written by Dr. Suzanne Fiala
Dr. Suzanne Fiala lives in Seattle. She is a beloved and popular family physician who began fostering for the local chapter of Dogs Deserve Better in October, 2010. Between October 2010 and March 2011 Dr. Fiala fostered 11 dogs for DDB, including 2 litters of puppies. All of the dogs were pitbulls or pitbull mixes. Dr. Fiala received accolades on the DDB FB page for her devotion and hard work.
The last dog she took in for foster was Joel, an adult pitbull male that weighed in at 27# and was too weak to stand. Joel was chained to a picnic table in someone’s yard for his short life, and with his sister Julie, fed a handful of food every 5 days.
When Joel was taken to the emergency vet he was 24-48 hours from death – emaciated, weak, his bowels and other organs were shutting down. DDB took possession of the dog and placed him with Dr. Fiala the next day, February 1. Joel was, by their admission, the most damaged dog they had ever had in their local program. The local DDB rep hoped Dr. Fiala could save Joel, if anyone could.
Dr. Fiala took Joel to her home. She warned her children he might not live through the night. That first night, Dr. Fiala and her children sat around Joel and laid hands on him, sending him love and positive energy, and whispering softly and kindly. Dr. Fiala dozed on the dog bed next to Joel, to offer him water, food, and to maintain constant human touch with him. She told him to please hold on, and to give her a chance to show him what love felt like. And miraculously Joel slowly came back to life. Dr. Fiala remained with Joel 24/7, carried him to and from her office in the daytime, fed him bits of roasted chicken, rice and organic vegetables every 2 hours until his gut started working again, and the vomiting and explosive diarrhea stopped. Over a month’s time Joel went from a living skeleton to a vibrant, beautiful boy. His emotional scars were deep, but those improved over time as he came to trust his new family, the first people who had ever been kind to him.
Through February and March, Joel and Dr. Fiala were inseparable, day and night. Dr. Fiala’s children and other dogs welcomed him, and life became a wonderful and happy routine. Dr. Fiala enrolled Joel with a trainer using only positive techniques, to advise and help her to socialize Joel to humans and animals alike.
Throughout March, however, things started feeling really wrong with DDB. The local rep did not reimburse Dr. Fiala for any of the money spent on Joel’s care, though that was the condition of fostering and the bill quickly rose to over $1000. Also, Dr. Fiala noticed that the DDB website was soliciting donations for costs for Joel’s care that she herself had paid for…so where was that money going? And perhaps most troubling, Dr. Fiala came to believe that Page, the local state rep, played God with dogs in need. The ones that got media attention got Page’s attention, and other cases of suffering dogs in need were pushed aside.
At the end of March, Dr. Fiala was so disillusioned she felt compelled to write a letter to DDB-National founder, Tamira Ci Thayne, expressing her concerns. Dr. Fiala also quietly decided she just wanted to formalize Joel’s adoption, and get out to do rescue work elsewhere with people of integrity.
April 2 – Dr. Fiala announced on her FB page that she was adopting Joel, to the pleasure of many local Joel fans.
April 4 – Page, the local DDB rep, posted on the DDB-WA FB page that Dr. Fiala was adopting Joel.
April 7 – Dr. Fiala sent her letter of concerns to Ms. Thayne in PENN.
April 7 – Dr. Fiala mails her signed adoption contract to DDB. The contract does NOT require a countersignature, and is the last, formal step in the adoption process. The contract is only offered AFTER DDB okays the adoption.
April 8 – Dr. Fiala is contacted by Marie Belanger, ‘regional rep’ based in Indiana and told she will investigate the concerns from the letter.
April 8-10 – a series of exchanges between Dr. Fiala and Ms. Belanger quickly show hostility and defensive posturing, and Dr. Fiala’s witnesses, who Ms. Belanger promises to contact, are never contacted.
April 14 – local Seattle DDB reps go to the doggie daycare near Dr. Fiala’s medical office where Joel was spending some time socializing, and take him.
They notify Dr. Fiala after the fact in a voice message, saying that Joel has been ‘repossessed’ because the contract is not valid, that it was a “National decision”, and that Joel has been rehomed with another foster family. The adoption contract has clearly been altered by someone other than Dr. Fiala, item #3 saying ‘the dog will not be chained’ has been crossed off. DDB’s claim is that Joel was taken because, after 6 months of devoted volunteering, after fostering 11 dogs, after the rep has been to Dr. Fiala’s house half a dozen times, they suddenly discovered Dr. Fiala was a dog-chainer and was not fit to keep Joel.
No one in the animal rescue network in Seattle has seen or heard from Joel again.
Click here to follow Suzanne’s and Joel’s story on Facebook.