, DeCarlo said Joyful Rescues would charge families to get their pets back to cover money spent neutering, spaying or doing any other work on the animal.
However, she noted Joyful Rescues no longer has an animal control program. Turock said last week that about 80 percent of Joyful Rescues’ animals come from shelters down South, while the other 20 percent are surrendered by local residents who can no longer take care of them.
State police charged Turock in 2008 with petit larceny, a class A misdemeanor, after Joyful Rescues provided a local missing dog to a Niagara County shelter. Turock said last week it was a recordkeeping issue that the shelter has since corrected and the charges were eventually dropped.
DeCarlo said the online backlash this week has been hurtful to Joyful Rescues workers and volunteers. She also said the Langworthys and their friends have complained to both the Better Business Bureau and PetSmart, which allows Joyful Rescues to sell dogs out of its Orchard Park and Warsaw locations on weekends.
However, she said the BBB closed the complaint since the Langworthys never actually bought an animal from Joyful Rescues, while PetSmart has informed her that Joyful Rescues is “good with them.”
“There’s no reason a small group of people should be so upset with what we’ve done and rallying people,” DeCarlo said. “I understand everyone has a story, but we’ve done a lot more good than bad.”
DeCarlo added Joyful Rescues hasn’t been deterred by this past week’s events and plans to adopt out even more animals this year.
Langworthy said she and her family’s supporters don’t plan to stop either. She said they will continue to collect grievances against Joyful Rescues, as well as possibly hold a protest or even file a class action lawsuit against the shelter.
“This is just the beginning. I can’t sit back and let other families go through what we went through this week,” she said.
As for whether Joyful Rescues would pursue legal action, DeCarlo would only say the shelter and its legal counsel are “observing” the online criticism and allegations.