(FOX 9) - Rescues have become the place to adopt a new pet. Most of them do great and important work. However, there are about 500 animal rescues in Minnesota and no laws to regulate them, something an animal lover may not realize until it is too late.
Allie Cortolezzis learned this the hard way. She fell in love with an 11-week-old Pomeranian at a pet rescue adoption event in November.
“I saw Popcorn in the kennel and he was adorable,” she recalled.
She got him for $300 the day before Thanksgiving from K9 Rescue and Rehoming, an animal rescue run by Mandy DuChaine.
By Thanksgiving morning, Popcorn was very sick and she had to make an emergency trip to her veterinarian.
“He didn’t eat and was only drinking water, but would throw it up every time he drank it," Cortolezzis said. "[The veterinarian] started the parvo test immediately, but at that point, it was just too late.”
Just 14 hours after he was adopted, Popcorn died from parvo, a highly contagious virus that spreads among puppies and unvaccinated dogs.
Unknown to Cortolezzis, she had adopted a dying puppy.
She called DuChaine when she was at the vet’s office because she knew how contagious parvo is and was worried about the other puppies that had been at the adoption event.
The Fox 9 Investigators discovered two other dog owners who accused DuChaine of animal abuse in November.
The complaints are documented in a report from the Wright County Sheriff’s Office. It reads the dogs adopted were “underweight”, “unhealthy” and that DuChaine had “misrepresented the health” of one of the animals.
A deputy inspected DuChaine’s home in Cokato and found several healthy animals. No further action was taken.
DuChaine told the deputy most of the dogs she rescues are kept with foster families.
When the Fox 9 Investigators contacted DuChaine about the complaints she replied, “If we get complaints we address them with the adopters.”
She added, “Right, we provide medical records for our dogs. All of our dogs are seen; when they are adopted they’ve gotten a clean bill of health.”
FOSTER EXPRESSES CONCERN
Koreen Speegle is currently fostering a dog for DuChaine, a Great Pyrenees named Betty.
“So, met them in a parking lot, handed me the dog and that was it,” Speegle recalled when she picked up Betty.
She wonders if the dog had ever seen a vet, because Betty held a few surprises.
“After I had the dog for three weeks, the dog goes into the vet to get spayed, and oops, find out the dog is pregnant,” she said. "After four attempts to get vaccination records, I still have not received anything, and she won’t respond to me.”
DuChaine told Fox 9 Speegle didn’t need veterinarian records, because she was only fostering the dog, not adopting it. And DuChaine added she’s pursuing legal action to get the pregnant dog back.
NO REGULATION OF RESCUES
Keith Streff is an investigator for the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley.
He said there are some 500 animal rescues in Minnesota, and generally, while many are good, there’s no regulation or oversight. There are some rescues that go rogue.
"But at some point the money, the profit from the puppy sales starts creeping in. They start sacrificing environmental conditions for profit margin and things go downhill from here,” he said. “They hide behind the guise of they’re a rescue, how can they be doing anything bad.”
The rogues gallery of bad rescues includes Elizabeth Osterbauer, who ran ‘Close to Home Rescue.’ She was convicted of stealing and killing a dog by stomping on it and drowning it.
On a farm she rented in New Prague, police found 60 dogs, “thin and shaking” in an unheated barn.
Bethany Beilby, ran ‘Luv Me Again’ rescue.
Bloomington police found a horrific scene inside a Bloomington business park.
There were 37 dogs, in tiny kennels, covered in feces and urine, some without food or water.
Beilby plead guilty to mistreating animals and got probation.
FOX 9 stopped by her home in Owatonna and was not welcomed.
The man who told FOX 9 to leave didn’t say whether Beilby was home or whether she was running a rescue.
The sound of dogs barking were heard from inside the home and other buildings on the property. It is not clear whether she is in the animal business.
Ruff Start Rescue is considered by many in the field to be the gold standard in Minnesota.
“As a nonprofit, you are doing a service to the public and there should be no reason to hide anything,” said Azure Davis, Founder and Executive Director.
Visitors are invited to their office in Princeton, where they have on-site veterinarians.
It’s a non-profit with a board of directors, which hold them accountable.
“The public is the one funding the nonprofit. They want to know what you are doing with your money,” said Davis.
On its website and brochures, K-9 Rescue and Rehoming said it’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit, but FOX 9 checked with the IRS and discovered the group’s non-profit status was revoked two years ago.
An undercover FOX 9 producer went to several of DuChaine’s adoption events.
When asked if her rescue was a nonprofit. DuChaine responded, "Yes." She added,"We are all volunteers. None of us are paid, so all of it goes back into the dogs.”
However, the 501(c)(3) label was taken off of the rescue’s website after the FOX 9 Investigators approached Mandy.
HUMANE SOCIETY OFFERS TIPS FOR THOSE LOOKING TO ADOPT A NEW PET
Janelle Dixon is the director of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley. She said if an organization's nonprofit status is taken away, she said consumers should ask questions.
"What are your placement rates? Where do you get them from? What’s your protocol veterinarian care?" she suggested.
FOX 9 talked with several people in the rescue community, who also offered these tips when vetting a rescue:
- Ask about adoption procedures. If a rescue accepts your adoption request within a few minutes of meeting the pet, that could be a red flag. Many rescues will make home visits before accepting an adoption request.
- Many rescues have the foster parents of adoptable pets available to answer questions about a particular animal. Ask to speak to the foster of a pet you are wanting to adopt.
- Ask to see the animal’s medical records before adopting.
- Spend as much time as you need with your new potential pet.
TIPS ON CHECKING OUT RESCUES
You can check out a Rescue as you would any 501C(3) charity by doing some simple web site searches.
- IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search
- Guidestar is one of the largest sources of information about nonprofit organizations. At the site, you can look for the organizations 990. It gives an overview on how the group spends its money.
- Charities in Minnesota, which make $25,000 or more a year, need to register with the Office of Minnesota Attorney General. It will give you a general idea on the organization’s financial picture.
- The Better Business Bureau does take and register complaints about rescues on its website.
Allie Cortolezzis got her money back from DuChaine, and got another puppy Louie, this time, from a breeder, after thoroughly disinfecting her home.
She still believes in rescues, but she’d be the first to tell you, heartache is never a bargain.
“We will be looking into them with a lot more scrutiny before we would choose to adopt a dog from a rescue,” she said.