Recently, I had the pleasure of getting to know an incredible group of women, all of whom are devoted dog owners, pit bull advocates, and community volunteers just like myself. We all come from different places in the country and different walks of life–attorneys, educators, non-profit directors, animal welfare workers, business managers and more, hailing from California, North Carolina, Illinois, Connecticut, Texas, Utah, and Florida. And while our professional lives and geographical locations are quite varied, it’s likely our personal experiences, not to mention many of our views and beliefs are even more diverse. Which is why I focus on what I have in common with all of these women, rather than what I do not. We are all registered therapy dog teams who not only devote our time to volunteering in our communities with our dogs, but who have each invested countless hours, days, months and even years educating ourselves and training and caring for our dogs in order to make this kind of volunteer work possible.
There is something else we also share in common: This past July, we all were personally recruited into a program known as the “StubbyDog Superheroes.” A program that promised to finally support, champion and unite the dog-oriented volunteer work that all of us care so deeply about. Sadly, this program turned out to be a bit of a sham.
- Of the 8 registered therapy dog teams selected for the inaugural “StubbyDog Superhero Squad,” ALL 8 have resigned from the program (This includes myself and Peaches, who were the first to resign and who are the only names that have been removed from the archived superheroes pages.)
- Of the 15 “Superheroes-in-Training” teams selected, at least 11 (maybe more) have also resigned from the program.
- All of the teams who have resigned from this program have specifically requested that their donors money from the original Crowdrise voting campaigns be returned in good faith to their donors. The Executive Director and Founder of StubbyDog, Landon Pollack, is refusing to honor or acknowledge these requests.
- Laura Petrolino, the former VP of Operations and “face” of StubbyDog, resigned and walked away from the organization three weeks ago, leaving nearly all of the people she personally recruited into the program in the dark with little to no explanation.
- Even though the primary members and the majority of the people in this program have resigned, StubbyDog still continues to leave our Crowdrise fundraising pages open and available for donations (In January of 2013, Crowdrise finally deleted these pages when a former Superhero Team Member filed a formal complaint with Crowdrise after an anonymous donor made a donation to her inactive donation page.)
- Landon Pollack and Laura Petrolino have been engaged in some sort of personal/professional conflict in relation to the management of StubbyDog for some time. This conflict was in existence prior to the decision to launch the Superheroes program. And now, after recruiting all of us into the program, asking us to fundraise and advocate for them, they have left us holding the bag in the middle of their dispute. Approximately 35 of us in total.
- We were all told that the funds we raised through our Crowdrise campaign would be used to directly support our work as advocates and therapy dog teams and would be used to contribute to rescue and welfare work in our communities–$11,416 in total.
When we were asked to apply for this program, and interviewed by Laura Petrolino over the phone, we were given the impression that this was a program with resources, with infrastructure, with professional expertise–all of which would be devoted to supporting our work as therapy dog teams. We were all under the impression that StubbyDog was an established, successful non-profit backed by a noteworthy management and advisory team marked by depth and expertise, and perfectly positioned to successfully implement a program like this. In reality, the Superheroes program was never anything more than a fun idea in someone’s head. And rather than providing the infrastructure and support for us, the program was in fact soliciting our personal resources and expertise in an effort to make their idea real. Apparently someone forgot to tell the person who thought up this fabulous Superheroes concept that ideas are only as good as their execution.
During the application process for this program, we were all told a variety of information and made to believe a number of different things. For example, the description of the application process stated that our very detailed program applications would be reviewed by a “selection committee”–which many of us naturally assumed would be made up of any number of the fabulous advisors and liaisons listed on StubbyDog’s team page. Each of us submitted our resumes, personal references, and pages of text and personal information on our applications, which as it turns out appear to have only been read by one person–Laura Petrolino, who is now in possession of piles of personal and professional information on each of us involved in the program–including pretty much everything any of us has ever said or done in relation to pit bull advocacy.
In the wake of Laura’s abrupt and unexplained departure, which was after she spent nearly three rushed and disorganized months using all of us and our dogs to further promote StubbyDog, the majority of our superheroes group was left waiting to hear what would happen next, with nearly a week having gone by before Landon Pollack decided to address the group. At this point, after months of unbridled enthusiasm and focus on the Superheroes program, everyone had reached varying points of frustration over the lack of communication and leadership, and concern over what exactly was happening with our donors’ money–some of which came from children at schools where we visit and fellow rescue volunteers who would normally donate what little money they have to their own rescue groups.
After more than a week of no answers and no reassurance, Landon Pollack scheduled a conference call for Sunday, Nov 4 for people in the program to ask questions and express their concern over the future of the Superheroes program. As expected, with 35 people in the program, only 9 or 10 of us were able to make the call. Several others were out fulfilling their various rescue duties, which is typically the case on Sundays for most welfare volunteers. Here are some of the highlights from that group phone call, none of which has been misconstrued or exaggerated in anyway:
- Landon Pollack explained that he has no plan, no information, no details and no knowledge of the Superheroes program. He confirmed that, as of right now, he does not have the information or resources necessary to support and sustain the program.
- He confirmed that even though he was the one who came up with the idea of the Superhero program, that he was in no way involved in it and never had any knowledge of what was going on.
- He did not have a complete roster of our names–no permanent, documented record of those of us recruited into the program (even though his registered non-profit collected donation money in our names). He took attendance for the call by randomly calling out first names, or in some cases, the names of people’s dogs.
- He claims to not have a documented list of our donors from Crowdrise. He said that, should he agree to return the money, we would have to produce a list of the people and amounts.
- He confirmed that nobody working for StubbyDog was or is getting paid, except for Laura-but also confirmed that Laura was not a salaried employee.
- He confirmed that Michael Mountain is no longer involved with or associated with StubbyDog and has not been for some time, even though he is still listed as part of the management team.
- He stated that all of the knowledge of the Superheroes program “resides with Laura” and that he is not someone capable of leading the program.
- He requested that everyone email him privately/individually with as much information as possible and provide him with a “detailed inventory” of where the program is right now (In other words, he’d like us all to fill in the blanks for him so that he can then pretend to know something about the program.)
- He indicated that he does not have knowledge of and cannot account for “every penny” of StubbyDog’s donations.
- He described/confirmed that the Superheroes program was only a grassroots program in its developmental stages with no real infrastructure, even though nearly all of us were specifically told by Laura during interview calls that this was an organized program with resources available to support all of us in our therapy work and advocacy efforts.
- He confirmed that Laura and he have had a problematic working relationship since the beginning (our relationship was “a good and bad thing from inception”).
- He said “short of there being a legal requirement to return the money to donors” that he will not do so, and yet also said that if the entire group agrees that the program should not continue and that the money should go back to donors, that he would be willing to do that.
- He told us that if anybody is willing to reach out to Laura to see if she wants the group back (as though we’re commodities to be traded), that would be great (even though she’s resigned and left us all hanging).
- He said “I would love it if someone would step up” and be the new Laura for the group.
- He confirmed there is no physical location, office, etc. for StubbyDog or for Ignite Ventures. Landon confirmed he does not have a professional office or home base for his many professional business ventures that prevented him from maintaining proper oversight of StubbyDog.
- In response to the group’s repeated concern over the status of their donors’ money, Landon said, “Hey, I’m just in this to help pit bulls, but clearly all you guys care about is the money.” He said this to a group of women who have devoted their lives and every ounce of their free time to rescuing, fostering, re-homing, advocating for and working with pit bulls. Do you find that upsetting? Because I sure do.
After this highly informative and fascinating phone call, the majority of the Superheroes program–including the entire Super Squad (the program’s main focus) and nearly all of the Superheroes-in-Training formally resigned via email to Landon. In these emails, we listed our various concerns and disappointment with the lack of professionalism and transparency demonstrated by StubbyDog as an organization, and specifically by Landon as its leader, and we requested that our donors’ money be returned to them in good faith and that our names and images be removed from all Superhero-related media.
Landon Pollack has neither acknowledged nor honored those requests, and is now insisting that the Superheroes program will continue–even though the very core of the program and the substance behind it–meaning all of us–have left.
Meanwhile, those of us who were asked to join the original Superheroes campaign have been left with no answers for our many family, friends, donors and supporters asking “what’s next?” for the Superheroes program.
Here are the real take-aways from this disaster of an experience:
- The “Superheroes” program does not and never did exist as it was advertised or promised to those of us who were personally asked to apply for the program and raise money for it.
- There are some serious questions that need answering surrounding the financial and organizational transparency of the registered non-profit known as StubbyDog.
Here are a number of questions that I would very much like answers to:
- Why is it that StubbyDog was founded by the head of a venture capital company and yet it appears that no substantial monetary capital was ever invested in the organization? Why are there no paid employees? Exactly what does StubbyDog spend its money on? Where did our donors’ money go?
- Why is there a laundry list of “liaisons” and “advisers” on StubbyDog’s Team Page when, from what we can tell, only one or two of these people are directly involved with the organization? Why are Jean Donaldson’s and Ian Dunbar’s names listed as members of “The Team” when they have both personally confirmed with us that they have never been part of the organization and never gave them permission to use their names? How many other names listed on that team page are bogus?
- What exactly does StubbyDog do other than solicit for and collect quality content from volunteers and professionals outside of the organization and feature it on their site? Does StubbyDog engage in any actual knowledge production of its own? Other than some great work by one or two ridiculously devoted volunteers, who appear to have come and gone, what is StubbyDog other than a Facebook page and website with lots of followers? Again, what do they collect money for? And what do they do exactly?
- Why was Michael Mountain voted off of the board of directors early this year by Landon Pollack and his father, Cary Pollack, who appear to be the only remaining and actual “board members” of StubbyDog?
- What other substantive fundraising has StubbyDog ever engaged in other than the Superheroes Crowdrise campaign? Because from what we can tell, we seem to be their first noteworthy fundraisers of any kind, which was not what we signed on for when we applied for the Superheroes program.
- Why was the Superheroes program launched in the midst of what is clearly a well-established and unresolved conflict between Landon Pollack and Laura Petrolino? Why, as the founder and Executive Director of the organization, did Landon not have at least some modicum of oversight in relation to this program? And is it true that Landon really asked Laura to tell all of us in the program to “Friend” him on Facebook so that he could become a Facebook celebrity once he reached 5,000 Friends? That seems not quite in keeping with the nature of a true professional and non-profit leader.
- What exactly were Laura’s professional qualifications when she was hired to lead StubbyDog? I was under the impression that she was a seasoned and successful marketing and communications professional who ran her own consulting company, and who would be equipped to deal with whatever this conflict was responsibly. However, since her departure from StubbyDog, Laura has left it up to all of us to untangle this disaster of a situation and get our donors’ money returned. Why is it that an experienced professional person would recruit 35 people into a program of her design, get them to raise money and advocate for the organization, and then abandon them with an Executive Director who refuses to engage with them in a professional or ethical manner, and who can’t seem to answer a remedial question like, “How is StubbyDog planning on spending the money donated to our Superheroes campaigns?”
- Why does Landon Pollack continue to privately email people who dare to ask these questions and threaten them with “attorneys” and claims of “defamation”?
- More to the point, why does Landon Pollack–the self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” and champion for pit bulls–feel that it is acceptable to disrespect and bully a group of hard-working, professional women who are out in their communities every day volunteering their time in the name of the dogs he claims to love so much?
- Landon, what specifically have you done for pit bulls and dog welfare? Other than come up with a name, a logo, register a domain name, and then ask everyone else to do the work for you? Have you ever broken up a dog fight at 10am, and then gone to do a home visit for a potential adopter at noon? Have you ever worked kennel duty at a rescue or shelter? Have you ever studied animal behavior, dog training, or animal welfare law? Have you ever gone into debt while getting a law degree and then taken on pro-bono work to help fight breed discriminatory legislation? Have you ever sat in a school with struggling readers or on a hospital bed with a kid with cancer with your registered therapy dog? Have you ever sat on the floor of an emergency hospital at 3am in the morning, ready to shell out every penny you have for your foster dog’s emergency surgery? Have you ever pulled your car off the road to chase down a dog running down the side of the highway? Have you ever prepared educational materials and presented your case to a hospital board on why they shouldn’t ban your therapy dog from visiting their patients simply because of its breed? Have you ever had your fingers freeze while shoveling dog shit in the snow and the dark? Maybe you have. I honestly don’t know. But I’d really love to. Because those are all of the things that those of us in this program (and the thousands of others out there in the welfare community) have done and continue to do on a regular basis. What exactly do you do and have you ever done for dogs and pit bulls? I think this is a fair question for someone who is the head of StubbyDog and who is currently sitting on thousands of dollars of our donors’ money.
This problem could easily be solved by Landon simply acknowledging that the Superheroes program does not exist as it was promised and that the right thing to do is to return the donors’ money and close out the Crowdrise Superheroes campaign. This would be a sign of some semblance of integrity on his part, and of some legitimacy on the part of StubbyDog as an organization. And yet, he won’t do it.
Below you will find a small sampling representive of the work done by my colleagues and friends who have been and continue to be wronged by this situation. These individuals and their dogs ARE pit bull advocacy . . . and I believe Landon Pollack has a lot to learn about real advocacy and animal welfare from all of them.
(Note: Please scroll to the bottom of this post to view the addendum regarding Laura Petrolino.)
Debra Guajardo and Lily
Barbara Boragine Telesmanic and Buddy
Amy Willey and Big Mama Jubilee
Jennifer Spears Bashford and Peaches the Wonder Pit
Callie Cozzolino and Rou
Jen Milner and Stevie the Wonder Dog
Jackie Gunby and Big Sal
Emily Douglas (me) and Peaches
ADDENDUM: I will no doubt receive considerable grief over my mentions of Laura Petrolino in this post, particularly from her good friends and colleagues, which is certainly fair. But in light of that, I do feel it necessary to clarify a few things since I could have said much more in this post about Laura’s role in this situation, and yet I chose not to. The reality is that Laura has profoundly mishandled this situation. I believe she knows this, but has been hesitant in coming clean about it and taking some responsibility for her role in what has happened to this program and all of us.
When I began communicating some concerns I had regarding Landon Pollack and StubbyDog’s transparency as a non-profit organization, including some major issues regarding their “Team Page,” Laura was honest enough to explain to me the problematic situation with which she was dealing. I was supportive, patient and understanding. More importantly, I fully supported her decision to leave the organization. I frequently said to her multiple times over the last month, “Laura, just walk away and tell everyone the truth. As long as you do that, everybody will support you.” Unfortunately, she only took half that advice. She walked away and then disappeared. Leaving the majority of our group completely in the dark, many of whom didn’t even know anything was actually wrong to begin with.
Laura has had multiple opportunities to show some leadership and offer guidance for our group. She has had opportunities to publicly communicate what was happening and rally community support to solve the problem. But instead she left all of us hanging, and meanwhile seems to be working on a new blog and networking with other people, all the while without this current situation having ever been resolved. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last 3 weeks of my life dealing with this mess that she created, and trying to bring everybody in this program together to get our donors’ money returned and expose this situation that Landon has been intent on covering up for so long.
I have no doubt the toll this has all taken on Laura. I’m sure she’s in a very tough position. And not for one second do I mean her any ill will. But this was a problem that existed between her and Landon and with StubbyDog’s internal management, and up until this July, it had little to no impact on other people’s lives. She willingly decided to launch this program and drag all of us into this knowing how bad things were and how bad they could get.
None of us should have been pulled into the middle of this, but were anyway. She could have made things right by openly communicating with all us and publicly explaining the situation. That is what a mature, professional, responsible person would have done, regardless of how complicated the situation. But she has not done that. Her inability to recognize what she has put me and several other people through over the last month and the impact that this has had on our lives and our work is an impossible pill to swallow.