Puppy pipeline leads to shelter hundreds of miles away

Puppy pipeline leads to shelter hundreds of miles away »Play Video
Videos and pictures from the raid tell a disturbing story. Inside a warehouse, 149 dogs - walls of them crammed into crates.

SALEM, Ore. -- Willamette Animal Rescue looked the part.

Its Facebook page was littered with success stories: Unwanted dogs, rescued, and adopted into loving homes. The rescue described itself as "a no-kill soon to be official non-profit (501c3) animal rescue ... that specialized in placing hard to adopt animals," according to its Facebook page.

But by January 2013, the rescue's warehouse, located in Brooks, was exposed and raided by local law enforcement. Videos and pictures from that day tell a disturbing story. Inside, 149 dogs - walls of them crammed into crates. There were as many as five kept in kennels meant for one. In some cases, waste ran down and pooled on the floor.

Some dogs had open sores on their snouts. Others were emaciated with cages full of feces and urine.

The rescue's president, Alicia Inglish was arrested, along with two other board members, Merissa Noonan and Amanda Oakley. At the time, they faced more than 100 counts of animal neglect.

The Oregon Humane Society rescued the lion's share of dogs. The Marion County Dog Services rescued more than two dozen others. A few of the dogs died.

"When I first went in, it was just barking dogs, a strong odor or urine, feces," Allison Barrows said, Shelter Operations Manager at the Marion County Dog Services in Salem.

The Marion County Shelter was one of the many groups that went in to the warehouse to rescue the animals.

Both Barrows and her colleague, Sonya Pulvers, worked with Inglish before the raid but never suspected what they eventually saw.

"She was always appropriate, always respectful and she was very bright, which probably was her downfall," Pulvers said. "She thought she could handle 100-and-some-odd dogs in a situation like that.”

How could someone with a mission to rescue dogs, let something like this happen?

The On Your Side Investigators went to Inglish's home for answers but a family member said she and the other defendants could not comment because of a gag order.

But through our investigation, we found nearly all of the dogs at Inglish's rescue came from an animal shelter 600 miles away in Porterville, California - a shelter run by that city's police department.

Porterville Police Administrative Sgt. Dominic Barteau didn't exactly know how many times Willamette Animal Rescue came down to the Porterville Animal Shelter or how many dogs were taken.

"I don't have an exact number ... but they came down several times in 2012 and they took somewhere in the realm of 10 dogs each time they came down," Barteau said.

When asked about background checks of the Willamette Animal Rescue before handing the dogs over, Barteau said "I believe that they did do a brief background in the beginning."

The spokesman couldn't tell KATU exactly which people from the Willamette Animal Rescue they checked or when.

It wasn't until later, Barteau continued, that the Porterville Police Department learned that Willamette Animal Rescue passed the background check by showing someone else's non-profit status.

"There was evidence unveiled that the shelter up there in Oregon was falsely using - fraudulently using another person's tax ID," Barteau said.

The On Your Side Investigators uncovered documents that show Inglish was indicted by a Marion County grand jury for three counts of identity theft, which KATU confirmed in connected to the animal neglect case. However, officials at the Marion County District Attorney's office say it's not related to the interstate transfer of dogs.

"If there would have been red flags we wouldn't have adopted the dogs out there so I can't imagine that we would have red flags until this case broke," Barteau said.

The Oregon Humane Society's Executive Director, Sharon Harmon, said it's common for out-of-state dogs to be brought to rescues in Oregon. This state has long been the answer to California's pet overpopulation problem.

Plus, if you call yourself a rescue, set up a Facebook page and register a business name with the secretary of state like Inglish did, why should they second-guess you?

"It's the quality of care. It's what happened to them once they get here," Harmon said.

But our investigation found, lax laws left some rescues with little oversight. It's easy to open shelters.

"All you have to do is start acquiring animals," Harmon said.

The On Your Side Investigators asked: if it is that easy to start your own shelter, then what's to prevent someone from neglecting animals?

"That's what Senate Bill 6 was established to prevent." Harmon responded.

Senate Bill 6, which passed this July in large part because of the alleged neglect in Brooks, closed an enforcement loophole in Oregon's shelters and rescues. While there are strict state laws regulating shelters, local agencies didn't have much power to do anything about it until now.

"This is a pretty good deal for Oregon's animals. It really ups the level of protection and accountability for shelters and rescues," Harmon said.

The law requires that shelters have licenses, can be inspected any time, and have up-to-date records of all of their animals.

"You have to keep track of the animals: where did you get them from, what did you do with them when they were in your care - in terms of veterinary care - and where did they go? Harmon said.

Plus, the law calls for harsher punishment.

In the past, those who neglected animals got a slap on the wrist for a misdemeanor crime - probation, if anything at all.

Now, animal abusers can face a felony crime - a maximum of five years in prison, a $125,000 fine, or both. Animal neglect in the first degree is defined as neglect involving 10 or more animals, repeat animal neglect offenders, and animal neglect that happens in front of a child.

"Senate Bill 6 was a very significant legislative achievement. It finally made the punishment fit the crime of animal neglect," Harmon said.

But Harmon said the process will take time. Local agencies - like county animal controls - have to write the rules into county ordinances before they can enforce them. Columbia County's already done it. Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties are still in the process.

The law might have saved the dogs in this case much earlier.

But unless California and Oregon law enforcement start talking, making sure animals taken from the Golden State don't end up in a dark place, people with worse intentions than Inglish will still be able to trade up the puppy pipeline.

That shelter in Portersville has since tightened its regulations on releasing animals, and the spokesman says it no longer ships animals out of state

The trial for Inglish and the others who ran Willamette Animal Rescue starts in August.