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Rescue's critic mars celebratory rally

Posted: March 19, 2013 - 7:22pm  |  Updated: March 19, 2013 - 10:10pm
With Happy Tails Rescue founder Barbara Barbara Gleitsmann behind him, shelter supporter Chuck Reed addresses the crowd gathered in the closed rescue's support Tuesday outside the Evans Government Center Auditorium.  Jim Blaylock
Jim Blaylock
With Happy Tails Rescue founder Barbara Barbara Gleitsmann behind him, shelter supporter Chuck Reed addresses the crowd gathered in the closed rescue's support Tuesday outside the Evans Government Center Auditorium.


After supporters of a closed Columbia County animal rescue group rallied Tuesday in its support, a former shelter worker shocked the group’s founder by slamming conditions at the facility during a public meeting.

About 100 supporters of Happy Tails rescue, many of them accompanied by dogs rescued from the Appling facility, gathered in front of the Evans Government Auditorium prior to the county commission meeting in which founder and president Barbara Gleitsmann was scheduled to speak.

Hailed by supporters as a “hero” for her efforts on behalf of abandoned animals, Gleitsmann said the gathering was “like a family reunion” as she called many of the pets by name.

“This is just a pure demonstration of what all of us do,” she said as she introduced a succession of speakers who related their experiences volunteering for the rescue or adopting or fostering pets from it.

Shortly after, Gleitsmann addressed commissioners to spell out Happy Tails’ contributions to the community and asked officials for their support for a push to promote spaying and neutering of animals to reduce the unwanted pet population.

The celebratory air took a less-friendly turn when Tiffany Vernier of Grovetown, who said she had been homeless and was allowed to live at the Appling rescue, followed Gleitsmann’s comments with condemnations of conditions at the facility.

“The conditions have been unsanitary; broken, makeshift pens, unsafe,” she said, showing pictures she took at the shelter.

As Vernier continued, a visibly upset Gleitsmann walked out of the room, saying “This is just unfair – this is unfair.”

Vernier charged that pets’ health problems went “completely untreated,” and said she helped bury animals who died at the shelter “from parvo, from cancer, from dog fights, from untreated kidney failure.”

Conditions at the facility were “senseless and inhumane,” she said. “I wish to thank everyone who has come out in support of moving those animals to a safer place.”

While the Georgia Department of Agriculture report that led to the closure of Happy Tails noted problems with sanitation and documentation at the facility, the rescue received satisfactory marks for all direct animal care issues. The final inspection stated “the animals here do appear to be receiving humane care – they all have adequate food and water and shelter.”

Elaine van der Linden, founder of the rescue Molly’s Militia, said while she’s never known the Department of Agriculture inspectors to be unfair, she worried that a fellow rescue group could be shut down when irresponsible pet owners receive little or no sanctions.

“We see in shelters every day, people dump dogs that have been in dog fights, every rib in their body is showing,” she said. “They don’t get a ticket for animal cruelty when they dump that dog off – why is the standard so much higher for rescues?

“Yes, if you have a lot of dogs, you can get overwhelmed in a hurry. ... When a rescuer gets overwhelmed, these people are right at her throats to finish her off. With all she’s done for the dogs and the community, we ought to be a little more understanding of her,” she said, drawing sustained applause from Happy Tails supporters.

“It’s overkill to shut down Happy Tails,” she said.

As the meeting ended, Vernier left with a police escort through a rear door of the room while Happy Tails supporters gathered outside the front door of the auditorium.

Gleitsmann seemed stunned that Vernier appeared during the session.

“Tiffany needed a place to stay,” Gleitsmann said. “I opened up my property to her. I let her live on my property for two months,” Gleitsmann said. “It is unbelievable to me. She is so unstable. She is vicious. And she is dangerous. She is trying to destroy me.”

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Comments (6)

Barry Paschal

Reader comments

Readers: We know the rumors and the allegations about Tiffany Vernier, but unless there are actual criminal charges involved, we aren't going to allow postings that accuse her of committing a crime. Keep that in mind when making further comments.

Little Lamb


I was concerned about the online comments dwelling on the character of the speaker rather than on the content of what she said at the commission meeting. We should mull over the actual allegations (unsanitary conditions, unsafe conditions, untreated medical needs, dog fights, and unsecure dog pens). We don't know the veracity, and we don't know the severity. But the agriculture department inspector did cite violations on issues severe enough to demand a shutdown.

Stunned 2

DOA Mark Murrah was confused when I spoke with him on the phone

DOA Mark Murrah was confused when I spoke with him on the phone. He told me that he had been citing this rescue facility for 'a year and a half', when he later said 'since July, 2012', I pointed out to him that that was only 7months. He was arrogant during the conversation and tried to put words in my month. I had to stop him 3 times. Incompetence, untruthful or was he confused? I don't know. But, I know that he was wrong

Stunned 2

There were a lot more than 100 supporters at the Rally

Barry, There were a lot more than 100 supporters at the Rally Tuesday. I estimate 175 - 200 People and about 75 dogs. Please post a picture of our entire circle of friends, not the picture from before the rally with scattered people arriving and grouping.

Barry Paschal

Sorry, Stunned 2 - there actually were FEWER than 100

Stunned 2, I've covered plenty of events during the past three decades. As other journalists have experienced, I have yet to find a partisan participant of a rally who can or will give anything other than a wildly exaggerated estimate of attendance. (That's why, for example, the National Park Service stopped providing crowd estimates for events in Washington, D.C.; they got tired of participants complaining of what they inevitably claimed was an undercount of their event.)

Know how I got an estimate for the Happy Tails rally? I counted the people who were there - you know, stood back, counted 1-2-3-4-5 etc.

I got 62. How did you arrive at your estimate? (People milling about loosely will often appear to have greater numbers than they actually do.) Then I asked Barbara Gleitsmann, the organizer, and she estimated "about 60" (which was pretty accurate). So I used her number, gave it a hefty rounding to "about 100" to account for people who don't know how to count or estimate crowds, but do know how to act as if someone is intentionally trying to downplay their event. Apparently I didn't round up enough for someone who would be inclined to overestimate attendance by a factor of 3 or 4.

Stunned 2

From a different reporter at the rally

From a different reporter at the rally, but I did not do a physical count myself (because I was busy taking care of my dogs). Thanks Barry, for the clarification