Rescue group and two families fight over fate of lost dog

The 8-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback was last seen playing in the backyard of the Torres’ family home in Panorama City, Los Angeles; days after she vanished, they discovered she’d been adopted by another family.

On February 13, 8-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy Raffiki disappeared from the Torres family’s Panorama City, Los Angeles yard. Rosa Torres and her 4-year-old son Daniel were absolutely devastated.

“She’s not a dog for us,” Torres tells CBS Los Angeles of Raffiki. “She’s not just a pet. She’s a family member. She’s my daughter. She’s my son’s best friend.”

When her dog went missing, Torres scoured her neighborhood, posted a “Lost Dog” notice on Craigslist, created a “Where’s Raffiki?” Facebook page, and checked the Los Angeles Animal Services East Valley shelter in Van Nuys — the animal shelter that serves her neighborhood — hoping Raffiki would turn up.

Then, days after beginning her search for Raffiki, someone spotted a photo of Torres’s missing Ridgeback puppy online. A Santa Monica animal rescue group called Karma Rescue had placed Raffiki up for adoption under the name “Kami.” Torres, relieved to find out Raffiki was okay, contacted Karma Rescue. Torres says the rescue group told her she would need to fill out an adoption application for her dog, which she did though she thought it was strange.

“The application form says why do you want this particular dog. I said because she belongs to me,” Torres explains. “I said we love her and we miss her and we want her back home with us.”

But by the time the rescue organization responded to that application, Torres says she was turned down, that Raffiki was adopted out to another family. And that new family does not want to give “Kami” back.

Torres believes Karma Rescue did not approve her application and return Raffiki because she and her family live in a “bad part of town,” and because Raffiki was not spayed, microchipped, or wearing her ID tags when she was brought in to the West Valley shelter.

Torres also believes the rescue is looking down on her because she was unable to find Raffiki within a week of when she went missing.

“Had she been a little more diligent, we would have spoken with her,” says Karma Rescue’s lawyer Susan Willis.

What’s more, the rescue also told the Times that Torres’s application “did not meet the qualifications that Karma looks for when adopting a dog to a home.”

But what she couldn’t have known, Torres says, is that someone had found Raffiki roaming the streets and brought her to a different shelter, the West Valley facility operated by LA Animal Services, 10 miles from Torres’s home on the other side of the San Fernando Valley.

Attorney Maria Tauscher, who hopes to help Rosa and Daniel Torres reunite with Raffiki, believes someone at the LA Animal Services East Valley shelter could’ve been more forthcoming with Torres, making it easier for Torres to find her missing dog.

“She had been checking at East Valley in Van Nuys, the closest shelter to her house. How hard would it have been for one person, anybody, at East Valley to say, ‘Hey, by the way, did you know we have another facility?” Tauscher says.

And according to an online petition started on behalf of the Torres family, Raffiki was scheduled to be spayed and microchipped, but ran away only three days before her appointment.

After spending the required five-day stray hold at the public shelter, the shelter placed Raffiki up for adoption. The next morning, the morning of February 20, Karma Rescue pulled Raffiki — whom they called “Kami” — from the West Valley shelter.

In Karma Rescue’s timeline of events, given in a March 4 press release, the group says they approved an adoption application for “Kami” on February 21 at 6:03 p.m. They received Rosa Torres’s application at 6:54 p.m., after they say “Kami’s” adoption was already complete. They also acknowledge that the organization received a voicemail from Rosa Torres at 4:57 p.m. that evening but that they did not listen to that message until after the adoption had already taken place.

The rescue insists they have acted in good faith and legally, with “the best interests of the dog as a priority.” They also take issue with allegations of discrimination, calling those accusations “a particularly insidious and exploitive way to solicit support.”

Karma Rescue emphasizes the importance of microchipping and spay/neuter to prevent situations like this one.

“Although we have done everything we can to ensure that this one particular dog is in a safe and loving home, we regret any pain that these events have caused,” the statement reads. “We will continue to advocate tirelessly on behalf of the animals of our city and the people who love them.”

But former Karma Rescue’s Volunteer Marketing Director Jessica Gary is speaking out today refuting the timeline released by Karma Tuesday. According to Gary, she contacted a colleague at Karma Rescue after learning through social media that Rosa Torres was trying to get her dog back from the rescue but was told “the dog wasn’t spayed or microchipped. She’s not getting her dog back.”

“Despite being urged to act otherwise, they were dead set on this decision,” Gary continues. “They knew there was a family out there looking for this dog and they didn’t even bother to return their calls or emails to hear them out.”

Gary resigned from the organization last week, calling Karma Rescue’s handling of the situation a betrayal of their mission statement.

“You’ve got groups that help people and their pets, through education and support, versus people who just focus on the animals and tend to demonize owners,” Gary says. “This is somebody’s own dog, and you’re making the judgment and denying them the dog back without even bothering to talk to them, get to know them, let them explain what happened. That is just wrong.”

Meanwhile Rosa Torres just hopes one day, she will get to see Raffiki again.

“How do I explain it to my son, you know? ‘I’m sorry, but a rescue doesn’t want to help us get your dog back,” Torres says.

“I’ll compensate the family that has her,” Torres tells the Los Angeles Times. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

It’s not clear what lies ahead for the Torres family, Karma Rescue, Raffiki, or the family that knows Raffiki as “Kami,” but what is clear is that there will likely be a legal battle on the horizon.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Where’s Raffiki? Facebook page, Karma Rescue Facebook page, CBS Los Angeles