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Depends on Your Definition of Rescue

There's something about an organization that uses the word rescue in its name. You gotta figure it's going to take measures — maybe even extreme measures — to save lives. Well, live and learn, Tailpipe says.

Thereby hangs a distressing South Florida tale.

Sharon Wallenberg, a massage therapist from Fort Lauderdale, has taken in a lot of down-and-out critters in her 50-odd years. Leila was by far the saddest-looking little furball she had ever brought home, she says. Last summer, Wallenberg saw those two little eyes stare up at her from a poo-filled cage at an animal control facility in North Carolina, where Wallenberg owns a house. "It was the most pathetic thing I'd ever seen," she remembers.

Wallenberg paid the $65 adoption fee and began nursing the hound pup back to health. The animal had an infected puncture wound on her neck and a nasty case of diarrhea. After a few days, she stopped eating, so Wallenberg had to squirt liquid baby food into the back of Leila's mouth. Soon enough, though, under Wallenberg's tender care, Leila was a vivacious puppy.

Meanwhile, Wallenberg needed to return to South Florida, where her daughter is about to have a baby. She decided to board her five cats until she got settled in Broward and to find a new, permanent home for Leila. If the pooch stayed in North Carolina, Wallenberg feared she would become an underfed hunting dog. So she arranged for Leila to stay at the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in West Palm Beach.

The nonprofit Adams shelter, which survives on public donations, boasts that it has been finding homes for castaway dogs since 1925. Peggy Adams employees assured Wallenberg that the only animals they euthanize are ones with serious health or behavioral issues.

Wallenberg dropped Leila off at the shelter on November 8 on her way down from North Carolina. Leila was five months old.

Wallenberg called the shelter almost daily after that, hoping for news of Leila's adoption, she said, but she couldn't get anyone on the phone. On November 19, she went in person. Shelter manager Ellen Floody wouldn't give her an update, Wallenberg says, instead instructing her to check the Peggy Adams website for further information. Another worker told Wallenberg that Leila was never put on the adoption floor. Nobody at the shelter would answer this simple question: Was Leila euthanized?

"That dog was perfectly healthy," Wallenberg says. "If they had told me they were going to kill her, I would have adopted her back again."

Wallenberg checked the Peggy Adams website every day for several weeks, with increasing certainty that the shelter had euthanized little Leila.

When Tailpipe called the shelter, it took several minutes for marketing director Su Jackson Ross to locate Leila in their database. At any given moment, Ross says, the shelter might have 200 dogs under its care.

Ross finally found Leila in the files. Ahh, yes. The dog was indeed brought in on November 8. Leila is now "deceased."

Say what?

Ross offered to investigate further. "We don't put animals down for space reasons," she said. "As long as they're adoptable, they can stay here until they're adopted."

Ross called back to say that some employees remember Leila being "very aggressive" and that the puppy was put down for behavioral reasons. Does that mean that Leila earned a death sentence because she was biting or snarling?

Ross said she wasn't sure of the specifics and declined to inquire further. As for Wallenberg's right to "rescue" her foster dog again, this time from the gallows, or even to know the fate of Leila, Ross said, "Once an owner surrenders [an animal], it becomes our property."

Three-Ring Rumble

It's a tradition: trapeze artists, hot peanuts, calliope music, clowns, elephants posing on pedestals — and protesters with signs that read "Ringling Beats Animals."

As dependable as crocuses in springtime, the placard-wavers nowadays follow Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus wherever it lands.

There they were the other day outside the main gate of the South Florida Expo Center as the "Greatest Show on Earth" kicked off its stay in West Palm Beach. In this case, it was members of the Fort Lauderdale-based Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (also known as ARFF).

ARFF's leader, Heather Veleanu, is a soft-spoken 37-year-old professional animal-rights activist (and a dead ringer for a grown-up Punky Brewster). She hasn't been inside a circus tent since she was 12, she says, when she looked into the performing animals' eyes and just felt "something wasn't right."

"Contrary to popular belief," Veleanu adds, brandishing a needle-sharp bullhook, "elephants have sensitive skin. The trainers take this hook and use it like a baseball bat on them." She swings the hook for emphasis.

Apparently missing the message, a silver-haired man rolls down a window of his SUV to ask the crowd whether he's reached the Expo entrance. They shout back: "Cruelty is not entertainment!" At that, he looks alarmed and rolls his window back up.

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Edmund Newton

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