The Story Of “Snaps” Has A Happy Ending
You may remember “Snaps,” the pit bull that was used as a “weapon” by a Burien teen and her friends in an attack on two different women in SeaTac on June 21st (last week, the 16-year old female suspect plead “guilty,” and her sentencing will be Oct. 8th).
At one point, this dog was very close to being put down, as he was considered dangerous and not a candidate for rehabilitation. However, due to a huge outpouring of public sentiment, which included numerous Comments left on this blog, as well as phone calls, numerous online polls and emails sent directly to the King County Animal Shelter, “Snaps’” story has a happy ending – he has a new home at the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, where he will live out the remainder of his life.
So a story that began with human ignorance, abuse and downright cruelty seemingly is headed toward a happy ending for a poor, innocent animal – just take a look at the “before” and “after” photos above (on the left, Snaps in his cage at KCACC; on the right, his current state at the Olympic Animal Sanctuary).
Here’s a note from the folks at KCACC Exposed, a website devoted to “stopping the taxpayer-funded suffering of animals at the hands of King County Animal Care & Control”:
Betrayed and abused by his owner(s), authorities would’ve easily destroyed him but for the dedication of people who saw the the unfair treatment and judgment and quickly sprang into action. With them, a caring public who would not stand for another misunderstood and mislabeled animal being killed. For Snaps, his future looks bright. He has gone to Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, Washington. Thank you to all the Snaps advocates who kept up with the story and spoke out. Please remember there are many more like him. They silently suffer and endure whatever humans choose to do with them.
Snaps … has been released to an animal sanctuary where he will be allowed to live out his life in peace. Steve Markwell, executive director of Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, Washington, picked Snaps up from King County Animal Care and Control (KCACC) on Friday afternoon (Sept. 11th) and transported him to his new home.
By Saturday morning, Snaps was getting his first chance to stretch his legs in nearly three months, romping with Mr. Markwell in a sanctuary exercise yard. Snaps then took a ride in the cab of Mr. Markwell’s truck (with his head in Mr. Markwell’s lap) and shared an order of French Fries.
“Snaps is a sweet dog who has been through hell. He has likely been in fear most of his life, and his behavior has been a testament to all of his suffering,” said Mr. Markwell. Mr. Markwell adds that he believes the aggressive behavior Snaps reportedly demonstrated at KCACC came largely as a result of his lengthy confinement in a kennel.
Mr. Markwell says the reputation of Snaps as “vicious” has taken on “mythical proportions,” but “he’s really just a dog who’s been hurt, and deserves better.”
“He’s still learning to trust people again, but he’s not the most difficult dog I’ve worked with, and he’s not the most difficult dog at the Sanctuary. I believe Snaps will not only thrive in this environment, but that he will be an ambassador for misunderstood dogs everywhere,” he said.
The release of Snaps comes after a long battle with King County authorities, who had insisted on keeping the dog in inhumane conditions at KCACC from the time that he was involved in the June 21 incident. An informal, grassroots campaign to “Save Snaps” was launched after his owner, a 16-year-old Burien girl, was arrested for beating and kicking the dog until he participated in her assault on two Good Samaritans, who had stopped to try to save Snaps from abuse. Last week, the girl pleaded guilty to charges of assault and possession of alcohol – although she was never charged with animal cruelty.
Since the day that Snaps was seized from his owner, he has been kept in a tiny indoor kennel at the KCACC shelter in Kent, with no exercise, social contact, or fresh air. Soon after he was impounded, KCACC Exposed learned that KCACC Interim Manager Nancy McKenney had warned KCACC staff members that they were not to “make friends” with Snaps, telling compassionate staff members that they were not to visit Snaps, or give the dog anything more than the minimal level of care, such as food, water, and cage cleaning once a day. Only after KCACC Exposed wrote a letter protesting the conditions in which Snaps was being held did KCACC managers relent and allow the dog to have a bed and toys, but staff report that he still was never allowed to leave his kennel, except to be dragged at the end of an animal control catchpole.
Although Snaps has now been released from KCACC, other animals on long-term holds continue to be housed in similar conditions in the Kent shelter – albeit with far less public awareness of their plight.
During Snaps’s stay at KCACC, authorities claim he underwent two “independent behavior assessments,” from “outside experts” who reportedly determined that Snaps was dangerous and could not be rehabilitated. KCACC has refused to release either assessment, or identify the groups or individuals who performed the assessments, although KCACC Exposed has now filed a public disclosure request to obtain those records. However, KCACC staff have informed KCACC Exposed that the first assessment was by a regional rescue group with no expertise in abused dogs or behavior assessments, and that the representative of the group did not even go inside the kennel when performing the evaluation, but simply looked at Snaps through the fence.
Mr. Markwell, who was provided a copy of this assessment, confirms that the assessors “never even observed the dog outside of his kennel, and thus did not conduct a single test before determining that he was dangerous and recommending that he be killed.”
Mr. Markwell was not given a copy of the second assessment that was reportedly done on Snaps. However, KCACC Exposed has been told that the second group of evaluators asked that Snaps be released into their custody for a week, so that he could relax and be evaluated outside the stressful and terrifying environment of the KCACC shelter, but that Ms. McKenney refused that request.
KCACC staff members have reported that although Snaps clearly has issues resulting from his troubled past, he responded to treats, affection, and kindness while impounded at the shelter.
Nearly twelve weeks later, and following the guilty plea of Snaps’s former owner, KCACC and the prosecuting attorney’s office agreed to release the dog after relentless pressure from the public, local animal advocates, and members of the King County Council.
Of course, KCACC has been shameless in taking credit for Snaps’s happy ending, with Ms. McKenney going so far as to claim in a press release that “This is an example of the hard work our staff does to ensure that every animal has a chance.”
Ms. McKenney made this claim despite the fact that KCACC did nothing to facilitate the transfer of Snaps – in fact, it was KCACC Exposed Co-Chair Kim Sgro who contacted Olympic Animal Sanctuary and secured Mr. Markwell’s consent to take the dog. Meanwhile, KCACC staff and volunteers report that Ms. McKenney and other shelter leaders repeatedly complained about being told that they had to allow Snaps to be transferred, and insisted that the dog should be killed even if there was a sanctuary that was willing to take him.
In taking all the credit for itself, KCACC management ignores the real heroes of this story who should be recognized: You
KCACC, King County Executive Kurt Triplett, and the King County Council were bombarded with letters and phone calls from the public, as well as multiple public petitions with thousands of signatures, pointing out that Snaps was as much of a victim as the women he was forced to attack, and demanding that every effort be made to save him. Although KCACC answered these letters with dismissive boilerplate, others were listening. There is no question that the outpouring of compassion for Snaps got the attention of public officials, and caused them to take a careful look at his case. Once these officials learned more about Snaps, the abuse that he had suffered, and the neglect that he was continuing to endure, several compassionate public officials and their staff intervened on the dog’s behalf.
As Councilmember Kathy Lambert acknowledges, this happy ending occurred in large part because of the public’s involvement: “I would like to congratulate the research and advocacy of all the animal welfare supporters who contacted my office and the animal shelter on behalf of Snaps,” she says.
King County Council
As has become all too common, it was the King County Council that had to intervene to force KCACC to do the right thing. This time, it was the intervention of Councilmember Lambert that was critical. After KCACC Exposed co-chair Sgro contacted Olympic Animal Sanctuary, and the sanctuary agreed to take Snaps, Councilmember Lambert worked directly with King County Executive Kurt Triplett, and his advisor Noel Treat, to facilitate the transfer.
“This animal is a victim of abuse and did not deserve to be euthanized just because of the irresponsibility of his owner, if any other appropriate options are available,” says Councilmember Lambert, who was present at KCACC when Snaps was transferred in order to make sure that things proceeded smoothly. “It is unfortunate that people were injured before this dog could be rescued from abuse, and I hope that the women who were injured have a speedy and complete recovery. In the case of Snaps, I believe this is a positive outcome.”
Councilmember Lambert has earned a reputation for her compassion for the most vulnerable members of society – children who get lost in the system, and jail inmates who are mistreated in custody. We are delighted that she is now also working to protect animals who are abused, neglected, and forgotten. (Check back here soon for articles on Councilmember Lambert’s efforts to ensure that King County plans for pets during disasters, and her legislation to force KCACC to allow transfers of animals to local shelters and rescue groups.)
KCACC Staff Members
Too often, the KCACC staff is implicated in the failures of KCACC management and the obstructionist policies of the KCACC Guild. It becomes all too easy to forget that many of these staff members have their hearts in the right place, and are doing their best to help the animals caught in the failing shelter. Through this experience, it has again become clear that many staff members are compassionate, caring people. They did their best for Snaps even under orders not to give him any special care, showed clear affection and sympathy for the abused dog, and were overjoyed when they heard that he was going to be released to a sanctuary. Without their care, we’re sure that Snaps would have been in much worse shape when he was finally released. (How sad is it that we cannot name these staff members, because they would be in danger of retaliation from King County for their compassionate behavior?)
Steve Markwell, Olympic Animal Sanctuary
Mr. Markwell of Olympic Animal Sanctuary is the ultimate hero of this story. Very few sanctuaries or shelters are willing to take a dog that another shelter has decided should die. Sanctuaries and rescue groups all over the country were contacted about Snaps, by private citizens, KCACC Exposed, and county officials. None agreed to take the dog. When Best Friends Animal Society ultimately refused to take Snaps, Ms. Sgro contacted Olympic Animal Sanctuary, and was thrilled to finally receive a “yes.”
With the motto “We Save Dogs You’d Rather See Dead,” Olympic Animal Sanctuary focuses on dogs such as Snaps who are considered unadoptable by other shelters, including former fighting dogs, street dogs, and dogs that have attacked other animals or bitten people. These dogs are given lifetime care (with no possibility of adoption, due to safety concerns), along with exercise, affection, and freedom from fear and stress. Says the sanctuary website: “People made them monsters; Olympic Animal Sanctuary lets them be dogs again.”
Although Snaps will never have contact with the general public, he will get plenty of exercise, including a chance to enjoy a swimming pool. Most importantly, he will get a chance just to be a dog.
Mr. Markwell says that his goal with Snaps “is the same as it is for every dog at the Sanctuary – I want him to be healthy, happy, and safe.”
“Walking on a leash is a bonus. Not biting is a bonus. I’d like him to be able to play with other dogs, but we’ll have to wait and see how that goes,” says Mr. Markwell. “Truthfully, I’ve already reached my goal with Snaps, so everything we accomplish from here is gravy.”
Note: We will be visiting Snaps at Olympic Animal Sanctuary next week, and hope to return with more photos and videotape showing his progress. Please check back soon!