In September 2016, Wilma Price was driving through a Walmart parking lot in Huntsville, Texas, when she spotted a homeless man named Patrick holding a sign that said, “Dog in pound. Need help.”
Price, who runs a rescue called Mr. K’s Pet Shelter, stopped to help. She said Patrick had been arrested for trespassing and taken to Walker County Jail in Huntsville. His dog, Franklin, had been taken away to the Rita B. Huff shelter in Walker County, where he was listed as a stray.
Price took him to the shelter where she paid $120 to get his dog back. The two have since formed a tight friendship, and Price is fundraising to help Patrick get back on his feet.
The story proved to be an irresistible bit of happy news amid a dark and nasty presidential election cycle, and after telling it to a dog web site and CBS News, it spread far across the Internet.
In a bizarre and confusing twist, a web site called the Alabama Observer (which generally seems to post legitimate news items) published the same story — but with the location changed to Huntsville, Alabama (not Texas).
The names of the people involved were also changed in the Observer story, which does not carry a byline. In that version, the homeless man’s name is changed to Mark Spencer and the dog’s name is changed to Wilbur, and the woman who comes to their aid is Elizabeth Masterson, 29. (Price said Patrick’s last name is phonetically pronounced “Balisky,” but she doesn’t know the spelling).
Price told us that the publication also took a picture of Patrick holding Franklin that has been published with their story, but reversed it. She said no one has responded to requests to remove the erroneous information.
There are so many [versions of the story] going that honestly I haven’t had time to keep up with it. I’m aware of [The Alabama Observer] one, and there was a couple other ones. I’m shocked that it went as it has. I don’t feel like I did anything that anyone else wouldn’t do.
There is no contact information on the Observer’s web site, but a rather lengthy and unusual “Terms” page makes it appear that the content on the site is submitted by various users, as opposed to typical news organizations that hire reporters and freelancers to file stories, which are then vetted and edited before publication.
Price said a stranger started fundraising for Patrick and they had to get the page removed from GoFundMe (Price has herself started a fund for Patrick, which has raised thousands of dollars). Price said Patrick has been helping her with animal rescue efforts since the two met, and her Facebook page documents their adventures together: