On January 25th, the Palos Heights Police Department (PHPD) brought a stray dog to our shelter in Chicago Ridge.  The PHPD also posted a message and photograph on its Facebook page to alert community residents and aid in finding the owners of this lost dog.

Following our standard protocol, upon intake, the dog was immediately scanned to determine if it had an implanted microchip that would assist us in finding the owner.  No microchip was detected.  The dog was then processed as a stray.

Starting almost immediately however, numerous phone calls to our shelter were made by individuals claiming to be the owner of the dog.  We also received phone calls from individuals who, we subsequently documented, falsely identified themselves as officers of the PHPD, and demanded a status report on the dog. 

We subsequently learned that the PHPD Facebook post relating to this dog prompted Internet Trolls to post false and defamatory information about AWL in an alleged effort to mislead the public and cause unnecessary concern among innocent citizens within Palos Heights and its surrounding communities.

For this reason, we were compelled to contacted Fanning Communications in Crestwood, Illinois and requested assistance from their Social Media Forensic Investigators to determine the identification of these Trolls, catalogue false and defamatory statements, and ascertain the identity of posters of all false and defamatory information.  These investigators are trained and certified in the use of Open Source Intelligence Techniques (OSINT) and received training in conducting Internet searches through InfraGard, an organization formed by the FBI to assist federal and local law enforcement agencies in protecting the infrastructure of the United States, including its digital infrastructure.

The information they obtained has been turned over to our legal team for further action.

The false information identified includes:

  • Posting of a horrific photograph of euthanized animals alleged to have been taken at AWL.  In fact, this photograph was first published in 2013 upon an Australian news media site and has appeared on various sites and social media since that time.  The photograph was taken of animals found by Australian authorities there.  It is not a photograph of AWL and does not reflect, in any manner, events that occurred or were conducted at AWL.  This photograph does contain copyright protection and the use of the photograph by the individuals who falsely and maliciously posted it is a violation of that copyright as well as an attempt to incite the public through the wanton and malicious use of false information, aimed directly at inflicting harm upon AWL and the PHPD. 
  • Posting of false information regarding work experience or direct experience obtained at AWL.  In some cases, posters stated that they “Heard from someone who worked at AWL…” or “Heard from someone who volunteered at AWL…”, in an apparent attempt to shield themselves from legal repercussions associated with the false claims they then posted.  In fact, purporting to “have heard from someone” does not shelter an individual from liability resulting from slander and libelous activity.  In fact, making such claims points directly to the wanton “intent” by the poster to deceive the public, while attempting to shield themselves from recrimination and legal liability. 
  • Falsely posting that AWL is a “kill shelter”.  In fact, all animal shelters and rescues engage in the need to euthanize animals.  AWL is an open admission shelter which accepts animals in any condition brought to its doors.  This includes animals injured in accidents, suffering from mistreatment and suffering from disease.  While our veterinarians work very hard to save every animal brought to us, some are simply beyond our ability to save and suffering greatly.  Shelters and Rescues who claim to be “No Kill” do not take in such animals.  Claiming to be a “No Kill Rescue” or “No Kill Shelter” while turning your back on animals in the greatest need is, in our opinion, disingenuous.  If it were not for the few open shelters like AWL, then where would such animals be brought?   Despite the fact that AWL takes in animals in every condition, we have consistently maintained an annual animal save rate at or above 80 percent.  This means that AWL, which takes in the animals that other rescues and shelters turn their back on, has a success rate for saving the lives of animals that is just 10 percent or less each year, than the rate required for a shelter to claim itself “No Kill” (Shelters and rescues that claim to be no kill must maintain a save rate of 90 percent or greater).  

AWL must, by law, report all animal intakes and all animals euthanized to the State of Illinois Department of Agriculture.  Those reports are posted on their website and any member of the public can view these reports to verify the truth and accuracy of our activities.  We, as well as law enforcement, encourage every citizen that comes upon inflammatory postings on social media to investigate the facts before acting upon or sharing such posts. 

Also contained in posts and comments on the PHPD Facebook page were requests for the public to call municipalities throughout the Chicago area to admonish them to stop taking animals to AWL.  In fact, some municipalities currently only bring animals of breeds not accepted at other rescues and shelters to AWL.  For example, one such municipality in Chicago’s south suburbs only brings Pit Bulls to AWL because those breeds are rejected by other shelters and rescues.  No kill shelters are primarily interested in taking in healthy and easily adoptable pets so that they can maintain high turnover rates.  This brings them greater income and lets them maintain open space in their facilities for animals.  Because AWL, since its founding, 85 years ago, refuses to turn its back on animals in need, we accept these unwanted breeds and do our very best to find them good homes.

On January 26th, less than 24 hours after receiving the lost dog from PHPD, the dog was returned to its rightful owners by staff at AWL.  Unfortunately, the joy that we at AWL typically feel when reuniting lost animals with their family was dampened by the pain and suffering directed at our staff members and our good name by these few individuals who, for reasons known only to themselves, conducted a vicious and targeted campaign of lies, disinformation and defamation intending to inflame innocent members of the community and cause economic and emotional pain to the staff and volunteers of AWL.

AWL is a private, non-profit organization.  We receive no government or taxpayer funding and rely solely on the support of people from the community and corporate sponsors.  It is one of the oldest and largest organization of its kind in Illinois.  We are grateful for the support we receive from the public and we do not relish the idea of being forced to expend funds to protect ourselves from malicious individuals who, out of ignorance or for monetary gain, aim to harm our staff and organization by posting lies, disinformation and defamation upon social media.

The results of the forensic social media audit, along with a detailed audit of the monetary loss suffered by AWL due to the unlawful actions undertaken by these individuals, has been turned over to our attorneys for further action.  We are committed to pursuing any and all legal remedies against these individuals because we know, as does the educated public, that without AWL, each year thousands of animals would needlessly suffer and die upon our streets.


Chris Higens