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Oregon investigating Columbia County dog rescue organization after claims of fraudulent practices

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Dogs listed for adoption by All Terrier Rescue wait outside a Scappoose home on a rainy day. The organization is under investigation by Columbia County and the Oregon Department of Justice for possible kennel code violations and fraud, respectively.

A dog rescue and adoption organization currently under investigation by Columbia County is also being investigated by the Oregon Department of Justice.

Columbia County land use and dog control officials confirmed they are examining the home of Samantha Miller, co-founder and operator of All Terrier Rescue Hunters Crossing Inc., for possible violations of county kenneling ordinances.

While county officials are looking into whether Miller is keeping too many dogs on her property in Scappoose, the DOJ confirmed last week it is looking into the organization's financial records in the wake of four separate complaints filed against ATR between April and August.

Noah Ellenberg, assistant attorney general with the DOJ, cited "an ongoing investigation" into ATR.

The DOJ's charities investigation division primarily looks at monetary operations and reporting of nonprofit organizations, Kristina Edmunson, the communications director with the Attorney General's office explained.

"Our charities investigations are all civil, but they can be referred for criminal charges," Edmunson stated via email Monday. "We typically review the financial dealings of organizations, but every investigation can vary."

ATR's 2016 tax filings list two people — Jeri and Samantha Miller — who both work more than full-time and claimed no compensation. The nonprofit reported $72,672 in revenues for 2016, but more than one person who filed a complaint with DOJ points out the thousands of adoptions ATR claims it has made doesn't match the organization's revenue statements.

"It simply doesn't add up," Dana Entler wrote to the DOJ in April, after she says her niece adopted a dog from ATR that got sick soon afterward, and was confiscated by ATR.

"This is a financial matter that looks like they are highly underreporting income to the IRS and Department of Justice," Entler asserted.

ATR's practices reveal a pattern of accepting cash only, while retaining ownership rights of dogs and confiscating animals after contract disputes over medical care and other circumstances.

Complaints filed with the state detail instances of ATR adopting out or placing sick dogs in foster care, then demanding the dogs be brought to an unlicensed individual for medical treatment, after which ATR often refuses to return the animals while keeping adoption and foster fees, which range from $160 to $300.

Rebecca Lewis said she was told she must foster a puppy before she could adopt it, but would still need to make a cash donation of $320.

"Fostering came with a strict contract," Lewis noted in her complaint to DOJ in July. The puppy she acquired got sick soon afterward, and she was instructed to take the dog to a specific vet hospital 40 minutes from her home, or else pay for medical care herself.

She planned to take the dog to a vet closer to her home at her own expense, but says she was instead instructed to bring the dog to a home in Aloha for medical treatment.

"Given it was her dog, I had no choice," Lewis stated. "A few hours later we called to check up on the puppy and were informed we'd 'violated our contract' by taking the dog to the vet and they were taking the dog back. We would forfeit our forced donation of $320."

Another complainant submitted to the DOJ in August, after she said she was threatened by Miller and ATR for trying to treat her recently adopted dog at a veterinarian closer to her home, rather than drive more than an hour away in mid-summer heat to a private home with no licensed veterinarian.

"From that point on, the attorneys got involved," Lori Ares wrote. "I was served court papers and eventually settled outside court by returning the dog and after two weeks, she returned the dog to me for another $300."

ATR did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week, the Spotlight reported PetSmart Charities severed ties with ATR after years of holding adoption events at stores in Washington County.

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