Dog rescue faces lawsuit

A class action civil RICO complaint has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York against Rescue Dogs Rescue Soldiers, alleging the group in the town of Cherry Valley that rescues and trains dogs to be companions to veterans is defrauding donors.

Arlene Dean, a resident of Ulster County, through attorney Susan Chana Lask in New York City, alleged in her complaint that Elizabeth Keller, among other defendants, uses the rescue group as “a sham charity … to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” from donors, only to use the money for personal benefit while neglecting the dogs.

Calls to Rescue Dogs Rescue Soldiers went to voicemail Thursday, Nov. 9. A recording stated that the voicemail was full. The Daily Star received no immediate response from email.

The complaint seeks an accounting of Rescue Dogs Rescue Soldiers and El-Liza’s Dog House, named as a conspirator, and to hold the board members of the groups personally liable restitution of funds to all donors since 2020, to shut down operations and remove the dogs to a safe rescue.

The dogs are rescued from New York City animal shelters and brought to Cherry Valley to be trained for disabled war veterans. The organization has been active since 2014.

“Donors in New York and nationwide made hopeful investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars for years believing the dogs received great care at a sanctuary and trained for soldiers to adopt, but there is no care, no sanctuary and no soldiers — just a living hell for the dogs that violates consumer fraud and state charity laws that should end this sham,” Lask said in a Nov. 3 statement.

In August, an animal complaint was filed with the Otsego County Sheriff’s Office, asking for a wellness check. Deputy Jacob Smith responded Aug. 2 to 431 Barringer Road in Cherry Valley, according to the sheriff’s report.

The report stated Smith entered a barn and was “overwhelmed by the smell of ammonia/cleaner/urine” and had to leave the building.

After he re-entered, he noted 10 dogs in the barn, one that appeared to be underweight. Keller told Smith she had had the dog for only two weeks, according to the report.

Smith then asked to see Keller’s property at 1414 Co. Highway 50 in Cherry Valley. At first she wanted to wait a day or two, but then agreed to give Smith access.

At that property, Keller said to Smith that an employee had quit two weeks before without notice.

Smith observed “multiple dogs outside in their own shelters” and “multiple dogs” inside an old milking barn.

“Three dogs in the middle of the barn were living in really poor conditions as housing area was covered in feces,” the report stated. “The dogs appeared to be healthy besides their housing conditions.”

More dogs were found in another area of the barn, and Smith saw “what appeared to be feces in garbage bags next to the dog cages,” the report stated, which again noted that the dogs appeared healthy despite the housing conditions.

In total, 54 dogs, two horses, three donkeys and cats were at the site. At a third location, 469 Barringer Road in Cherry Valley, Smith found dogs that “appeared to be healthy and cared for but some dogs were stacked on top of each other in crates.”

Smith told Keller that the living conditions needed to improve, and that she “may face criminal charges due to the dogs living conditions,” the report stated.

A follow-up visit by Deputy E. Lincoln, whose first name was not noted in the report, to 1414 Co. Highway 50 on Aug. 3 found conditions appeared to be improved and each dog had access to food and water, although Keller stated that none of the dogs were licensed.

Smith returned Aug. 10 and Aug. 25, noting that the dogs’ living conditions “had greatly improved and was now appropriate,” the report stated. The 63 dogs were still not licensed.

The sheriff’s office closed the investigation Sept. 9.

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