OPINION: Reasons for Scappoose dog rescue investigations run deep
It was unsurprising to discover the self-styled dog rescue operation, All Terrier Rescue Hunters Crossing Inc., is again the focus of a county investigation for running an unpermitted facility, as noted in a story by Spotlight reporter Courtney Vaughn last week.
Slightly more eyebrow-lifting, however, has been learning this week that the Oregon Department of Justice is also investigating the controversial, cash-only Scappoose nonprofit in the wake of numerous complaints against it, ranging from adoptions of ill dogs to questions about the nonprofit's financial reporting.
All Terrier Rescue Hunters Crossing, or ATR, has been the focus of several investigations over the past decade, ever since the business moved to Columbia County from Washington County in 2004 after code enforcement actions there shut it down. At the time, Washington County required any household with five or more dogs to register as a kennel and exist on appropriately zoned agricultural land.
Columbia County, however, had no such teeth in its kennel code. ATR's co-founder, Samantha Miller, and her co-founding mother, Jeri Miller, claimed the 20 or so dogs maintained at the Old Mill Road residence in the Chapman area were personal property soon after the business set up shop there. It was a convenient way for the Millers to sidestep the county's requirement for receiving the permit needed to run a business —a barking loud business, at that
— out of Samantha Miller's residence.
As the Spotlight revealed and reported, Samantha Miller at the time was making weekend runs from the Old Mill Road home to the Tigard Petco to sell her so-called personal dogs for fees ranging from $200 to $400, per its website. Petco defended its relationship with ATR, despite concerns brought to the attention of a company representative. ATR had since partnered with PetSmart, though the pet products retailer recently severed ties with ATR, and last week an ATR post indicated it was working with Hannah the Pet Society, though that information has since been pulled from the web.
The legal tussles between ATR and the county continued, and it seems every few years brings about new allegations and court filings. In addition to building code violations, neighbor nuisance complaints, and stories of dog abductions and dissatisfied customers, Samantha Miller at one point sued the county for more than half-a-million dollars after she alleged Columbia County Sheriff's Office officials falsely arrested her and pursued malicious prosecution. This was after one of Miller's neighbors said she had pointed a gun at him and threatened to kill him, prompting the law enforcement summons.
Samantha Miller won a lower court ruling in her favor, but it was overturned on appeal. Ultimately, the Oregon Supreme Court refused to take up her appeal of the final ruling and the case against the county was dismissed.
Yet, despite all of the news coverage, complaints and negative publicity, ATR has never appeared to be compromised in its ability to sell dogs for cash. In blog posts, the company claims to have placed more than 30,000 dogs over 26 years, though documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service don't bear out those claims. In 2016, in fact, reportable salary for the two co-founders was zero dollars each, according to IRS documents.
Over the years, we have watched as the business has changed its operating address during times of controversy, or removed its webpage or Facebook presence from the Internet when the heat is on, much like a shell game, as appears to be the case today. Yet the dog sales continue. In a blog post dated Nov. 6, ATR claims to have had a successful two-day adoption event at its Scappoose facility, which we surmise is the residence that is the focus of the current county investigation.
Unfortunately, trapped amid the investigative noise surrounding ATR, is the fate of many dogs — unwanted and soon-to-die dogs, if the nonprofit's story to its would-be consumers is to be believed.
But given ATR's track record, its penchant for misdirection and false claims, we fully welcome the investigations. There are many other credible dog rescues operating in the West, including Oregon. We would expect most would be willing to take a check or credit card, not force a signed contract prohibiting taking an adopted dog to the vet, and would be set up in a reputable, permitted facility.
The results of county and state investigations will hopefully reveal what's going on behind the scenes at ATR. Until then, the myriad public complaints and documented run-ins with the law should be enough to give prospective adopters pause and prompt them to do their own research before losing money, or worse, a loved companion, to an organization that appears to treat animals as mechanisms for profit, rather than pets.