Can you trust the person training your puppy?

Can you trust the person training your puppy? »Play Video

EUGENE, Ore. - A woman hoping to turn an abandoned dog around says the trainer she turned to as her only hope put her and the troubled animal through hell.

The trainer says he went through a nightmare of his own, and has the bite marks and empty bank account to prove it.

KATU’s On Your Side Investigators started working on this story just to find out what happened to the rescue animal, but found an even bigger problem.

Anyone in Oregon, Washington or the rest of the country can call themselves a dog trainer, and they’re not legally required to have any kind of official certification.

The people KATU spoke with for this story say for them, and for Kimo, the dog they wanted to heal, that lack of regulation created chaos and pain.

"These dogs need somebody, the one person to not give up on them," said Kelly Lee, the woman who rescued Kimo.

Lee and the pit bull have a lot in common. Both have been abandoned. Both have been tossed around.

"I was raised in foster homes,” said Lee, “My entire life I spent looking for that one person that could be my person that wouldn't give up on me, so I have found that I am that one person for these dogs. I will be the one that won't give up on them, no matter what the costs."

Lee took Kimo into her Eugene home about a year ago after she says a family acquaintance found the abandoned dog at an empty house in Salem.

"By that point he had been alone for probably about 30 to 40 days,” Lee said. “He had been alone at the house."

Lee says Kimo had problems. He fought with her three other dogs, he barked a lot, he bit and Lee needed help.

“I've always told people, I'm not a rescue,” Lee said. “I am just a woman that got in over my head.'"

Lee launched a Facebook page, Kimo's Brigade, to help build support and raise money to get Kimo shots, to get him neutered and microchipped. She also raised enough to get the dog boarded for a month.

Although she posted a lot of happy pictures and videos online, Lee says after Kimo came back, he was still causing problems at home. Her dream of getting the dog adopted was falling apart until she got some hopeful news on Facebook.

"There were some people that said, 'I know this doggie boot camp up in Washington and he can get this dog adoptable in five days,’" Lee explained.

That sounded great to Lee. The only problem: It wasn't free, although the trainer, Chris Dunham, was willing to offer a discount.

"$400 a week,” Lee recalled, “He said it was a reduced rate from the $600 that he charges most people. He thought he would have this dog whipped into shape in no time."

Lee went to work trying to raise money for the boot camp, which Dunham ran out of a home he was renting in Graham, Washington.

For a while, the fundraising effort was a struggle.

“And then I get this message in October from Chris,” Lee said, “’somebody has paid his hundred dollar deposit. You can bring him up now.’ On Halloween, I drove him up there and dropped him off."

"I said, you need to make sure that he's muzzled,” Dunham remembers, “and he's got a leash because he's gonna be meeting me for the first time and he's gonna have a reaction."

Dunham says when Lee and Kimo arrived, the dog jumped out of the car window and ran straight at him.

"He kept comin' at me, kept coming at me,” Dunham said. “Then he realized he wasn't gonna win. Then it was fine."

Dunham, Lee and members of Kimo's Brigade agree on very little about what happened next, when Kimo was in Dunham's care. Dunham captured some of his training of Kimo on camera.

"At that point that's what I was under the impression it would take a week to get into shape to get him adoptable," said Lee.

"He trained for two weeks,” Dunham recalled. “She was caught up for two weeks. I said, 'okay, well I've pretty much done what I can do with your dog. You can come get your dog anytime.’”

Lee said, however, "At the end of every week, I would hear, 'No, he needs more. He still has issues. He needs more time.'"

"But she says, 'No, I want him to stay with you longer so you can continue more training’” said Dunham. “I'm like, well that's gonna be at the same cost of $400 a week."

Kimo was still with Dunham in mid-November when Lee says donations slowed down and she couldn't keep up payments.

"Everybody has their family to worry about,” Lee said. “Everybody can't continue to give on this level to a dog they don't know. It's Christmas!"

Dunham says he would've considered charging less if he'd known the whole situation, but he also admitted a person with his company, It's Positively Doggie, LLC, gave him a link for the Kimo's Brigade page before he met Lee.

“I said, 'Chris, I'm just gonna come get him,’” Lee recalled. “I don't have this money and I can't rely on everybody else to pay it.'"

Dunham, however, told Lee she couldn't have the dog back unless she paid him the money she owed.

"There was a bunch of drama because of that,” Dunham said. “People were trying to say I was holding him hostage. I'm like, I'm not holding the dog hostage. I'm just trying to make sure I actually get paid!"

"In December,” Lee said, “it just got really ugly and Chris turned what I describe as evil."

Disturbing Photos

“I'm disgusted," said Kim Standiford , a member of Kimo's Brigade.

Standiford says she visited Dunham while Kimo was in his care in Washington.

"I donated $200 to help pay for his board,” she explained.

Standiford says she helped Dunham by driving a wolf hybrid up to his home from Oregon for training. She says Dunham's claim to the brigade that he trained Kimo for 14 hours a day is false.

“He wasn't doing anything,” Standiford said. “I mean Kimo was kept right by the sliding glass door where all the dogs were paraded in front of him."

Dunham's former landlord, Patti Angeliz, says Dunham had been using marijuana in the house while training Kimo.

"In Washington, yeah I've smoked pot but not very much," Dunham admitted.

After weeks of bitter fighting between Lee and members of Kimo's Brigade over payment and Kimo's treatment, Dunham said he'd had enough.

He says although Kimo improved and he got him to behave 75 percent of the time, the dog had bitten him, his girlfriend, and other dogs, and was more trouble than he was worth.

"[On] January 2nd,” Dunham said, “I was just like, come get your dog.”

Lee says when she picked up Kimo, Dunham met her outside the home.

"He had him muzzled,” Lee recalled. “He told me that he would probably bite me. He had me terrified of this dog that I had never been terrified of before."

Compared to what the dog was like before he was with Dunham, Lee said, "He was very cowering. He was very scared. His ears were tucked back. He had no spunk. He had nothing behind his eyes. He was very sad."

Dunham moved out soon after due to a dispute with Angeliz, who says Dunham was behind on rent. She says when she went inside the house after Dunham left she found a filthy room where Kimo's broken leash was left dangling from a wall. Photos of the room horrified lee and members of Kimo's Brigade.

“Why put a dog in a dark, cardboarded up, windowless room?” asked Lee. “I don't get why a trainer would do that to a dog."

Dunham says Kimo was only in the room for five to ten minutes before he broke out. He says he then kept Kimo in a makeshift dog kennel inside the home.

"He's usually out for an hour, back in for a half-hour, out for an hour, back in for a half-hour,” Dunham said, “just so I was able to rotate other dogs to work with him."

Dunham now lives at his parents' house in Woodburn with a couple of his dogs. He says there isn't enough room there to train or run his business.

"This dog, he's probably the best dog as far as training that I've ever had," said Dunham, bringing out his chocolate lab, Charlie Brown.

At first, the dog ran wild stretching out Dunham’s leash and jumping up on one of KATU’s On Your Side Investigators before Dunham got him under control and demonstrated the dog’s ability to follow commands.

Dunham, who's 41, says he's been training dogs since he was twelve.

“That was when I was doing personal training,” Dunham said. “That was me training my dogs that I had, my friend's dogs."

Dunham says when he was 18 he worked at a dog wash and obedience training business in Red Bluff, California. He also says he volunteered with search and rescue teams in California and one based in Washington.

None of those organizations could confirm Dunham’s claims.

Last year, Dunham did complete a one year online course to earn a dog training diploma from Penn Foster Career School. Dunham admits that none of the training was done in person.

On his business's Facebook page Dunham says he's a member of the Humane Society and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. He and those groups admit, however, that to become a member you just have to pay a fee.

"I'm just saying I'm a member of the Oregon Humane Society,” Dunham explained. “I support the Oregon Humane Society. That's all that was about. APDT is a listing for trainers."

Both Dunham and Lee agree on one thing: Dog trainers need to be regulated.

"There's no protection for any dog trainer out there,” Dunham said. "I mean anybody can come up and say anything about a dog trainer."

"I wish there was someplace where you could see where they're credentialed, what their credentials are," Lee said.

An Oregon Humane Society spokesman says you should only trust trainers credentialed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

"All of our dog trainers are certified through that,” said David Lytle, an OHS spokesman. “That means you have to have 300 hours of practical experience even to take the test."

You can check to see if a trainer is certified on the CCPDT’s website.

Lee says Kimo's story has a happy ending. He’s now being cared for by a rescue group she trusts called Divine Destiny in Pennsylvania.

"I was blindly being lead and I wasn't doing what I now know is so vital and that is to just research, research, research," Lee said.

Lee is not the only person who claims to have had problems with Dunham, and he does have his defenders.

State legislative leaders in both Oregon and Washington told KATU no one has plans to introduce bills on this issue. In fact, Washington State Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom told KATU he's against regulations for dog trainers. He says he doesn't think every industry or profession needs to be regulated.