Leona Helmsley is a public relations nightmare.
Notoriously high-handed, she was dubbed the “Queen of Mean” by employees at the hotel empire her husband, Harry, built. She famously remarked, “Only the little people pay taxes” — before she went to jail for tax evasion. In her will, she left bupkis to two of her grandchildren.
It’s easy to dismiss her as a rich bitch who overindulged another rich bitch, her Maltese, Trouble.
Trouble isn’t the best spokesdog for canine causes either, through no fault of her own. She didn’t need (or ask for) the $12 million that Helmsley originally set aside for her care. The reduction of that bequest to a mere $2 million by the courts was not unreasonable. How much home-cooked food can a small dog eat? How much vet care would a well-walked pup require? And Trouble can’t distinguish fake diamonds from the real deal.
But Helmsley didn’t only love Trouble. She also loved other dogs that she didn’t know personally. How do we know? Because she left billions of dollars for their care.
Now the trustees of her estate are trying to divert the money to other charitable causes. This, naturally, brings up the larger issue of whether it’s okay to subvert someone’s final wishes.
Luckily, the dogs have some powerful spokespeople: The Humane Society of the United States, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Maddie’s Fund are going to court on their behalf.
The Humane Society is not without its own controversy (can you say “spokesperson Michael Vick?”). And while the ASPCA is a fine organization, I’d like to focus here on Maddie’s Fund, the least known of the three.
Because Maddie is a dream of a spokes-Schnauzer for animal welfare causes.
There are some similarities between Maddie and Trouble. Both were much loved by wealthy owners who wanted to show their gratitude for the joy they received from their pups by helping other dogs.
But, as far as public perception is concerned, the differences are more important. Dave and Cheryl Duffield, Maddie’s owners, are not famous outside of philanthropic circles, where they’re known for having given more money to animal welfare causes — especially creating shelter medicine programs in veterinary schools, supporting no-kill shelters, and promoting spay and neuter programs — than any other individuals, nearly $400 million to date. And, unlike Trouble, Maddie led a low key, normal doggie life.
And Maddie died, while her owners are still alive and able to express their love for her, in tributes as well as in contributions. (I defy any dog lover — well, okay, any dog lover of the female persuasion — to look at the website devoted to her without crying.) As a result, the Duffields are able to stand up for those who would deny others, including Leona Helmsely, the same opportunity.
A press release from the Maddie’s Fund site says in reference to the case being brought against Helmsely’s trustees:
“Literally hundreds of millions of dollars that have been willed by people nationally, who cared about dogs, have not gone to provide for dogs as was intended,” said Rich Avanzino, president of Maddie’s Fund. “The ignoring of donor intent in this country has become an unspoken national shame.
With $5 billion at stake this is a game changer. We want to work with the Helmsley trustees to arrive at a figure that is consistent with Mrs. Helmsley’s intentions and would change injustices in dog care and welfare overnight.
For instance, even a small fraction of this money makes it possible to virtually empty all animal shelters in America of dogs without homes.”
So if you’re troubled by Trouble as the face of dog rescue, think of Maddie. And speak out against the New York Surrogate Court’s decision to disregard a will designed to help dogs in need.