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CUDDLY. com and the Animal Rescue Business

ANIMAL WATCH-Prior to "rescuing" animals becoming big business, Los Angeles Animal Services and other municipal sheltering agencies focused on rescuing strays from the streets, investigating  reports of cruelty, abandonment, or neglect;

assuring Pit Bulls were not being used for fighting and that animal-care laws were enforced by officers and shelter staff with the best training available. Now the emphasis is on "saving" every animal regardless of behavior or condition.  Shelters became the enemy and emphasis was taken off holding pet owners responsible and placed on "clearing the shelters." 

This opened  the world of "rescue" as -- not just as a humane act--but as a full-time job. Mayor Garcetti approved all the steps to allow "rescue kennels" in residential zoning and release of shelter animals to unmonitored individuals/groups with no requirement for experience with animals, no background check, no training or license required. By becoming a 50l(c)3 tax-exempt organization, no tax is collected on the sale, called "adoption" of these animals or on donations. 

A Best Friends' official admitted at an LAAS Commission meeting that they were providing monetary rewards for animals taken by a rescue. 

CUDDLY.COM  

Just before the 2020 holidays, a new name began to appear in TV ads and it was heard on such major radio stations as KFI  that CUDDLY.COM would let you directly help rescue animals by  making purchases of much-needed wish-list items like food, supplements, and toys for "rescued" animals or make a donation that would be sent directly through CUDDLY to the rescuer/organization that signed up and requested certain items or needed monetary assistance.  

On December 21, 2018, a post on Super Crew announced, "Pet Product Marketplace CUDDLY Celebrates Animals And Animal Lovers, While Giving Back To Rescues." 

It described its business model, not as a charitable mission, but as "a pet product marketplace and community for animal lovers, whose collective mission is to improve and bring joy to animals." 

CUDDLY.COM -  A LITTLE GIRL'S WISH    

The company states its development resulted from the wish by a little girl who was hospitalized with cancer and said she wished that someone would start a program for shelter animals similar to "Make-a-Wish" for terminally ill, hospitalized children. After her wish came true for a  trip to Disneyland, this little girl recovered and urged her father to start such  a program. 

 A few years later, she, her dad and a partner started a little company to help rescue animals. The story continues that the company, CUDDLY in 2018 "now works with over 1,200 rescues and garner [sic] an animal loving community of over 200,000 people.  As a for-good company, we have raised over $3.5M for animals around the world and have big plans. . ." 

CUDDLY ANNOUNCES ITS STARTUP 

On December 21, 2018, a post on Super Crew announced, "Pet Product Marketplace CUDDLY Celebrates Animals And Animal Lovers, While Giving Back To Rescues." 

 It first described its business model, not as a charitable mission but as "a pet product marketplace and community for animal lovers, whose collective mission is to improve and bring joy to animals." 

The story continues that the company, CUDDLY, in 2018 "now works with over 1,200 rescues and garner [sic] an animal loving community of over 200,000 people.  As a for-good company, we have raised over $3.5M for animals around the world and have big plans. . ." 

SUPERCREW MAKES THE ANNOUNCEMENT 

SuperCrew,  describes itself as "a business news website covering innovative companies – sharing news, experience and knowledge from the tech and business world." 

 It also posts this disclaimer: "The information we provide are on an as-is basis. We make no representations as to accuracy, suitability, or validity of any information on this website and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information of any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its use." 

BBB CLASSFIES CUDDLY AS "ANIMAL SHELTER. . ." 

Cuddly's Better Business Bureau classifies Cuddly as "Animal Shelter, Marketing Consultant, Professional Fundraiser" at 909 Electric Ave Ste. 209, Seal Beach, CA. 

Under Business Details it shows that the BBB File was opened on 6/20/2019.  However, the "Years in Business" is 18, (with it being started on 7/15/2002 and incorporated on 2/9/2015) and lists an alternate name of "Cuddly Inc."  

The CA State Business Search also shows the corporate name of "Cuddly Inc." as an Alternate Business Name. 

The Facebook page WeLoveCuddly, describes CUDDLY as a "free fundraising and wishlist platform dedicated to helping non-profit animal organizations all over the world," and uses the keywords Animal Rescue Service · Product/Service.... 

FUNDING FOR CUDDLY 

Crunchbase reported the results of an Equity Crowdfunding effort by CUDDLY from March 19 to August 10, 2018, raised $25K. (The Pre-Money Valuation was $9.2M.) However, Crunchbase also shows the Total Funding Amount $6.5M, with four investors, but notes it is under the name of "Poundwishes." 

 CUDDLY Group, Inc. AKA "Poundwishes" (A  PRIVATE FOUNDATION) 

Also according to Crunchbase (and verified by CA Secretary of State records), The CUDDLY Group is also legally known as "PoundWISHES," which is a CA private foundation. 

PoundWISHES is also located at the CA address and states in its Articles of Incorporation that it acts as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and guarantees that no individual will gain personally nor will the organization be used for any political activities. 

HOWEVER, A CA Business Entity shows that on August 28, 2020, the CUDDLY Group (C4638096) -- (with John Hussey as President and CEO) filed a "Statement and Designation by Foreign Corporation," which indicates that the Cuddly Group, Inc. is now incorporated and in good standing in the State of Delaware, but with CA address remaining in Seal Beach, CA. 

IS THERE ANY SCREENING OF ‘RESCUES’ BY CUDDLY? 

There doesn't appear to be any particular screening method of the operations of the worldwide rescues that will be/are supported by CUDDLY. It is merely a matter of signing up with them.  In fact, it claims to support "rescues" worldwide and lists one in China and one in Mexico. 

There is more information at the link. However, briefly, it appears CUDDLY acts as the platform for purchasing its items as donations and also "brokering" donations to "rescues." 

CUDDLY states there ae 3 ways you can help rescue animals. On its FAQ page, CUDDLY states it has 250,000 donors. The following are just a few excerpts on how its plan works. (It is definitely a complex operation and the recordkeeping described would seem to be an ominous task.) 

"1) PURCHASE PRODUCTS FOR INDIVIDUAL ANIMALS IN THE CARE OF OUR SHELTERING PARTNERS. 

2) JOIN THE CUDDLY CLUB BY DONATING MONTHLY ... donors can ‘choose the amount you want to give monthly; most people give between $30-100/mo. All funds from the CUDDLY Club are used directly to purchase wishlist gifts from urgent needs animals on cuddly.com on a weekly basis.’ 

3) SUPPORT AN INDIVIDUAL ANIMAL MONETARILY . . . You can support any animal directly by giving a donation to them. All funds are sent directly to Rescue or Shelter that cares for the animal. 

CUDDLY ASSURES "All the organizations featured on CUDDLY are certified 501(c)(3) nonprofits and are verified using our API with Guidestar. (www.guidestar.org)." (This is interesting since some are described as outside the U.S.) 

CUDDLY states that, "After you donate to a pet, you will receive updates on an animal's progress until the animal finds their way into a fur-ever home" and also assures that, "(a) receipt is emailed to you each time you donate." 

 It also describes that it works with over 2,000 animal rescues around the world, and "97% of the monetary donations made are sent directly to the rescue pet.  The remaining 3% goes to covering processing fees.  CUDDLY receives 0% from any monetary donation." 

The CEO of CUDDLY is John Hussey who told Startup.info, in September 2020, "For the past two decades, I’ve enjoyed an exciting career as a National Football League referee. . . .Yet, I have always been a serial entrepreneur, having founded three companies since leaving college at 21 years old. CUDDLY was presented to me as an angel investment to build a website to promote pet adoption, along with adding a crowdfunding function to the platform." 

AN OBVIOUS ISSUE 

There is no real definition of an animal "rescue."  Few states or localities have any laws governing how a "rescue" will operate and they are not monitored -- other than by serious complaints, which do not occur until many animals have suffered from neglect, overcrowding and lack of sanitation and resultant illnesses or injuries. These transgressions are almost always forgiven because "hoarding is a mental issue" and they "mean well and love animals." 

Rescuing and maintaining humane conditions for animals are too often lost in the competition for donations. In the past, "rescuers” usually were working and had outside income. They primarily took in a few animals and immediately began the process of adoption. Now the amount of income from donations may be the sole support of the individual (yes, nonprofits pay sometimes exorbitant “salaries”) or an organization which often fosters animals out to homes of unknown strangers. (See: Ace of Hearts Rescue Loses Right to Keep Dogs in LA After Pit Bull Attacks.) 

Sharon Logan, of Paw Protectors in Orange County, reminds donors and CUDDLY, "The general public should be aware that you can’t always be impressed by Rescuers and Rescues outward declarations on Social Media of their work. People can be deceiving, Steffen Baldwin and Marc Ching taught us that." 

"Do some research before donating," she says. "While the need for assistance is tremendous, especially during this Pandemic, it's important to be sure your money goes to legitimate organizations that will use your donation as you intend. In other words, vet the Rescue before making a donation.  If they have a rescue facility ask to tour the facility, if they are rescuing from their home ask to see the home." 

(See:  Marc Ching - Another Dog Rescuer, LA Animal Activist under Federal Investigation and LA Pit Bull Trainer/Rescuer Awaits Extradition on 42 Charges, including 13 Counts of Animal Cruelty.) 

And we can never forget the agony at Spindletop Rescue in Willis, TX, where 300 dogs were found in deplorable conditions, causing unforgivable cruelty, and the rescuer/owner arrested.  (See:  Hundreds of dogs seized in Texas Pit Bull sanctuary raid. 

WILL CUDDLY COMPETE WITH MAJOR CHARITIES? 

The two main large 501(c)3 organizations that are involved with rescues nationwide and which have become entrenched in setting policies and determining activities involving Los Angeles City Animal Services are the ASPCA and  Best Friends Animal Society (which also did not start as an animal charity, but as the Church of the Process of the Final Judgment.) 

Best Friends has capitalized on its "brand" and in its Corporate Partnership Inquiry Section states, "We offer various levels of partnerships with commensurate recognition starting with an annual guaranteed minimum donation of $25,000." 

In 2018 Best Friends reported an income of $102,896,740, and states that, "In 2019, a total of $4.3 million in funding was provided to Best Friends Network partners. 

Best Friends invites donors to "Unlock financial insights by subscribing to our monthly plan." 

Best Friends also has become a real estate investor (among many other business endeavors), including opening a plush hotel near its Utah sanctuary, which brought community concern about competition and loss of revenue to local businesses. 

(See Best Friends Animal Society - from Pit Bulls and ‘No Kill’ to Real Estate Mogul.) 

ASPCA – ‘$19-A-MONTH DONATIONS’ PAY HIGH SALARIES 

In a May 13, 2020 article, Humane Watch revealed that the ASPCA CEO Made $750,000 in 2018and points out, "We’ve all seen those sad commercials on TV asking to help dogs and cats. Won’t you give just $19 a month to help those poor pets? The ads are effective. But where does the money actually go? 

"According to the newly released tax returns," it continues, "ASPCA CEO Matthew Bershadker received about $770,000 in compensation in 2018. . . .Bershadker isn’t the only cat getting fat at the ASPCA: 158 other employees made six-figure salaries. Of every dollar donated to ASPCA, 38 cents was used to pay salaries and benefits." That followed a year where the ASPCA reported $273 million in assets and the CEO received a bonus which totaled his salary at over $852,000." 

BALANCE -- NOT ‘RESCUE’ -- IS THE SOLUTION 

Let's hope that CUDDLY does not get caught up in the non-profit competition but also realizes that the real problem for pets is not the need to "rescue." Animals shelters have already "rescued" any animal they impound and are becoming increasingly efficient in care and adoption of homeless animals. They also have the power to investigate any reports of mistreatment, neglect or abandonment. This is an important component of "saving" any animal (pet or wildlife). "Rescuers" should be partners with shelters, not a substitute or detractor. 

But the fact is that both shelters and rescues have become entranced with the financially rewarding publicity of "saving" them, rather than assuring the laws that require that standards for their care are enforced on owners, with serious criminal penalties enforced for harming, neglecting, or abandoning them. The current trend that has swept the nation (with the support of the major “nonprofit” organizations) is to not take in stray animals but leave them in the streets because "they will be found by their owners within 24 hours" and allowing strangers to pick up and keep owned pets, rather than turn them in to the shelters where the owners can find them, and also to "rehome" them directly, without a sheltering/law-enforcement agency assuring the pet is well, sterilized and licensed. 

Efforts to decrease pet overpopulation have thus diminished and humane organizations, shelters and “rescuers” are rejoicing in having puppies for sale. This will lead to a return to the 1980s, when streets were filled with packs of dogs. CUDDLY, hopefully, will help shift the emphasis to reducing the number of animals that need "rescue" by rewarding spay/neuter programs in shelters and by "rescues." 

Another overlooked aspect of rescue -- it is actually a sale and the "rescuer" can set the price and does not pay taxes on income. Unfortunately, too many rescues have become "big business." 

There must be continued insistence on the truth being told about the dangers of certain breed genetics and attacks on innocent victims (human and other animals), which is a national -- and worldwide -- crisis. CUDDLY must monitor whether it is supporting organizations that specialize in adopting out (or hoarding/transporting) dogs that have a history of aggression.  

Euthanasia is not a dirty word -- it is the duty of responsible individuals/organizations to assure the safety of the public and adopters and is far preferable to suffering and a horrific death on the streets or at the hands of a hoarder. 

The goal should be to stop "rescuing" and focus on protection and responsibility. This does not mean that the kind souls who truly "rescue" animals for the sole purpose of their welfare should not be appreciated and generously assisted. But it is too late after animals are hurt and someone is essentially exploiting that suffering for donations but not balancing that with a demand for accountability. 

CUDDLY could fill an important role in changing our approach from "rescue" to "responsibility." That is the real challenge we face!


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.