There has been no shortage of wild influencer stories during this period of social distancing and political unrest, including Instagram personalities who posed in blackface to “combat racism” and those who monetized their ill-advised road trips away from covid-19 hotspots. Still, those egregious behaviors are predictable. The following story is something else entirely: Brittany Littleton, an Instagram influencer with 32.4 thousand followers, co-owner of the LA vegan restaurant Sugar Taco and owner of the animal rehab Little Love Rescue (501c3 pending), allegedly accepted a dog stolen from an unhoused man and is refusing to return her to her owner.

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HEART L.A., a housing equality advocacy organization, has sued Littleton on behalf of their client, Elliot Haas, an unhoused man whose support dog of many years, Luna, is now in Littleton’s possession. According to a press release, in January, a couple approached Haas at his tent on Glendale Boulevard and offered him a table and chairs. While he moved the furniture, they allegedly grabbed his dog and drove off. Haas filed a police report and learned Littleton had the dog (allegedly, she was friends with the couple that took the dog.) He called Littleton, who he said initially refused to return the dog, before adding that she spent $6,000 on vet bills and suggested that if he wanted her back, he needed to pay that total. (Littleton launched a GoFundMe for Luna, which appears to have raised $7,276 for her bills.) According to NBC Los Angeles, Littleton released a statement saying, “We were not previously made aware of a lawsuit, but this information is inaccurate. The poor dog was surrendered to us in life-threatening conditions and we helped her.’’

On June 26, HEART L.A. announced that Haas appeared before a judge, Mary H. Strobel, in Los Angeles via conference call. Littleton failed to appear “or oppose the writ of possession,” the press release reads, and so the judge “granted Haas’s writ. Littleton and Little Love Rescue must now return Luna or face being held in contempt of court.”

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They say Littleton has yet to respond, but maybe that’s because they haven’t checked out her social media lately—on June 27, she posted a statement on her Instagram account claiming that when she brought Luna into the vet, they found her to be paralyzed, with cuts and scars. (HEART L.A. maintains that Haas bought Luna a wheelchair in 2019 when she became paralyzed.) “We have statements from veterinarians confirming the dog’s obvious neglect and evident abuse,” Littleton wrote, adding that she has recently received “multiple violent threats,” and that she needs money from her followers to hire a lawyer.

“My business and livelihood are being threatened even though my only intentions were to rescue and care for a dog in need,” she wrote. “In all my years of rescue, I have never seen a dog in a worse state... Now I am being sued and am forced to hire an attorney to defend myself. I need help covering legal fees to hire an attorney.”

In the caption, she included Venmo instructions.

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Stealing a dog in the state of California is against the law, and can be considered petty or grand theft. There seems to be an obvious devaluation of Haas’ well-being compared to that of his dog—HEART L.A. says Luna was a support animal that helped him complete daily tasks. It’s almost as if, because he was unhoused, that couple didn’t even see Haas as a person. And as for that money raised—wouldn’t the simple thing be to return Luna, and use the remaining money raised for future vet bills, should they arise?

Jezebel has reached out to both Littleton and HEART L.A. and will update this post if they respond.

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Update, 7/3/20, 2:20 p.m.: Brittany Littleton has responded to Jezebel; her response is here in full:

I was disappointed to see the story reported so falsely with seemingly little inquiry into the situation. Most importantly, I would like to say that I am in no way against houseless individuals having animals. This was an isolated incident in which an animal was surrendered to me by an individual I did not previously know. We were not friends, as falsely claimed. I gave her my information to give to the police. She had called me from the vet she was already treating Luna at (this was verified by the vet). She was reaching out to rescues for help because Luna needed to be hospitalized. As you can see from the photos and videos, she was in very bad shape. The initial vet who treated her thought she should be euthanized because she was suffering so greatly but after assuring him I would figure out the finances and we wanted to give her a chance, he agreed. I never asked for money from Elliot, the text you refer to was taken far out of context. I understand why the sensationalized, one-sided version of this story would cause upset. Houseless people face an extreme amount of prejudice and cruelty. However, I did not and have not ever stolen an animal. I helped an animal that whether intentional or not, experienced a level of neglect that caused her pain and suffering she did not deserve. Ultimately, I cannot apologize for seeing animals as beings deserving of care and kindness too. I listened to the recommendations and findings of the veterinary professionals and I listened to my conscience. No matter what someone’s socioeconomic status is, I do not believe it excuses abuse.

Senior Writer, Jezebel. My debut book, LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands, is out July 21.

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