We already had two dogs of our own, but moving into a house with a big yard gave us room to care for a third, so we decided to begin fostering dogs, one at a time. Our plan was to choose a reputable organization with which to establish an ongoing volunteer relationship, but we really wanted our first foster dog to be a Great Dane, so we started with a breed search for one that needed a temporary home. That's how we stumbled upon one of Country Side Rescue's listings on PetFinder.com and inquired about fostering this Great Dane.
UPDATE: Thanks to an observant reader, we have learned that the Great Dane in the PetFinder listing was actually a photo stolen from this advertisement!
We spoke to a seemingly nice person named Ashley, who immediately suggested that we foster a different dog; a Husky/Great Pyrenees mix named Tank (also called Tonka) that she described as healthy but very shy. She said he had been living with her for a month since his rescue, and that she just didn't have the time to socialize him for adoption. I was a full-time student with enough free time, so we agreed to foster the needier dog instead of the Great Dane. We were very clear with Miss Pompell about our expectation that Country Side would remain financially responsible for him, which is standard procedure in fostering situations. She reassured us that he was very healthy and that her organization would pay all medical expenses while he was in our care.
There are certain life situations in which everyone knows to be wary of potential scams, but it didn't occur to us that this could be one of them. In hindsight, the red flags began to appear even before we met Ashley and Tank/Tonka. The first warning sign was that she didn't do a home visit or even ask for references. Responsible rescue organizations don't give animals to complete strangers without a background check, but we went to meet the dog anyway because we believed that Miss Pompell was a well-intentioned animal lover trying to get a new organization off the ground. It wasn't long before we realized the problem was much bigger than a lack of experience and insufficient funding.
On July 24, 2011, we drove to a private residence in Front Royal, where we believe that Miss Pompell was living at the time. We were not invited inside, but even the yard was a mess. There were five or six dogs running loose on the property, and a chained-up Rottweiler that she told us to avoid because he was "human aggressive." There was no fence between the unrestrained dogs and the road about twenty yards away. She went in the house to get Tank/Tonka and brought him outside; terrified, dirty, and severely wounded. When we questioned her about his injuries, Miss Pompell said she hadn't noticed the wounds and that they must have been caused by a "bramble." She also contradicted her earlier statements by admitting that he was not vaccinated.
At this point we knew that something was seriously wrong, but we took him with us anyway because we couldn't leave him there. We had to force him into the car, where he shook with fear and urinated in the back seat. It was a Sunday evening, so our only option was to stop at an emergency veterinary clinic to have his wounds treated. They also administered a badly needed Capstar flea treatment, removed a huge tick, gave him a rabies vaccine, and told us to follow up with our regular vet for a more thorough evaluation of his physical condition and medical needs. Just two hours into our fostering experience, we had already spent $252.89.
When we got home, Tank/Tonka was so scared that he refused to come inside the house until we set up a crate where he could hide. We recorded this video of us trying to coax him out to play. He wouldn't let us touch him or make eye contact, and he refused to eat. Late the next night we could tell that he was in pain, so we took him back to the emergency clinic at 2:00am to have his wounds disinfected. Day two of our foster experience cost another $117.
Two days and a new name later (we changed Tank/Tonka to Pippin), we took him to our regular vet and learned that his health problems weren't only skin deep. A full exam and lab tests revealed that he had Lyme disease, a digestive parasite called hookworm, and a yeast infection in both ears. Pippin was given the Lepto and Distemper vaccines, which he should have received many months earlier, and we went home with a dewormer, antibiotic pills, antibacterial cream, heartworm prevention, and ear cleaning solution. Another day, another $368.80 spent.
Every doctor we spoke to agreed that Ashley's story didn't add up. At seventy pounds, Pippin was more than big enough to be neutered. We asked Ashley to send us his medical records, but she refused. On July 28th, 2011, I sent Ashley a lengthy email that included the following request:
"I'm not sure why Countryside is unable to provide medical records to foster homes, but I must insist that I at least get to speak with your vet to help us understand their approach and how it relates to his current treatment plan. I don't think this is an unreasonable request, considering that we've spent $738.69 in four days with more expense yet to come."
Again, she refused. After several more complaints, the fictional Shannon Wonch told us that Country Side would set up an account with our vet to cover future medical expenses and neutering. Nobody ever contacted our vet's office, and we never heard from Ashley or "Shannon" ever again.
On August 4, 2011, we reported our experience to the ASPCA and, when we forwarded a copy of our complaint to Ashley, we began receiving emails from the fictional "Michael Mancini." At first we believed he was a real person, but Ashley couldn't keep that lie straight, either. In an email dated August 20th, 2011, Michael boasted his twenty-eight years of experience, then referred us back to nineteen-year-old Ashley, because she "has more experience."
At first, the imaginary Michael was deeply apologetic for Ashley's actions and explained that Country Side had run out of funds and would "no longer be operating as an organization." Later, he said that,
"Country Side Rescue is now under my full management, and we work with rehabilitating animals. We are located in a more country scene, and are now called Country Side Rescue and Rehabilitation. Everything has changed, we have new policies and a wonderful new vet.... Ashley and Shannon are the only volunteers I kept on board... I can't turn away their knowledge and experience..."
It didn't make sense that someone would chose to build upon a failed organization that had been reported to the ASPCA, when they could just start a new one instead. We found a website for the supposedly reorganized CSRR and checked the staff page. Not only was there was no sign of Michael Mancini, but Ashley (who was "kept on board" as a volunteer), was suddenly the president.
Meanwhile, we continued to drain countless time and money into Pippin's health. It took several months and many more trips to the vet, but we finally achieved his complete physical health. The Lyme disease responded to the antibiotics, the hookworm was eradicated, the wounds healed, and ear infections cleared up. His dirty, matted fur is now clean and shiny. He has gained twenty pounds and is now fully vaccinated and neutered. The sick, filthy, injured dog Ashley Pompell gave us has blossomed into a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed boy in our care.
What have been much more difficult to address are Pippin's serious behavioral problems. He gradually warmed up to us, but the "shyness" Ashley described is actually an extreme fear of people. We had a couple over for dinner one night, and Pippin ran to the far end of the yard where he stayed, panting and shaking until they left. The first time we walked him in public he lost control of his bladder and bowels.
As soon as he bonded to us, we found out what's even worse than his fear of strangers; severe separation anxiety. We tried a combination of melatonin, tryptophan, and a pheromone collar with no improvement. We consulted a canine behaviorist and tried her 12-step protocol but, after a full week on step one, no progress. When we crated him, he urinated and injured himself trying to escape. Twice he actually succeeded in collapsing this metal crate, which must have been painful. We don't know how he got the strength and momentum to squeeze through the tiny opening created by the unfastened hinge.
We were hesitant to medicate him, but after he popped an air mattress, bit through a metal aerosol can, chewed through an electrical wire, and shattered the glass in two picture frames, we started him on Clomicalm, which costs $250 a month. The medication helped slightly, but he still tried to follow us when we left the house. We tried leaving him in the yard, until we returned home one day to find that he had jumped the fence. We pulled into the driveway and he ran in front of our car to greet us. We tried confining him to the porch, but he ripped the screen and jumped five feet down to the ground.
Next, we bought a $400 outdoor kennel, but after leaving him in it for only three hours we came home to this. We tried giving him intense exercise and a Xanax, then closing him in a stripped-bare dining room with a turkey-filled kong toy. That did keep him confined, but even short periods of time were intensely stressful for him. We set up a webcam one day and it broke our hearts to watch him pace the floor, howl and chew the walls until he heard us arrive home.
We hate to separate Pippin from our other dog who has free rein of the house while we're gone, but we have to keep him safe and protect our belongings. Our latest attempt has been to move the outdoor kennel onto the porch where can't dig his way out. He still suffers from anxiety but he likes to be outdoors and, so far, this arrangement comes closer to providing a solution. We still have to give him the expensive medication twice a day, but we're willing to do whatever it takes to help him cope with our absence.
UPDATE: We are happy to report that as of Spring 2012, Pippin's separation anxiety has dramatically improved and he no longer requires confinement.
Being part Husky, Pippin has a tendency to escape and roam, even when we are home. He always returns eventually, but we can't just let him wander, so we've been on many a wild goose chase! This means we have to limit the time he spends alone in the yard, which is a shame because the Great Pyrenees in him loves to lie in the grass and guard the house.
Pippin's behavioral issues are immediately obvious, which means Ashley had to be well aware of them, including his tendency to wander, which explains why he was left inside while her other dogs were loose outdoors. We're not surprised that the PetFinder listing specifically noted that he "won't run away," just as it falsely stated that he was Lyme negative and fully vaccinated. Another thing the PetFinder listing said, is that Pippin was "born outside with many, many other dogs," and Ashley herself told us that it was a hoarding situation. We have reason to believe that she actually got him on CraigsList, from someone who wanted to get rid of a dog with behavioral problems. To date, Ashley refuses to provide any information about Pippin's origin.
At least some, if not all of Pippin's medical problems began while he was in Ashley's custody. Multiple unvaccinated dogs living together in a dirty environment is a recipe for spreading parasites like hookworm. Lyme disease has a short incubation period, so he was likely infected by the tick that was removed an hour after we left Ashley's house. And her assertion that his wounds were caused by a bramble is crazy. It is simply impossible for a plant thorn to cause so much damage and, even if it could, his coat is so thick it would never have reached his skin. The doctor had to shave the area in order to treat the wounds. The shape, location, and severity of the injury suggest that it was sustained in a fight, and there are clearly visible puncture marks that are consistent with a dog's canine teeth. Combined with the fact that Ashley forced Pippin to live with at least one aggressive dog, there is no doubt that she is responsible for his injuries.
We're not opposed to bringing sick, injured, traumatized dogs into our home. In fact, we intend to start our own rescue organization someday. But while we were planning a wedding and a cross-country move, an amateur con artist tricked us into taking a troubled dog like Pippin before we were ready to accept the enormous responsibility.
While Ashley Pompell's actions are clearly unethical and cruel, they may also amount to criminal fraud. Between the urgent medical care, kennel, destruction of property, calming supplements, behaviorist consultation, prescription medications, neutering and aftercare, we have spent more than $6,000 in less than six months as a direct result of Ashley Pompell's false information. His medication alone will cost $3,000 a year.
UPDATE: Our thanks to the many people who let us know about alternative options, we have switched to a more affordable medication.
Miss Pompell (via her Michael Mancini character) eventually offered to take Pippin back, but there's no doubt it was only because she still wanted to sell him. In fact, on January 3, 2012, we noticed that she reposted his PetFinder listing, with full knowledge that an attempted adoption would be disastrous. We're sure she would like to charge top dollar for a young beauty like him by claiming that it was she who spent a fortune on his rehabilitation. We wouldn't dream of returning Pippin to the woman who abused him, even if we thought a prompt and successful adoption was possible. Ashley Pompell will never see him again.
Our only other option is to try rehoming him ourselves which, even if we found the ideal environment, would disrupt the gradual behavioral improvement he has finally started to show. So, unless we find an experienced, stay-at-home Great Pyrenees owner who lives on a farm with other dogs, we are permanently obligated to Pippin. This means that, in addition to the stressful circumstances she caused, Ashley Pompell is responsible for our inability to provide a foster home to other needy dogs in the foreseeable future.
We continue to struggle with our difficult situation but, in spite of the emotional and financial burden that came with him, Pippin has brought us a lot of joy and we love him very much. We're proud of him for bringing the CSRR scam to our attention so that we could expose Ashley Pompell for who she really is, and prevent her from harming more animals for money.
A personal message to Ashley Pompell
I'm sure you remember Pippin as you gave him to us. Well... look at him now! He is happy and healthy now that he's been rescued from your "rescue." We can't stop you from making a dishonest living as a con artist, but you will not continue to do so at the expense of innocent animals. You should probably start looking for a new scam to run, because we will do everything we can to blackball you from the animal rescue community.
Keep an eye on this website's visitor counter... as you read this report, we are distributing it to the State Humane Investigator, the County Administrator, ASPCA, Humane Society, VA State Division of Animal Welfare, the State Vet (VA Dept. of Agriculture), and all the organizations and companies named on your websites, as well as every rescue organization, animal control officer, and shelter in Virginia and well beyond. A lot of people will be watching from now on, beginning with those listed above and extending as far as they can spread the message. We will also be posting warnings on CraigsList and responding to people's listings so they will know better than to surrender their unwanted dogs to you.
It would be in your best interest to delete the CSRR Facebook page, disable all your websites, and remove all advertisements. More importantly, stay off the pet section of CraigsList, and surrender any animals in your possession that you don't own (ownership means registered to you through the county). Make sure you surrender them properly to a legitimate shelter or rescue organization because, with help from the shelters in your area, your animal advertisements have been cataloged. If you abandon or harm them in any way, the county will know exactly where they came from and you could be charged.
If you took half the time you've spent on these scams and put it toward something productive, you could make a real difference, or at least an honest living.
Shame on you.
Justin and Megan Kendall