A Forum for Information & Discussion of The Hannah Society

Our Concerns

This extensive research began in 2012 and included numerous visits to the Clackamas location, five hours of face-to-face meetings with the Hannah Society CEO and Director of Placement Services, interviews with current customers, and meetings with informants with first-hand experience with this business.  When our collective concerns and opinions about the Hannah Society’s ethics, business practices and lack of transparency became public knowledge, the company published Hannah Society Frequently Asked Questions.  The following addresses the concerning claims made by Hannah Society in that document.  This outline is based on our own experiences, assessments, and ethical concerns/opinions about Hannah Society. 

#1 CONCERN:  PET SOURCING

Careful wording regarding the source of pets at Hannah Society is misleading. (questions #2 and #3)

Hannah Society:  Claims to source pets from a variety of places including: “Re-homing of Pets from families that provide their Pet to Hannah.”  Hannah Society claims: “Puppy Mills – otherwise known as ‘breeders’ or breeder businesses are never used by Hannah.”  In addition, Hannah Society claims their goal is to “prevent unnecessary euthanasia”.  Hannah Society’s numerous disclaimers are troubling including: “There are some behavior and medical issues that cannot be overcome. Pets with these conditions are not eligible to be a Hannah Pet.”

Assessment:  In September, 2012, Hannah Society CEO confirmed that 80% of the dogs they place come from breeders.  Not “families” but “breeders”.  We are defining “breeder” as anyone who intentionally puts two animals together to produce offspring.  Hannah Society is now saying that they don’t utilize “puppy mills” and “breeding operations” but do work with “families”.   Hobby or backyard breeders are often families looking to make a little extra money (not always as a primary occupation).  When was the last time you heard of an accidental litter of goldendoodle, labradoodle, toy poodle, cockapoo, yorkie poo, or maltese puppies?  All of these designer breeds are listed for lease in Hannah Society’s recent email newsletters.   How would Hannah Society know if they were buying animals from a breeder or breeder business if they do not perform site visits (breeders simply complete a questionnaire) as they stated on the record?

Until this FAQ document was released in October, 2012, management and sales staff at Hannah Society opening confirmed that the company worked with breeders. In numerous instances, staff referred to these breeders as “socially responsible Hannah breeders” in person, on the phone, and online when talking with rescue volunteers, government agencies, and the public when specifically asked about their source of animals.  So where are these advertised puppies coming from?  We’d really like to know but Hannah Society’s recently developed non-disclosure policy and re-definition of “breeders” to “families” really makes the situation complicated.  We encourage you to ask for yourself in the hopes of getting a clear answer as to why so many designer breeds in great numbers are available as “rescue/shelter animals” through Hannah Society but NOT at local rescues and shelters.

On 8/21/12, Hannah Society employee Julie B. responded to a Yelp complaint: “To date, we have placed almost 200 shelter Pets in homes and are happy to let you talk to our shelter partners about our program. Our goal is to find a family for every Pet and a Pet for every family. We are partnered with several shelters, rescue groups and foster homes. We search within that system first. If someone’s Perfect Pet Match cannot be found there, we also have a number of pre-screened, certified breeders who raise Pets in their home.”  Interestingly, management confirmed that 80% of the dogs they lease come from breeders right around the same time this corporate response was posted!  Hannah Society employee Julie B.’s response appears to have been recently deleted (we could only theorize why).

Compensation to “families” who may be breeding their dogs for profit may be the source of designer puppies that Hannah Society continues to advertise. How do we know where the pets are from if Hannah Society won’t disclose the source of their pets? (question #10)

Hannah Society:  They “think it is only fair to also pay for the Pets provided by families because they are often better Pets (because they haven’t been through the trauma and disease exposure of a shelter), and because we legally need a bill of sale to prove we own the Pet so we can subsequently place it with a family without someone coming back to us and wanting the Pet back…”

Assessment: We appreciate that being fair received some consideration by Hannah Society.  Unfortunately, we don’t agree with their assessment of shelter pets.  This implies that shelter animals are easily sub-standard to pets coming from a private home where they may have been abused or neglected.  Hannah Society CEO, Will Novak, shared his internal study of Petfinder on the record in September, 2012.  Of 1,000 rescue/shelter pets studied on Petfinder, they found only 20% of the adoptable pets fit their program criteria.  Of course, we are paraphrasing here, so we suggest you ask the CEO directly about this study and its results.  We suggest any rescue, shelter, or person considering providing their pet to Hannah Society require a tour of their facilities including where pets up-for-lease or those that have been returned are kept.  We have received reports from several sources that conditions for Hannah Society pets are not ideal or average.  Conditions assessment is subjective, so we believe seeing it first-hand would be valuable for anyone who truly cares for a pet they are considering selling to Hannah Society.

Why won’t Hannah Society disclose specific sources for the pets they lease?  Especially those that appear to have been sourced from breeders? (question #37)

Hannah Society: Claims their pets “come from not-for-profit animal welfare organizations and families”. They add: “Many times we simply don’t know where the pet originally came from because the shelter does not know. In the case of an individual, the Pet may be the result of an accidental mating, a stray, a rescue, a hardship situation, or any number of other situations that we have previously discussed. We have made it a policy not to release the source of any particular Pet because we often don’t know the initial source and because of privacy laws that prevent us from finding out.”

Assessment: If they “simply don’t know where the pet originally came from” where are they getting and marketing the specific breeds of so many designer breed puppies that they are currently leasing by breed including goldendoodle, labradoodle, toy poodle, cockapoo, yorkie poo, and maltese?  What privacy laws exist to prevent Hannah Society from determining the source especially if the animals are bred by hobby or backyard breeders?  We encourage you to ask Hannah Society management and staff about this and demand answers.

Why is Hannah Society claiming they agree with the Humane Society of the United States on responsible breeding? (question #41)

Hannah Society: “We don’t work with any breeder businesses/ puppy mills.”  Hannah Society also states: “At the same time, like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and American Humane, we believe socially responsible and humane breeding is possible – and once Pet breeders have been certified, we may reexamine our current ban on breeders.”

Assessment:  We contacted the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to confirm their stance on breeding.  The HSUS has very detailed information on their position on responsible breeding and they encourage people to visit a shelter or rescue group first and also outline how a “responsible breeder” operates.  The HSUS description includes expected parameters for families who may sell puppies to Hannah Society.  HSUS has determined: “A responsible breeder allows you to visit and willingly shows you all areas where puppies and breeding dogs spend their time and sells puppies only to people he/she has met in person, not to pet stores or to unknown buyers…”  If responsible breeders sell their puppies only directly to a buyer, where are Hannah Society puppies coming from if not from local shelters or from a responsible breeder as Hannah Society has previously claimed?  We encourage you to ask Hannah Society about these discrepancies.  Read the full HSUS outline: www.humanesociety.org/issues/puppy_mills/tips/finding_responsible_dog_breeder.html.

Hannah Society claims to avoid leasing puppies, so why are their marketing materials dominated with puppies for lease? (question #42)

Hannah Society: “We do not get any Pets from breeders/ puppy mills and as yet there are no ‘certified breeders’. We need to place healthy Pets for our financial model to work, so we would rather avoid both purebreds and puppies!”  In addition, Hannah Society explains: “the only Pets we have gotten from breeders are those that have come to us from shelters and humane societies…”

Assessment:  We’ve posted Hannah Society newsletters on our blog from the past several months.  If Hannah Society is trying to avoid puppies, why are they advertising so many designer breed puppies in their newsletters?  We encourage you to ask Hannah Society management and staff for an explanation.

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#2 CONCERN: RESCUE PARTNERS

Who are Hannah Society’s “numerous” rescue and shelter partners and why do privacy laws prevent them from honestly disclosing the source of their animals? (questions #4 and #5)

Hannah Society: Claims to “currently partner with many animal shelters, humane societies, rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations”.  They also claim that “privacy laws and our agreements with them prohibit us from releasing a complete list; however, we have a list of some local organizations that have given us permission to release their contact information”.  Hannah Society claims to work with a large network of local shelters, rescue groups and foster families, as well as many others that are not local.  Hannah Society claims “before opening Hannah met with a large group of shelter operators, national and local humane societies and animal welfare groups to develop a model that supported their efforts”.

Assessment: We encourage you to ask Hannah Society for a list of their partners.  We’ve networked within the Portland area and regionally and cannot confirm even one current partnership beyond their relationship with Columbia Humane Society in St. Helens, Oregon.  As of late September, 2012, Hannah Society management confirmed Columbia Humane Society was their only partner even after claiming partnership with Multnomah County Animal Services.  We contacted Mike Oswald at Multnomah County Animal Services and confirmed that no such partnership exists.  In addition, why would privacy laws prevent Hannah Society from releasing a complete list?  Rescues, shelters, and humane societies are proud of their work helping animals in need and typically operate in a transparent and open manner.  Why would a nonprofit shelter or rescue value their privacy above an open relationship with Hannah Society and the families leasing animals from the company?  We suggest you ask Hannah Society to explain the reason privacy is so important to the rescue and shelter partners they claim to have added to their roster since September, 2012.  Aside from Columbia Humane Society, we cannot confirm that the rescue/shelter community has collaborated with this for-profit company capitalizing on the relationship between pets and their families (and we’ve asked Hannah Society and all major rescues in the area).

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#3 CONCERN: OWNERSHIP (corporate owned, leased pets)

Giving up legal pet ownership has lasting and potentially life-ending consequences for a leased pet. (question #24 and #67)

Hannah Society:  “By maintaining legal ownership of the Pet, Hannah avoids most of the cost of service-related liability (medical, grooming, diet, transportation).  Also, by owning the Pet and therefore providing whatever care the Pet needs ourselves, we avoid being an insurance provider…. This reduces the cost of care by well over 50 percent…Without maintaining legal ownership, we can’t do any of these things as quickly or do them anywhere close to the same cost. A caring Pet Parent gives up very, very little by not legally owning the Pet…the concept is based on lowering the costs and risks of having a Pet and making all of the decisions related to the Pet easier.  Legally it is a lease, but actually you are the Pet Parent.”  More generally: “If you choose the total care package, however, then Hannah must have the freedom to provide the care it believes is necessary and appropriate, since we assume lifetime responsibility for the health of the Pet.”

Assessment: In the state of Oregon, animals are considered property (ORS 609.020).  As such, owners have all rights in managing their “property”.  This means “Pet Parents” as Hannah Society describes them have NO legal rights in the ownership, management, or care of their leased animal.  Hannah Society management touts their model as the “HMO for pet care”.  That said, would you be okay with your HMO having the right to euthanize your sick family member based on their assessment of your family member’s illness?  Why would it be in Hannah Society’s financial interest to keep an animal alive that has a costly treatable or manageable illness rather than euthanizing it and simply providing the lessee with a new, healthy animal?  We’re concerned that animals will suffer unnecessarily because of the conflict of interest here (company profit vs. expensive animal care that will reduce company profits).  A “Pet Parent” may feed, care for, and love their leased animal very much even though they have no legal decision making authority whatsoever.  We’re told this includes the right to sue for malpractice that injures or kills a leased pet that you may be leasing.  We are not implying that Hannah Society will not take “Pet Parent” concerns into account, we’re noting that the company legally does not have to do so.  We encourage you to check with your own legal counsel to review all laws pertaining to pets as property.

Hannah Society’s easy return policy harm pets with instability and potential unreasonable euthanasia. (questions #29, #51, and #52)

Hannah Society: Explains that “Pets will come back to Hannah the Pet Society for various reasons, such as when the Pet Parent moves outside our service area, passes away, or has some other life changing event. In these instances, we will find a new home for the Pet as quickly as possible. This will probably be less than a week and the Pet will be in a foster home during that time if the Pet’s current ‘parent’ can’t keep it until then.  We suspect in most cases the existing Pet Parent will keep the Pet until a new placement is found. Another reason Pets may come back to Hannah is when the Pet has a medical or behavioral problem. In this instance, we will do our best to fix or at least ameliorate the problem and find a new placement for the Pet. If we cannot, the Pet will be euthanized after all other suitable alternatives are exhausted.  Hannah the Pet Society is highly incentivized to re-home the Pet because the cost of the Pet to Hannah – including procurement, transportation, medical care, training, etc., etc. – has already been spent.”  In addition, Hannah Society outlines just how easy it is to return an animal (they will come pick the animal up within 8 hours).  In addition, customers are able to turn in their pet and get another one up to three times.

Assessment: We believe this level of instability as outlined shows lack of concern for the pets and values the right of lessees to dispose easily of their leased animal – regardless of reason!   We highly encourage any rescue/shelters or individuals considering a partnership with Hannah Society to think very carefully about this policy.  Lessees are allowed to trade in three pets even after each pet has been carefully “matched” by Hannah Society.  This makes us question the matching process, commitment of the lessee, and many other things.  Is this something you would find reasonable for a pet you have rescued, cared for, and protected from harm?  How is being owned by a for-profit company reasonable especially with this trade-in policy?  In addition, we encourage you to read the statement made above about pets with medical or behavioral problems.  Our interpretation: If we try and can’t fix or make the medical or behavioral problem better that has developed over time (even due to age), the pet will be euthanized.  We would really like a valid business explanation as to how keeping a pet with serious or even chronic medical or behavioral problems is in the financial best interest of Hannah Society’s business model.

Why is Hannah Society providing reassurance for returned pets even though the pet’s fate is not secure based on other Hannah Society statements? (question #32)

Hannah Society: Explains their return policy: “… this scenario is our choice because it creates the minimal amount of stress for the Pet; BUT, if you don’t want to try that or you decide to try it and it doesn’t work, you can have Hannah the Pet Society pickup the Pet and be assured that since it is a qualified Hannah Pet, Hannah will do all we can to find it a loving home…”

Assessment: This was addressed by Hannah Society’s explanation of question #29: “Another reason Pets may come back to Hannah is when the Pet has a medical or behavioral problem. In this instance, we will do our best to fix or at least ameliorate the problem and find a new placement for the Pet. If we cannot, the Pet will be euthanized after all other suitable alternatives are exhausted.”  Question #32 implies Hannah Society owned pets will automatically continue in their program and be placed in new homes.  Unfortunately, question #29 specifically outlines otherwise.  We are concerned that these pets may be euthanized upon return based on this explanation.

Older returned pets are not guaranteed a continued life. (question #72)

Hannah Society: Explains how they will handle a returned old dog: “Remember, we already have its complete medical and behavioral record. So we match it with a new family that wants to spend a lot of time providing care. Perhaps surprising to some, we usually have more families than Pets for our senior citizen Hannah Pets. And because we take care of all the medical care costs, this is not a barrier to anyone.”

Assessment: See related Hannah Society answers above regarding the parameters for euthanizing a Hannah Society owned animal.  The statement “we take care of all the medical care costs” is misleading.  Senior animals often need medical care or treatment for more than “a few days or a week or so” as stated in question #68 as Hannah Society’s limit.  In addition, the animal may be euthanized if “suitable alternatives are exhausted” as mentioned in question #29.

Expected veterinary care may or may not be provided for the pets they own and lease to the public. (question #68)

Hannah Society: Regarding veterinary care: “Some therapies that may be appropriate for humans, we believe, are simply not appropriate for Pets. A human may be able to tolerate being in bed for two years with tubes going in and out of their body and heavily sedated. Pets – well, they don’t do that well on that kind of therapy and it is not a good quality of life either for them or their Pet Parent family. However, if that kind of therapy (extensive IVs, etc.) is likely only for a few days or a week or so, and the Pet is likely to get back to a decent quality of life and return home, then we are likely to recommend treatment – if that’s okay with the Pet Parent – and maybe even if it’s not.”

Assessment: Many treatable illnesses require care and treatment for more than “a few days or a week or so”.  This might be as simple as a month’s worth of medication to return the pet to normal health but may be more costly than what the “HMO of pet care” is willing to approve or provide.  We encourage you to ask for a complete list of conditions and how Hannah Society will handle them.  We are not implying that Hannah Society will not take “Pet Parent” concerns or what’s best for the animal into account.  We are saying that legally, this for-profit pet leasing company does not have to do so because they own all pets in the Hannah Society program.

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#4 CONCERN: SPAY/NEUTER

Pets leaving the Hannah Society system are spayed and neutered.  What about the pets still in the program? (question #39)

Hannah Society: “No Pet ever leaves the Hannah system without being spayed or neutered and micro-chipped, is medically sound and well socialized.”

Assessment: According to CEO Will Novak in August, 2012, pets are spayed or neutered unless they have been identified for future breeding.  The statement made by Hannah Society in their FAQ refers to pets leaving the Hannah system, not necessarily pets still in their system.  The rescue community works very hard to help reduce the overpopulation of pets and to save more of the 4 million animals who needlessly die in U.S. shelters each year while Hannah Society is identifying animals for future breeding.

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#5 CONCERN: LIVING CONDITIONS 

Animal Facilities: What are the conditions? (question #49 an #53)

Hannah Society: Claims that returned pets are “housed in a Hannah foster home or facility until it is placed in another home”.  Claims they have “clinical facilities that include housing for Pets and Hannah has a network of foster families to serve as interim homes…” for returned animals.

Assessment:  Hannah Society Director of Placement Services, Lori Davis stated: “We don’t have, nor do we want to keep pets in our facilities.”  CEO, Will Novak added: “We aren’t in the situation to house them.”  We encourage you to review the Hannah Society answer to question #5: “Hannah also does not have a shelter and we don’t warehouse Pets…”.  We have received credible first-hand reports regarding the conditions where Hannah Society animals live.  We can’t directly corroborate these reports other than to say that we have seen photos we deem unacceptable and have heard descriptions of illness and puppies being given medication to calm them while crated for hours on end.  Our sources have stated that living conditions are improved with their new housing facility at their Mall 205 location.   We suggest you ask for a tour of the facility where animals waiting to be placed or that have been returned are kept and draw your own conclusion (please share any findings here on this website).  We hope that you find good conditions.  We believe all animals deserve reasonable conditions and care.  Note:  Our research has not shown that Hannah Society is breaking any laws with regard to care.  Laws applying to living conditions for animals are unfortunately minimal and our opinions on animal care are ethically higher than legal bare minimums.

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#6  CONCERN: ETHICALLY MISGUIDED ATTEMPTS TO GAIN CREDIBILITY

Hannah Society attempts to gain credibility by claiming a related 501(c)3 charity. (question #74)

Hannah Society: Claims to have a 501(c)(3) “Hannah’s Helping Hands”.

Assessment: Update!  Previously we were not able to confirm 501c3 status for this elusive “nonprofit”.  As of now, we’ve confirmed that Hannah’s Helping Hands does have an EIN tax number (45-2828395) indicating nonprofit status.  That said, we question the details of the 990 tax form filed for 2011 that is now available for review.  The 990 shows income of $100 and the three “key” people include a family member of the founder and a lawyer who files legal paperwork for Hannah Society.  Visit Guidestar.org to review the IRS filings.

Hannah Society’s marketing and branding is very similar to that of humane societies otherwise known as rescues and shelters. (question #81)

Hannah Society: Claims that they tested the branding of “Hannah the Pet Society” with consumers and that they “did not confuse it with ‘humane society’ in research tests, which were quite extensive”.

Assessment: We would like to see this research and believe more research is warranted – though it is unlikely Hannah Society would change their name and marketing materials.  We’ve also tested Hannah Society branding and the majority of those surveyed thought Hannah Society was a nonprofit or even related to the Oregon Humane Society based on the similarities in their branding campaigns and marketing materials.