How Small Sullivan Rescue Helped Take Down Fake Rescue in Arizona

Words by Melissa Cortes Santiago 

Edited by Abigail Vela

A wall with the word “Yaqui” written in blue letters and surrounded by nearby greenery.

In the world of animal shelters and rescues, small wins are celebrated. It’s not every day that a dog gets adopted or a cat finds a foster home. For the people working tirelessly in this industry, these small wins give them strength to continue their mission. 


For Yaqui Animal Rescue, last summer proved to be one of monumental wins. What started with saving a disabled dog named Butters turned into a months-long investigation that led to the arrest of a woman in Arizona who was running a fake rescue and hoarding over 50 disabled dogs. 


This story starts with the dog that prompted the investigation and has been dubbed a hero in the case, Butters. 

A brown dog lying on a bed of grass next to their customized blue wheelchair.
After his injury, Butters needs a wheelchair to get around. Rehabilitation therapy is essential to his recovery however, that is not available here in the RGV. Photo Courtesy of Yaqui Animal Rescue’s Instagram page.

Butters first appeared on a Facebook animal rescue page, a networking page where rescuers post animals needing help. He couldn’t walk anymore and needed long-term care. Rebecca Chavez, Director of Development at Yaqui Animal Rescue, saw the post and knew she had to help. 


“I just could not turn away from it,” she said. We picked him up, took him to a doctor, did x-rays, and we found out that he was shot, someone shot him. And so he has a bullet in his spine.” 


After taking Butters to a neurologist in San Antonio, they found out he had paraplegia, and the possibility of him walking again was unlikely. No rehab veterinarians in the Rio Grande Valley could offer Butters the support he needed, so Yaqui Animal Rescue could not keep him in their care—the following weeks consisted of finding a rescue focused on special needs dogs. 

 Butter’s recovery and their efforts to find him a suitable home quickly became nightmarish when they heard back from the Special Needs Animal Welfare League, SNAWL, a rescue run by April McLaughlin in Chandler, Arizona.

McLaughlin was interested in helping Butters and began to paint a perfect picture of the specialty veterinarians she worked with who would care for him. Chavez started to research McLaughlin, who introduced herself as Samantha Taylor and found endorsements by reputable organizations such as SWAT Transport and features in The Dodo publication, which focuses on heartwarming stories about animals. Chavez didn’t immediately see cause for concern and agreed to a phone call to discuss the next steps. 


She sounded completely normal,” mentioned Chavez. “She knew the vernacular, the right words to say. It sounded like she was a legit rescue.” 


Soon after, Butters went to Arizona, hoping to start his rehabilitation journey. Chavez kept a close eye on McLaughlin throughout the summer and realized she was taking in many dogs. More than a rescue her size could realistically handle. Then McLaughlin became inconsistent with her updates and even stopped sending photos of Butters’ progress. That’s when the alarm bells went off for Chavez. 


“I was in chinga trying to figure out who she really was, and it took me four months of investigating to find the truth,” said Chavez.


After extensive research and calls to shelters that had transported dogs to SNAWL, Chavez found that McLaughlin was running a fake rescue. She would receive special needs dogs and ask for donations through her rescue on social media. The dogs that ended up in her care never received the rehabilitation they were promised. Instead, they were kept in her backyard without access to water or shelter. She was hoarding 55 disabled dogs, none of whom received any proper medical care. 


Once the severity of the situation became clear, Chavez and a colleague from Yaqui traveled to Arizona to get their dogs back. Unfortunately, they were met with resistance from McLaughlin and an unhelpful police department. 


“You could hear all the dogs barking inside the house,” Chavez described. “You could smell the house from half a block away; that’s how pungent the smell was. It smelled like death.” 


There were no hoarding laws in Chalder, and so the police did not find probable cause to remove any of the dogs from the residence. A move that Chavez and many other activists, who had joined efforts to get their dogs back, greatly condemned. 


It took the collective effort of shelters and rescue organizations from around the country, Handover Rover, Be Like Josh Foundation, Deity Animal Rescue, amongst many others, to finally remove the dogs from the horrific conditions they had been living under. 


Yaqui published their findings on their social media pages, which aided the Arizona Humane Society and the Chandler Police Department in their investigation. McLaughlin has been charged with 55 counts of animal abuse, and several charges are still pending. 

Chavez was reunited with Butters, who lost a significant amount of weight during his time in Arizona and happily decided to adopt him into her family. Despite the challenges that come with caring for a special needs dog, both Chavez and Butters are supporting each other through this journey. 


Even with these great efforts, the bigger problem remains. The lack of regulations on a federal level leaves foster and shelter programs to run on an honor system with little to no oversight, leaving room for people to take advantage of helpless animals. 


I am hopeful that Arizona will make an example of this woman and be a lesson to other nonprofits that are doing this,” said Chavez. “You will be held responsible, and  legal recourse will happen.”

Chavez and Butters attend a Vipers’ game, where Butters is featured as a special guest. The Vipers often collaborate with Yaqui Animal Rescue for fundraising events. Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Chavez.

Mira Más De Este Autor

A brown dog lying on a bed of grass next to their customized blue wheelchair.
Social Justice

How Small Sullivan Rescue Helped Take Down Fake Rescue in Arizona

Last summer, Yaqui Animal Rescue investigated a fake animal rescue in Arizona and hoarding over 50 dogs in deplorable conditions. Their findings sparked an outcry on social media and led to the arrest of the person responsible for horrific animal abuse. The case received media attention from all over the country. Here’s a deep dive into how the animal rights activists from the RGV made it all possible.

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