GREENSBORO — When dogs and cats began leaving the Guilford County Animal Shelter with rescue organizations last week, a semifamous dog departed with them.
Toby, a scruffy, tan Lhasa apso, left the shelter quietly, with little fanfare. It was fitting, since despite his popularity, most people didn’t know he was still there.
“He was approved for adoption last summer,” said Alison Schwartz, who took Toby and a dozen other animals to foster homes last week. “But he never left the shelter. He’s been there the whole time.”
Toby became a media sensation after he was dropped off at the shelter in April 2014. A woman had found him in her yard, suffering from third-degree burns over more than 50 percent of his body.
In the following months, the pup underwent multiple treatments for burns on the top of his head, nose, cheeks, stomach and both front legs.
His right eye, extensively damaged, was removed by veterinarians. Surgeons at the N.C. State Veterinary Health Complex in Raleigh rebuilt the eyelid over Toby’s left eye so he could blink again. They also folded his left ear over part of the damaged skin on his head to provide additional protection.
Toby’s medical bills totaled about $13,000 and were paid for in full through donations from people across the Triad and throughout the United States. Marsha Williams, the shelter’s former director, said at the time that the United Animal Coalition, the Greensboro-based nonprofit that ran the shelter, had raised enough to pay for Toby’s bills and “several thousand more.”
The excess money, according to Williams, was to be used to pay for surgery for abused and neglected animals.
Recent events cast serious doubt on those claims. After an exhaustive investigation, the N.C. Department of Agriculture two weeks ago revoked the United Animal Coalition’s license to run shelters in Guilford and Davidson counties, citing systemic and repeated failures to properly and humanely care for the animals in custody.
Guilford County officials are operating the shelter on an interim basis.
Among other things, the state’s investigation revealed that staff at the Guilford shelter routinely failed to provide even basic veterinary care to many of the animals housed there. Multiple injured cats and dogs came into the shelter — some abused, others hit by cars — and received no care beyond pain medication for several days before being euthanized.
In some cases, injured animals didn’t even get that.
The Guilford County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a separate investigation into the shelter, looking into allegations that Sheriff BJ Barnes said range from additional claims of animal cruelty to the potential misappropriation of money.
Despite receiving the bulk of its funding from the county for the past 16 years, the United Animal Coalition has never released detailed financial reports beyond its tax forms, which are public because of the organization’s status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Barnes said his office is scrutinizing all of the coalition’s finances through records obtained in part from computers at the shelter, seized during the execution of a search warrant on Aug. 18. That includes donations, he said.
“We are looking into all aspects of money that came in, and donations is certainly part of it,” he said. “We have received some information from other folks who have given donations and were questioning what may have happened to them.”
Thousands of people donated money for Toby, hoping to help him heal and find a new home. But after the media storm surrounding the dog died down, people who had contributed to his care were left wondering how his life turned out.
“The last we heard was that he was adopted but then returned,” said Frances Howie, a Greensboro resident who donated $200 toward Toby’s surgeries. “I had also heard he was just staying with Marsha. Whatever happened to him?”
Since being cleared for adoption in July, not much. Williams said last fall that she had found a family to take him. The people later changed their mind after getting a dog somewhere else.
The shelter was flooded with hundreds of applications to adopt him prior to that, but it’s unclear whether that interest persisted. All rescuers know for sure is that Toby had been living in the shelter ever since.
“I am not privy to their records,” said Schwartz, the manager of All Pets Considered and treasurer for Almost Home Dachshund Rescue. “The shelter had stated only that the applications that had come through were not qualified to adopt Toby.”
But Toby got out sometimes, Schwartz said. He was regularly groomed at All Pets Considered, a Greensboro store and care facility that spiffs up animals from the shelter several times a week to help facilitate quicker adoptions.
When the state pulled the United Animal Coalition’s license and the county took over, Schwartz told officials she would be happy to take Toby from the shelter and help him find a home.
“Because Toby has some behavioral issues, I had indicated to the shelter staff that if they needed a rescue to take him in, I would be willing to do that,” she said.
Toby’s behavioral issues aren’t major, she added. He can be possessive of toys and doesn’t always respect boundaries with people and other animals. He also has severe allergies and would require an owner who could both train him behaviorally and afford to treat his ongoing medical issues.
“Several of our staff had relationships with him thanks to his standing grooming appointments,” Schwartz said. “So they offered to help. We had some foster families in mind.”
Today, Toby is living with a foster family that plans to adopt him permanently, she said. He lives with a cat and another dog, and is learning to be more polite and respectful.
“He’s going on walks every day and learning his manners,” she said. “He’s happy and very healthy. It’s going well.”
Beyond those details, Schwartz said, the foster family would prefer to keep things private.
“They’d just like to give him a life outside of the limelight,” she said. “We recognize that a lot of people have loved him and given to him, and we really appreciate that, but we really want to give him a home out of the spotlight where he can be a normal citizen.”
Contact Kate Elizabeth Queram at (336) 373-7003, and follow