How PetRescue responds to criticism is becoming a problem

March 4, 2018

Below are excerpts from an email currently being sent out by PetRescue, to people who respond critically to their relationship with Dr Harry;

No we don't have a relationship with Dr Harry. 

Well, thank goodness - problem solved. Except, that's not where the email ends...

The only connection is that our logo is situated close to his head on the Woolworths Pet Insurance website!

Well, that's actually not - no - relationship. That's a visible, public relationship, if only through a shared sponsor. But please, continue...

PetRescue partnered with Woolworths Pet Insurance about a year ago. Unfortunately prior to this they had used Dr Harry in some of their advertising and he was under contract with them. 


When we partnered with Woolworths Pet Insurance we brought up the issue of their association with him and why we do not consider him a good brand spokesperson for them. When we decided to go ahead with a partnership with WPI this was definitely a consideration, but I believe that the good a partnership with Woolworths can bring rescue, far outweighs the negatives of Dr Harry.

Oh, right. So you knew Dr Harry was a bad spokesperson, but you forged ahead and established this relationship anyway, fully aware that he may feature as a co-partner in collateral. How reassuring.

It takes time to build trust with a new partner and I hope that we will be able to get them to remove Dr Harry from any of their marketing. But as I said, I believe that having positive marketing and statements about adoption from a big gun like Woolworths, far out weights outdated comments by a TV personality.

Totally convinced. Having a bad brand spokesperson for this major campaign is fine because maybe-probably some time in the future he'll be bumped from the campaign. Thanks for clearing that up. But they're still not done...

Unfortunately our disgruntled ex- staff member Shel spends a lot of time creating graphics about the evils of PetRescue, each new conspiracy is aimed at creating negative feeling about us. Dr Harry is just her latest. Just so you know, John and I don't own yacht's, we don't ban groups for not responding to emails, didn't try to sue her, our 15 staff are paid award wages and none of us have ever spoken to Dr Harry!

No - you and JB don't own yachts, but you do earn $140,000 each a year to run what is essentially a website for volunteers to use to help homeless pets. Also, 15 paid staff is a shedload to run said website, so maybe don't be too dismissive of community concerns. But the email doesn't stop there either and this is where it gets a bit (a lot) ugly.

I'm not sure you are aware of the history but Shel left PetRescue about three years ago and was caught using stolen donor data from both PetRescue and <rescue group redacted> (where she did a brief stint) to create fake fund-raising campaigns for herself. Unsurprisingly she doesn't seem to have worked since but in starting her own website, her marketing technique seems to be creating daily conspiracies about PetRescue!

This really does demonstrate that old cliché...

If you can't attack the message, attack the messenger

Look I’m a grown-ass woman and understand if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out. But this isn’t even close to a fair fight. I’m an individual. PetRescue is a million-dollar charity and they have chosen to set up a behind-the-scenes smear campaign, of which I could have been totally unaware and totally unable to defend myself from.

In 2015, $50,000 was raised to create the Safe & Sound Pounds campaign resources.  These resources have since been deleted. A further $12,000 was supposed to be invested in the "Pet Lost" website, which never materialised.

I made no secret of the fact I believed that the Safe & Sound Pounds project was valuable to the animal welfare community and that PetRescue's abandonment of the project was a huge waste of resources. Rather than be a "fake" project, I contacted the original contributors to the Safe & Sound Pounds campaign to ask if they would like help me as an individual get a new project up and running - very real, very valuable and of course, totally opt-in. At the end of 2016 I raised a few thousand dollars, the entirety of which was spent on getting the now deleted Safe & Sound Pounds resources rebranded, reformatted and hosted online. The results of which can be seen here:

So, old news. And if that had been the extent of the email PetRescue is sending out, I don't think I would have even bothered to respond, except for this bit;

... was caught using stolen donor data from... <rescue group redacted> (where she did a brief stint) to create fake fund-raising campaigns for herself. 

Of course this is all a complete fabrication. But since PetRescue's strategy to simply use the "I'm rubber, you're glue" approach to criticism management hasn’t worked, they’ve upped the ante and done something truly shitty in dropping a rescue group's name in their effort to defame me personally.

The rescue group I volunteered with has nothing to do with this situation. I've left their name out because they do amazing work and have nothing to do with PetRescue's response to Saving Pets criticisms. The rescue group weren't consulted by PetRescue to see if they were willing for their name to be used in an attempt at character assassination. All this is happening behind the scenes, this rescue group doesn't get a say; it does harm to their reputation and reflects badly on everyone involved. To everyone involved at that rescue group, I'm truly sorry this has happened to you guys.

PetRescue you should be absolutely ashamed of yourself. These are your rescue group clients.

PetRescue's obligation to communicate with their public, and be open to criticism and respond to it in a professional way is built into the model of being a charity. Their current response to critics displays both poor judgement and a poor understanding of the responsibilities of professional communication from a million dollar a year, non-profit charity. If you’re going to be charity and claim a director's wages then you have to (suck it up sweetheart) act like a professional. Like we all do when we have real, paid jobs.

I can't imagine a single other major charity that would respond to genuine public criticism by bad-mouthing an ex-director in emails to the public. If members of PetRescue want to be footloose, uninhibited and be able to defame people in a completely unrestricted way, they should hand their ACN number, charity tax benefits and DGR back to the government. 

But of course, they won't.

Also, if PetRescue maintains I'm personally disqualified from commentating on their behaviour because I'm a terrible person who misuses donor data (which I'm not)... I ask them, are you sure this is the hill you want to die on?

Oh the irony

PetRescue's entire solicitation strategy is to collect the details of people interacting with rescue groups, and then seemingly try to convince these people that donations are going to rescue groups to care for animals - while in fact banking the money and using it to pay themselves. Misuse of donor details is PetRescue's very bread and butter.

The newest campaign "Desexmas" asked for donations for desexing. In the fine print was the details that the monies were to be invested in web development and a “button” which would at some point in the future allow rescue groups to use PetRescue as a fundraising platform. The campaign appears to have been developed as a hurried response to criticism of PetRescue's fundraising for themselves, with practically no input from rescue groups. Rescue groups are now being asked to trust their own donation streams to an organisation which asked for tens of thousands of dollars of donations to build a tool without consulting those same stakeholders to see whether this new tool was even required.

For PetRescue to be handling donors, processing payments and fundraised monies, it requires a enormous level of trust in, and professional behaviour from, PetRescue. If behind the scenes character assassination is how PetRescue deals with critics; is this what rescue groups can expect if they speak out about the new platform and its processes? Will their personal reputations be dragged through the mud on PetRescue’s next whim? Rescue groups need to literally trust PetRescue with their livelihoods - a privilege they've not earned.

PetRescue's bad professional judgement, is bad news for rescue groups

PetRescue is on a crisis trajectory, with practically no time left to turn it around

PetRescue should be listening to stakeholders and taking their criticisms seriously. Rather than deleting comments or making unsubstantiated accusations, they should be considering their own behaviour and proving rescues with honest and transparent communications.

They need to apologise individually to anyone they sent these defamatory emails to; recognising that "but Shel’s awful, though” is no way to respond to legitimate concerns. People are rapidly seeing how ridiculous it is for PetRescue to be blaming its own current behaviour on someone who left the organisation in 2015.

PetRescue needs to offer a public apology to the rescue group that was unreasonably and unnecessarily involved in these defamatory emails. That was extremely bad judgement.

And finally, PetRescue needs to stop looking to blame everyone else for their current predicament and start taking a good, hard look at the decisions they’re making and how they respond to feedback and criticism about these decisions. That’s what publicly-funded charities have to do.

If they do all these things, I'm certain the community will take acknowledge these action with good faith and give PetRescue the chance to redeem their cause. If they don't, then the goodwill they've build up over the last decade will continue to drain away and they'll be left without a working model as rescues continue to leave the platform.

Really, the choice is now up to them.

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