An effort to raise money through social media to cover treatment for a homeless dog injured in a car accident has ended deplorably.
Disabled homeless man Richard Powell, who cares for the dog, said his homeless friend Shawn Stokes recently ran off with around $4,300 in donations gathered from more than 70 people through a Facebook fundraiser, leaving Powell with few options in paying for treatment for his dog.
“I feel like a fool. I really do,” he said. “For him to turn around and do this — it’s a major betrayal. That was a very low thing to do.”
Powell, who turns 61 later this week, said he last had contact with Stokes on May 3, when he inquired when the money for his 4-year-old bichon Marley would be cleared.
Powell said Stokes told him that the money was frozen, as Facebook wanted proof of who Powell was to make sure the fundraiser was valid.
Powell said he agreed to meet up with Stokes at a later time to deal with that, but Stokes never showed up. It was at that time that Powell said it dawned on him that his friend had ran off with the money, as the bank account connected to the fundraiser was in Stokes’ name.
“I never had a dream something like that would happen,” he said. “I would never do something like that to somebody.”
In a previous interview with The Californian, Stokes addressed concerns about whether people could trust them to make sure the donated money would be used as intended.
“Just because we’re homeless doesn’t make us dishonest. It would be an evil thing to do to exploit people’s empathy and kindness like that,” he said.
Powell said he’s attempted to contact Stokes, who has refused to answer his calls. Stokes also closed the Facebook fundraiser that had been set up.
Powell said he plans to file a report alleging fraud and elderly abuse with the Bakersfield Police Department soon in the hopes that officers will be able to catch his one-time friend and bring him to justice.
“Shawn had a choice to make. It all comes down to a choice,” he said. “I believe you reap what you sow. He made the bed, so he needs to lie in it.”
An uncertain future
Powell and Marley were both hit by a vehicle on April 9 while legally walking in a crosswalk on Panama Lane near the Highway 99 overpass. Marley sustained major injuries, including a broken hip, while Powell said he had minor injuries.
Powell claimed the driver of the vehicle who hit them initially offered to pay for medical treatment but never followed through and has since denied accountability in the accident.
Powell and Stokes attempted to get the driver’s insurance company, Geico, to pay for treatment but claim they were told that the driver was not at fault in the accident and, therefore, there would be no payout for the accident.
As Powell is homeless, he doesn’t have enough money on his own to pay for Marley’s treatment. Since the accident, Marley has had difficulty walking and eliminating waste, he said. She has to be carried around in his wheelchair.
Powell said she’s gotten a little better since the accident but said she still has a tough time and needs medical treatment.
Marley has received some examinations at the Olive Drive Animal Hospital that were paid for directly by the Kern Humane Society. However, KHS Director Sue Bennett said the small nonprofit can’t afford to pay for surgery to correct the break in Marley’s hip, which would cost thousands of dollars.
“We try to help as much as we can with things like this, but our ability to contribute is limited,” she said.
In this particular case, Bennett said she felt uncomfortable about a Facebook fundraiser and had some suspicions about Stokes’ motives.
“I’m not really surprised at the outcome,” she said. “It felt like (Stokes) was very knowledgeable as it relates to how to earn money and using social media. He was really drumming up money in every way he could.”
Bennett said the unfortunate incident is a reminder that people should be careful about how they donate money.
“If you’re going to give money to somebody, it should be through an organization or business that is directly involved,” she said.
As for Marley’s future, Bennett said she will do as much as she can to help her. Powell said he’s also focused on getting help for his dog, who has been his close companion for more than a year.
“She’s my life, my pride and joy,” he said. “She rescued me, gave me some drive in my life.”
While Powell said he doesn’t like the idea of having to press charges against Stokes, he feels it’s the right thing to do.
“I’m not letting this go. This is something that’s got to be done,” he said. “We have to keep striving and moving on.”