Many Red Flags Went Unheeded in the Westberry Tragedy

Introduction: Below is a comment on this page of the Westberry story (opens new page). I really don’t want to over-egg the story but there are a number of comments amongst many that need highlighting because they may prevent this happening again. Ruth’s comment is supported by a number of other comments which remarked on the culpability of other people who supplied Julianne Westberry with cats.

By Ruth (a visitor to the site) commenting on the Julianne Westberry tragedy

Friends of Harnett Animal Shelter, In light of recent incidents in which numerous deceased cats were found at a local rescue, I am compelled to express my concerns. This statement concerns not only your organization, but the numerous other shelters organizers involved in transporting cats to Julianne Westberry. I realize there are numerous shelter animals with limited options.

The available fosters/rescues and animal advocacy groups are minimal compared to the need. Oftentimes, time is limited and there is an urgency to get animals out of high kill shelters as quickly as possible. As I am sure you realize, the need is ongoing and there is a desperation to save as many lives as possible.

Unfortunately, I believe that this urgency has had tragic results for many homeless animals and my concern is that this does not happen again. There were many red flags that went unheeded.

First of all, JW insisted on meeting in a public location. Transporters did not deliver to the home. When a rescue does not welcome a home visit, people should be very cautious.

Secondly, with the number of cats in shelters in SC, why did this woman obtain cats from NC, TN, and other out of state locations? That is clearly a red flag. SC shelters are overwhelmed with homeless cats. Why are you continuing to send NC cats to rescues in SC? Clearly, their own shelters are full and overflowing.

Let me get to the point, you actively collect money from your supporters to pull and transport pets to various out of state rescues. How many of these rescues have you personally inspected before transporting these animals?

It is one thing to be fooled by unscrupulous rescue organizations, but quite another to ignore obvious red flags. When you collect money from the public to pull and transport these animals, you must be held to a higher standard. People who pledge and support your organization trust that you are taking these animals out of danger to a safe environment, not sending them on to a life of pure torture.

As an animal advocate, I plead with you, you must do better. The safety and health of these loving animals rests in your hands. If you cannot ensure their safety, do not “rescue” them. I hope that in the future you will proceed with caution and investigate before dropping off animals to “rescue organizations”. They should be able to provide vet references as well as be open to showing you where the animals are living until adoption.

Harnett Friends….I plead with you….don’t let this happen again. These precious animals depend on you and me…we cannot let them down.


38 thoughts on “Many Red Flags Went Unheeded in the Westberry Tragedy”

  1. The page Susan comments about is not a “bashing page” it was created to share information about the truth behind poor animal rescue practices and to eventually help the public find quality rescues they should be sending funds to instead of being duped. Friends of Harnett has decided to take no responsibility for their actions. Currently, their policy states that pledgers are entirely responsible for researching the rescues where money is sent. This makes it possible for them to say “not us!” They fool the community into thinking they are sending pets to quality places and they are all “safe” with their posts and page manipulation. Such as instantly deleting Ruth’s post after she posted it. Several of their main admins do not even live in Harnett County or the state of North Carolina.

    For the record, I was banned from their page for asking a question (were you there when that happened?) was the question to a woman posting on their page and the admins jumped all over the post. I have screen shots of that and an admin posting on my personal page after deleting my comments and banning me. It was one of the first times I had ever posted on their page. I am a volunteer for an organization in our area who helps the community with low cost spay and neuter (in it’s 2nd year) with a goal for sustainable and targeted spay and neuter following the guidelines used in New Hampshire to eventually elimiate overpopulation. It is not a quick fix and Susan and other who claim it isn’t working obviously must not be aware of northern states with no kittens or puppies….(oh wait, she is….stated it herself) and I am also an volunteer of the shelter and our local school system. FYI The shelter has nothing to do with the Friends of Harnett Page. Over the last two years, our shelter is slowly improving and myself and others have been working with them along the way. They have been attacked often over the years and are leery of working with groups due to lies, cruelty and deceit. The shelter staff do what they can for the animals in their care and hold over pets whenever there is space to do so. Harnett is a very poor county and change will take time and hard work. The shelter is overwhelmed with animals every single week. There is only so much anyone can do. Susan and the rest are so afraid of euthanasia that they willingly sent animals into another area who euthanizes thousands more per year than Harnett ever has and of course to hoarders. Make it someone else’s problem because it hurts too much to accept it as our own.

    I have attached a file of a response by Susan above in in a conversation about checking rescues and our repeated plea to have a rescue credentialing program in our county. The full conversation can also be located here:

    I do not believe for a moment due to their “check your own rescue” policy that they check the rescues who pledge to their page as Susan claims. How in the world did a volunteer (Susan is not being clear if these volunteers are their volunteers or someone elses who checks rescues) who checked as she claimed above miss a major hoarder with hundreds of dead cats? So all “credentialing” is based on word-of-mouth by others. Really?? In addition to searching for and retrieving some of the cats they sent to SC they have now pulled another undisclosed number and are begging for two week fosters. One hour before closing they stated there were no rescues or pledges for these cats. Where are all of these pulled and re-rescued cats being housed? I have also seen the information Ruth mentioned above, and I fear this this only the tip of the iceberg as to what horrible things have been going on behind closed doors.

    • I know of NO northern states with a shortage of unwanted cats and kittens to be found locally or nearby. The shelters in the north want their state’s rescues and those in their neighboring states to help the unwanted cats already present, not bring even more up from the south. Maybe the situation differs with dogs, but the north does not “need” our southern cats. We need to figure this problem out and work to remedy it, not use this “out of sight, out of mind” approach!

      • Well, that is a flat out lie. I have been restricted from commenting ever since that day I mentioned above. I cannot click on or read any of FOH notes or anything. Without borrowing my husband’s account. What are you calling that….not banned? Please. Anyway, this is not the place for this. Instead, why not answer Ruth instead of starting a new pointless and untruthful argument? (photo below of post from today showing I cannot comment so this will not go on endlessly)

          • SMH. I no longer like your page since I was banned. I doubt you can see since you cannot find me on your like list. But you go on ignoring the proof and swearing it ain’t so. Later I will find the screenshot of where Christina admits banning me if that is what you need. (really, we are still here instead of posting about the real issues at hand?)

    • The admins for Friends of Harnett may not currently live in Harnett County but that’s not to say we aren’t from there. Not everyone strives to live in a small town their entire life so we grow up and move on, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring about the welfare of our hometown and the animals in it. Also just because we can put a potential foster in touch with a rescue looking for fosters proves nothing more than we go above and beyond for the animals. Unlike you Lori we don’t want to see animals killed in a weekly basis to try to prove a point. Also creating and hiding behind a bash page is cowardly and honestly extremely middle school behavior. It’s sad that Friends of Harnett Will actively promote hawcs discount spay neuter and have even helped raise funds for your program and participated in events you held in recent months but you bash us left and right. I begged for everyone to get along took the get along plea to HAWC’s Facebook page months ago. That if we worked together we could accomplish so much good. But you quickly told me that you refused to work with us. I don’t know if this is ego or what that causes you to feel superior to the people and animals of harnett county, but the time for this ridiculousness needs to end. Be an adult, remove the bash page, stop being so negative about others who try to help, and step up and lend a hand.

      • Thanks Juli. Any future comments you make will be published immediately. The article was a comment. I converted it into an article. She is entitled to her opinion and her article is well written and thought out. Everyone is entitled to their views. I don’t see this article as “bashing”. It is comment.

      • Please show where the HAWC Spay and Neuter $20 or less spay and neuter program has been shared proactively and posted on Friends Of Harnett Page. In fact for a very long time it was not found anywhere on the page at all. It might possibly be listed somewhere on the about page at this time. But not encouraged on the main page. Only one application out of hundreds on my desk has Friends Of Harnett listed in the “where did you hear about us” section. Most applicants have heard about our program from the local newspaper and our own website/facebook page. One would think that a group who wants to see less litters in the shelter so there would be less to pull would be screaming spay and neuter for $20 or less from the rooftops. Instead, we are bombarded with cries of “it’s not working.” and “your plan is a failure.”

        Please clarify as to when Friends of Harnett was participating our events or raising money for our organization. One cannot make that claim merely because one of their volunteers decided on their own to attend an event or fundraiser.

        Please do elaborate on your accusation that I “want to see animals killed on a weekly basis to prove a point.” It is quite disturbing when volunteers and friends of a rescue (crossposting, transport….whatever the group calls itself nowadays) organization label and attack all those who question what is happening to the animals and have beliefs that rescue should be safe and responsible with protective measures in place. Who travel the web yelling “you want them all to die”.

        No, Harnett Animal Welfare Coalition will not work with rescue and organizations who embrace members who repeatedly attack its founder, who refuse to directly answer simple questions (and delete them) by the public on their own page concerning practices, and whose members and friends travel the internet to pounce on those who ask or discuss elsewhere.

        For those who are interested in the “bash page” (which those who support/volunteer with FOH wants removed and are more concerned with WHO is behind the page than what is actually on it), can be found below…. where currently Harnett Rescue’s roles in the JW tragedy are being shared with the public.

        • Was there not a friends of harnett co team for your dog walk event? That wasn’t one member that was a group decision.

          • Also just so I have added I as an Admin for FOH recommend HAWC all the time for low cost spay and neuter in the Harnett County area. I also have seen other admins do the same. Seriously the grudge you LORI have against FOH should have been squashed a long long time ago when I came to you like an adult and begged for everyone to get along. We all may not agree on all issues (FOH wants no kill, hawc doesn’t believe in no kill) but instead of clashing left and right we need to get along. Look at all that could be accomplished if the time and energy put into bashing us was put into working together to try to save the animals of Harnett County! I have said many times now let the past be the past and let’s move forward with a working relationship, it’s you who chose to continue to do the exact things you accuse FOH of doing (bashing admin, banning people who disagree with you, deleting comments, saying our ideas don’t work). How about we take all this negatively and use it for the good of the animals vs fighting.

  2. Susan,
    I originally posted this letter to you on your FOH page, but it was conveniently deleted and ignored. Not until it was published elsewhere did you feel a need to respond. It is apparent that your response is an attempt to cover your own history of failing to ensure the safety of the animals you claim to “rescue” each week. Believe me, I have researched your organization and this is not the first time that you have failed the animals in your county shelter. Why did you proceed to deliver cats to Sue Lebright of Azrael’s Ark knowing that she was not licensed to operate as a 501c3 and had 75 plus cats in a trailer. In correspondence, you acknowledged that at least one of the pledger’s had opted out when they realized she was not a non-profit and the state was involved. Yet, you continued to use your page to petition pledges for this individual and were not forthcoming to your patrons about the situation. This is not only oversight, it is outright deceit. As far as not being aware that Julianne Westberry was taking in numerous cats from various shelters, let’s look at your numbers alone. JW claimed to rescue 5-6 cats from you weekly. That is roughly 20-24 cats per month. This has been going on for the past year. How could you not question how she was rehoming this many cats, particularly when SC shelters are overrun with homeless pets. You claim that she probably just helped FOH because she liked your volunteer. Wake up…your supporters were paying high dollar for her to take your cats. There are no easy answers to saving the animals that end up in shelters. However, surely you must take some responsibilty in terms of your complicity in sending Harnett cats to an abuser. It is time that you reexamine your policies and start taking steps to ensure the safety of the animals instead of just getting them out of the shelter at any cost. If this is not a wake up call to exercise due diligence in rescuing these animals…for the life of me, I don’t know what it will take!

    • Ruth, I responded when it was published here because this is where I saw it.

      Re: Azrael’s Ark: the volunteers who established a relationship with and initially took animals to Sue LeBright are no longer involved with Harnett shelter animals. I did write a suck-up email to her after I learned she had lost her 501. We never placed any animals with her after that. I also did not post for more donations even though I told her I would. I lied to her. My bad.

      JW did not take 5-6 cats per week from the Harnett shelter. Where did you see that?

      Not all of the HCAC cats she took had pledges. Some had nothing at all. Lots of rescues cherry-pick, take only the cutest animals with the most money. JW did not.

      I said that “liking the volunteer” was a possible scenario, that’s all.

      I do not claim that we have no culpability, and of course we will be examining our practices. But do be aware that the Friends of Harnett facebook page and its admins do not actually place any animal. The page networks the animals and community volunteers liase with the rescues, or the rescues work directly with the shelter.

      I responded to your posts because you obviously are considering this tragedy thoughtfully and thoroughly and I appreciate that. With all respect, I will not be posting further. Thank you.

      • Susan, you just stated “But do be aware that the Friends of Harnett facebook page and its admins do not actually place any animal. The page networks the animals and community volunteers liase with the rescues, or the rescues work directly with the shelter.”

        Yet, this was posted today.

  3. Preaching to the choir here, Ruth.

    1. After the first time she took animals, the transporter was Julianne’s. She was not a paid transporter, and she says she DID go to the home.

    2. The Friends of the Harnett Shelter Facebook page posts and networks shelter animals. We are not a rescue and we are not the shelter. When we learn that rescues are interested in our aimals, we try to check out the rescue. Sometimes information is scant. In this case there was plenty of information. Julianne Westberry was referred to us by someone who is well known and well respected in the rescue community. The first time cats went to her, a volunteer and one of our page admins drove the cats. Westberry met them after hours at the Anderson County Humane Society, to which she had keys. A foster came and took several cats. Others were put into holding pens at the Humane Society. Her adoptions at the local Petsmart were verified. After that our volunteer did not transport again; Julianne’s person did. But Julianne did maintain regular contact with the volunteer and frequently sent photos of and information about various cats. In order for us to have known that she was pulling from so many other places we would have had to have a suspicion that something was amiss, but we did not. Nor did we search the web sites and Facebook pages of other shelters in other counties and states to get a count of animals going to rescues we also use. There was never a whisper of any impropriety.

    As to why she would rescue from us rather than from, say, Anderson County P.A.W.S., there were a number of possible scenarios. Perhaps she liked the volunteer and wanted to help. Perhaps she wanted to ensure that she maintained a good relationship with the person who connected us to her. We didn’t interrogate her about her motivations; she and the volunteer had become friends (or so the volunteer believed), and our dealings with Julianne had been nothing but positive. We know lots of people who also know Julianne and none of them had any reason to question her legitimacy.

    You ask, “Why are you continuing to send NC cats to rescues in SC?” We aren’t; why do you make that assumption?

    3. Volunteers have visited every out of state rescue that our cats have gone to except one in New Jersey, just like they visited Julianne. The New Jersey rescue was carefully checked and also came highly recommended. There are rescues we refuse to work with. There are two cat rescues in Wake County that I personally refuse to work with.

    Currently we are enjoying a Facebook bashing page that is making every effort to discredit us (Hi, Lori), but the fact is that Friends of Harnett does its due diligence. One regular contributor to that page is one of only two people banned from the page; she was a foster who placed animals with someone else without notice or permission, and then bombarded us with PMs and posts when we reclaimed the animals. There are individuals with whom we refuse to work as well.

    When the volunteer who is the rescue liaison assures us that the rescue is legit, and when we trust the volunteer, we will accept that assurance. In two cases, we have been wrong. In the Westberry case we were spectacularly wrong but, again, there were no indications. I went to South Carolina to try to identify Harnett County cats. It was heartbreaking. I wish it had never occurred and I hope it never recurs. But was it my fault, or the fault of Friends of Harnett? No, it was not.

    It was Julianne Westberry’s fault.

    4. The volunteers who work with rescues do get vet references.

    The vast majority of rescue groups are reliable and responsible and have the best interests of the animals in mind. Those that are not are horrific. Julianne presented herself, and was accepted generally, as an employee of the Anderson County Human Society acting under its auspices. We wish we had seen red flags, but none were waving at the time.

    Jeff most of the shelters involved had nothing directly to do with their animals going to Julianne. Our shelter is not directly involved with the Facebook page but they are aware of its activities.

    Melinda I certainly support your suggestions about what should happen when an animal is pulled for rescue but as you note, such things are not always possible. The Harnett County Shelter does not even recognize or work with rescue groups so they certainly will not be confirming rescue licenses. Not sure what you mean by “documentation of transporter.”

    Just a little over a year ago, the Harnett County Shelter regularly euthanized almost every animal that came into the facility. That has changed; now almost every adoptable animal is saved. Unfortunately relatively few of the saved animals go to individual adopters. In this rural, farming and hunting county, there are free dogs everywhere and a litter of kittens outside every door. Cats and kittens in particular are considered disposable. If there were required pet registration including a much higher fee for unaltered animals, perhaps the problem would be alleviated but the hunters would fight that tooth and nail. If there was an effective,affordable and convenient low-cost spay/neuter service, perhaps the problem would be alleviated but the program that does exist is not convenient for many people and has not been particularly effective. So in order for the shelter animals to live, we must rely highly on rescues. There are almost NO cat rescues around here. By some people’s logic, since there are no rescues with space in North Carolina, the cats should just die. Really? Well, by that same logic, why should we send cats to a different county since some of the counties in NC are more distant than some areas of, say, Virginia. And honestly, given North Carolina’s ridiculous animal protection laws and this area’s almost total nonchalance about animal welfare, animals would be better off in many if not most other states.

    If people want to keep animals close so they can keep an eye on them, those people need to work to change the culture here so that companion animals are valued and cherished rather than ignored and abused. They also need to get off their butts and help find placement for the animals instead of preaching to the people who actually do the hard but imminently fulfilling work of animal rescue. Until those things occur, we will continue to welcome rescues outside the rarefied boundaries of North Carolina.

    • “Documentation of transporter” meaning if a paid transporter, are they licensed to move animals? Do they have knowledge of each state’s regulations and the documentation showing the source, vetting, quarantine, and destination moving along with each pet on transport? Nick of Time/ Lee Caswell is right now facing animal abuse charges as well as illegal transport charges in CT, and she has pulled and transported 100s of cats out of Whiteville, SC. Her comments can even be seen in Ash’s albums.

    • Regarding transporting into other counties and other states, indeed there is a severe lack of options to spare the lives of unwanted pets in the south, and I am not opposed to reaching out to rescues. But the greater the distance, the less will be known about their destinations. Many “rescued” pets would have been better off to have been humanely PTS, as in this very case with Julianne Westberry and her fraud rescue. I would rather know that the kittens,found after suffering a horrifying and slow death taped into cabinets, had died quickly in a shelter. The first true solution to all of this is to get strict spay/ neuter regulations into place.

  4. Approved Vet? Oh, you mean like all those no-kill shelters with “approved vets” that ship truckloads of your unwanted vermin cats to other states to have them killed there? LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Let us all know when you start to wake-up from your psychotic cat-lickers’ Toxoplasma-gondii brain-damaged delusions! Yeah, that’s never going to happen, is it now. LOL!

    • No, moron, the approved vets of reputable, licensed rescues … all responsible rescues seek immediate vet care for cats entering their rescues. What would you expect them to do, not get a vet’s evaluation?

  5. I was pretty surprised to hear of this kind of tradgedy. When you op rate a business n people fund n trust n support you you have a responsibility to the people n animals. This was a gross neglect of responsibility n shouldn’t be overlooked or neglected. There is a chain of command n people need to be held responsible, no excuses face the facts n suffer the consequences of your actions. It wasn’t just once it was several times over a long period of time. Can’t just ignore.

      • I’d like to respond to some of this. .. for starters, ANYONE can set up a shelter sharing page, including people in other states, other countries. Sometimes a sharing page is set up with the full cooperation of ONSITE volunteers and even workers, and sometimes a shelter its completely removed from page that its purported to be sharing their homeless pets.

      • As for pulling a pet for rescue, the pet should go straight to the rescue’s approved pet from the shelter. If that is not possible, then the transporter should be delivering the pet to a home and not handing the pet off somewhere. There needs to be affirmation of the rescue’s license by the shelter as well as documentation of transporter, and confirmation of each and every pet to be pulled. All money needs to be directed TO THE RESCUE or to the rescue’s vet, and not filtering though the paypals of individuals. PHOTOS arriving to vet’s office or foster’s home should be common place and expected.

  6. I agree lessons need to be learned from this. It’s a big wake up call for all of us, from rescues to shelters to ordinary people.. That is a lot of Cats that not needed to die this way.


Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo