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. I am speaking up as someone who used to volunteer with FOH. I will speak my mind and then I am done.

    I was originally put in touch with Azrael’s Ark by another volunteer in our group. We only sent her four or five cats that I know of. Pledges were made on the FOH Facebook page for these cats and I repeatedly contacted those that made the pledges, asking that the pledge money be sent directly to the rescue. Some I know for sure followed through, some did not. To my knowledge, pledges that are made on FOH go directly to the rescue involved, and do not pass through any persons volunteering.

    I am one of the people who have since left that group (for personal reasons), and that was some months ago. I don’t know if or how things have changed since I left the group but I will say without any hesitation that there is not one person in that group that I believe would knowingly do anything detrimental to animals. Having known a number of these people personally, I do defend how very hard they work to try to save these cats (and dogs too). Although I have had little contact with most of the volunteers since I left, I guarantee that they have lost sleep, been ill and cried a river of tears over this Julianne Westbury situation. I don’t have a doubt in my mind.

    As we all know, people can show one face when they need to, and another in private – and I believe some rescues do. I believe this is what happened with Azrael’s Ark, and clearly with this other woman as well. When pledges were not honored with Azrael’s Ark, Sue embarked on a smear campaign, posting on Craig’s List that the FOH group are frauds. I know first hand that simply was not true. One cannot force another to honor a pledge they made – you can badger them repeatedly and if they decide not to, then that’s that. I had NO idea that Sue was not what she appeared to be. I have never even heard of Julianne Westbury until today. (I really am out of the loop.)

    Lori, you state “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.” And I do know first hand that this is candy coating the situation. No one at FOH has ever claimed to be affiliated with the shelter – it has always clearly stated they only network for the animals right on their info page. If people think they are affiliated – that is an assumption they have made themselves obviously without reading. I used to be with your group that is working with the shelter and I left that group for a reason – because I did not agree with the way it was headed. I still don’t. I have personally seen things that have happened in that group that are beyond my comprehension.

    The shelter workers have not been attacked by anyone I know of, when I was involved we strived to maintain a good relationship with them for the sake of the animals. Now that I am not involved in either group, though, I’ll say this. Any lies, cruelty or deceit that I personally know about have happened at the hands of the shelter. They do not hold over animals whenever there is space to do so. They often held over puppies, but rarely held over any cats. Rarely. Even some that I personally had rescue for – legitimate rescue – were denied to us and killed. Why? I have asked why so many are killed when there is obviously space – and I was told by one of the employees that they “never know what might come in next week.” Word for word. There are other things I can promise you that you know nothing about that have transpired there. As for being overwhelmed, yes, sometimes they are, but when it comes to closing time on Tuesday afternoon and there are only a couple of animals left, they kill them anyway.

    You asked where are the cats that have been pulled and re-rescued. I can vouch personally for a couple of the rescue groups, having visited them personally. I can also attest to having five foster cats myself that came out of Harnett. I have paid for every penny of their care and vetting out of my own pocket. They have been here nearly a year – because I will NOT send them just anywhere. To even think for one moment that any cat I personally met at the shelter while I was volunteering wound up dead at this woman’s house…it makes me truly heartsick.

  2. FOH (Susan- group administrator),
    It appears that you are making great effort to distance yourself and your group (Friends of Harnett Animal Shelter) from your volunteers and rescues. So you do not personally place animals? I find that statement questionable in light of all that has occurred. By your own admission, you are directly involved in transports. There are even screenshots and photos circulating in which you personally (along with trusted volunteers) are shown to transport animals to rescues out of state. You cannot set up a group, solicit funds, actively engage in pull-transport, then distance your group and deny any culpability with regard to what happens once these animals leave the shelter. So you state that you stopped placing animals with Azrael’s Ark and that those involved in that are no longer part of your group. Good for you. So when she threatened to place the cats in a high kill shelter if no donations were fulfilled, you lied. Unfortunately, you damage your own credibility when you lie to serve your own self-interest. Just what else would you lie about? With regard to the number of cats you placed with Julianne Westberry over the last year, I have counted quite a large number that came from Harnett alone based on the pictures posted. I have correspondence from JW indicating that she was pulling 5-6 cats from Friends of Harnett weekly. If that is not true, just how many cats did you send to this lady? From what I have observed, far too many. It is hard to determine just who to believe since you have already admitted you are not always truthful. I am hopeful that your group will actually reexamine your procedures with regard to out of state rescues. Hopefully, you are not just lying to appease public outrage. These animals deserve so much better.

    • Ruth, I agree with your assessments completely. There were many many cats from Harnett Shelter which looked like they went to JW. Others are looking at those photos also and are finding more evidence to show it was going on for a very long time. No one will every know the true numbers as so much is done in secret. It makes me sick to think how many others are out there suffering due to poor methods and ethics.


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