SALEM — There were signs of trouble at a Marion County animal rescue operation before it was raided by authorities who seized 140 dogs and arrested three of its principals.
Willamette Animal Rescue hadn’t completed state registration requirements for nonprofits, prompting the Oregon Department of Justice to threaten legal action, the Statesman Journal reported. Residents who suspected abuse contacted Marion County and several animal welfare agencies about it.
Willamette Animal Rescue sometimes alarmed people at adoption events by bringing dirty, scruffy-looking animals, the newspaper reported.
Deputies raided the shelter’s warehouse in Brooks on Jan. 13. Many of the dogs seized were emaciated and suffered from ringworm, mange, eye infections and parasites. Each of the three arrested — president Alicia Marie Inglish, 24; secretary Amanda Noelle Oakley, 19; and board member Merissa Marie Noonan, 21 — face more than 100 counts of animal neglect.
The organization ostensibly was formed to save dogs from certain death at “kill shelters" and make them available for adoption. It registered with the Secretary of State’s office in May 2011.
But by September 2012, Inglish stopped paying vet bills, according to Sheri Morris, owner of Willamette Valley Animal Hospital, and she lost her job at a Keizer pet supply store.
Dan Carroll, the attorney appointed to represent Inglish in the criminal case, declined to comment to the newspaper.
Soon after the news broke about Inglish’s arrest, PetSmart Charities terminated Willamette Animal Rescue as an adoptions provider. PetSmart Charities has adoption centers in every PetSmart store.
“Our primary concern is clearly for those pets," said Steve Pawlowksi, a spokesman for PetSmart Charities.
The nonprofit, a separate organization from the retailer, has approved a $20,000 grant to help the Oregon Humane Society deal with the influx of dogs from the closed shelter. Pawlowksi said the charity did a site visit of a “foster home" where Inglish had dogs, but never checked the Brooks warehouse.
Willamette Animal Rescue has no employees, only a three-member board of directors that includes Inglish, said Geordie Duckle, a Portland lawyer who represents the organization. Duckle added that many volunteers assisted with its operations.
Families who adopted pets from Willamette Animal Rescue told the Statesman Journal they were charged fees ranging from $150 to $275 per animal. It’s not unusual for pet rescue operations to charge adoption fees to cover their costs, including veterinary care of animals and a microchip.
Sonia Pulvers of the Marion County Dog Shelter, which took in 26 of the Willamette Animal Rescue dogs, said some of the animals contained microchips from rescues outside Oregon.
“Other states have shelters that are overwhelmed with dogs," Pulvers said. “What’s happened is the shelters in other states are putting out a call for help."
Sandy resident Tina Morgan spotted a Corgi mix named Chloe at a PetSmart adoption event in Wilsonville.
After being assured that Chloe was great with other cats and dogs, Morgan paid Willamette Animal Rescue a $275 adoption fee. She was told paperwork on the pet’s history would be mailed to her. It never was, and Chloe fought with other pets in the household and nipped at family members or hid from them.
Willamette Animal Rescue agreed to take Chloe back but refused to provide a refund or a replacement dog, Morgan said. Morgan has filed a complaint with the Oregon Attorney General’s Office.
Hopes Haven Animal Rescue director Marsha Chambers said she and others “started spying on" Inglish because they suspected animal neglect. Chambers contacted the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, the Willamette Humane Society and the Oregon Humane Society — initially to no avail.
Finally, Marion County officials searched the warehouse after receiving photos of conditions there from an informant, Chambers said.
“It took a private person to bust her," Chambers said.