How Ingram’s Cavalier “Rescue” Group Pulled It Off
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 5, 2018
On November 23, 2014, Birmingham, Alabama news reporter Joey Kennedy published a glowing article titled, “Cavalier Rescuers Buy 98 Alabama Pups at Auction, Bring 34 Back to Birmingham.” At the time, Kennedy covered animal rights issues for the Alabama Media Group, the state’s largest mainstream media organization.
Kennedy’s article featured the work of dog “rescuers” Angie Ingram, a Birmingham attorney, her daughter Kara Ingram, and fellow “rescuers” Brittney Wilk, Lisa Thompson, Christina Carnes, and others who “saved” Cavaliers that were bred at Terri Easterbrooks’ Rock Cliff Farms in Lineville, Alabama. These Cavaliers were “rescued” at an auctioned held on November 22, 2014 in Missouri. Thirty-four of the Cavaliers were brought back to Birmingham.
On December 22, 2014, Joey Kennedy featured Ingram’s “rescue” operation again in an article titled, “11 Animals Who Warmed Our Hearts in 2014.” Kennedy wrote, “A local group of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lovers raised more than $200,000 to purchase, at a Missouri animal auction, a group of Cavaliers from an Alabama breeder. About 100 Cavaliers were saved by groups from around the country and more than 30 were brought back to Alabama.”
On January 15, 2015, Joey Kennedy published another article titled, “Cavalier Group of Greater Birmingham Honored for Huge Auction Rescue.” This article featured the women with the Cavalier Group of Greater Birmingham who received the Judy M. Merritt Servant Leadership Award for rescuing 46 dogs at the Missouri auction. Most of these dogs were Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, noted Kennedy.
Angie Ingram, Brittney Wilk, Christina Carnes and Kara Ingram received the Servant Leadership Award from the Youth Leadership Development Program in a ceremony at the world-famous 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham for their “courage and tenacity” in carrying out the Missouri “rescue” operation. The 16th Street Baptist Church is the church where four young girls died during Sunday School in a racially motivated church bombing on September 15, 1963.
"We at first didn't realize the magnitude of what that award meant," Ingram said. "Then you're in this historic place and you realize what it means. We all got emotional."
Kennedy’s January 15th article also acknowledged that Brittney Wilk and Lisa Thompson, who were directors of the Alabama division of Cavalier Rescue USA when the “rescue” occurred, were deeply involved in this effort.
On January 23, 2015, Karen Pearsall Orange, a Florida resident and dog lover, emailed Kennedy to provide him with pertinent information about Angie Ingram’s “rescue” operation and her purchase of Cavaliers at the Missouri auction. The email disclosed certain financial information about the GoFundMe account Ingram used to purchase the dogs at the auction. After noting the positive press generated by Kennedy’s favorable articles on Ingram and her “rescue” work, Ms. Orange encouraged Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, to dig deeper into the “rescue” operation.
“Find out where the dogs are now and who their new owners are,” Orange wrote. “I am sure you will find that they are now owned by the ladies who did the ‘rescue’ and their family and friends of the Birmingham Cavalier Social Club. They used other people’s money to purchase themselves dogs. That’s not the way rescue works …. ,” noted Orange.
So, what did Joey Kennedy do with this information?
Within two hours of receiving Ms. Orange’s “whistleblower” information, Kennedy forwarded the email to Angie Ingram. He did not request a response to the allegations made by Karen Orange. Instead, Kennedy sent Ingram this warm and fuzzy message:
“Angie, I received this from Karen Orange. She is no friend. She says a lot of stuff I know not to be true. Hugs! J”
With that, Joey Kennedy gave Angie Ingram and her “rescuers” a “pass” on investigating the allegations of financial improprieties and dog ownership that were made in Karen Orange’s email. Three days later, Kennedy resumed his promotional journalism of animal rescues by publishing a soft article on how “[a]rea shelters, rescues offer pets for forever homes.”
Bullying the "Whistleblowers"
On April 8, 2015, Brittney Wilk, Lisa Thompson, Christina Carnes, Amanda Markham Johnson, Kara Ingram, Jasmine Lawson, and Angie Ingram sued Karen Orange, Cathy Moon a/k/a Cathy S. Hoffman (Ohio), Heather Halldin (Pennsylvania), Liz Moe a/k/a Elizabeth Dickens (Ohio), Nancy Ann Friedman (Michigan), and Lisa Swoboda (California) in Jefferson County, Alabama Circuit Court for “defamation” because they publicly questioned Angie Ingram’s purchase of the Cavaliers with donor money and also questioned how Ingram and members of her “rescue” group became the owners of some of the most expensive Cavaliers purchased.
As it turned out, Christina Carnes and Angie Ingram eventually secured ownership of the two highest priced Cavaliers purchased at the auction.
On April 13, 2015, the plaintiffs added Peggy Kenny a/k/a Peggy Levero (Massachusetts) to the defamation lawsuit. Later on, they added Shelby County, Alabama resident Beth Reed to the lawsuit. The case was eventually transferred to the Shelby County Circuit Court.
On February 6, 2017, the plaintiffs admitted in a court filing that: (a) Christina Carnes and Angie Ingram took ownership of two “rescued” Cavalier King Charles Spaniels that were purchased for $24,200.00 using GoFundMe donor money, (b) Jasmine Lawson took ownership of one Cavalier that was purchased for $4,500.00 using donor money, (c) Mandy Johnson took ownership of a Cavalier named Gideon that was purchased for $4,300.00 using donor money; and (d) Brittney Wilk took ownership of a Cavalier named Happy Go Lucky that was purchased for $3,750.00 using donor money. In short, Angie Ingram and her “rescue” group walked away from the Missouri auction with ownership of five Cavaliers that were purchased for a total of $36,750.00 using donor money.
All of these “rescuers” were Cavalier Rescue USA volunteers and/or “insiders” at the time of the Missouri auction. They disassociated themselves from Cavalier Rescue USA about a month after their successful “rescue” operation and eventually formed Cavalier Rescue of Alabama, Inc., a non-profit organization.
In the February 2017 court filing, Angie Ingram and the other six “rescuers” also admitted to contributing only $290.00 in cash, collectively, to the $268,000 GoFundMe campaign. Additionally, they admitted to paying only $1,200.00 in adoption fees for the right to own their five high-dollar Cavaliers.
The dog lovers who “blew the whistle” on Angie Ingram’s “rescue” group have been cast as villains in plaintiffs’ court pleadings and have been persecuted in the Alabama court system. The case has been to the Alabama Supreme Court and back on whether the lawsuit should be dismissed. The case is still pending in Shelby County Circuit Court.
Plaintiffs Are “Public Figures”
Angie Ingram’s so-called “defamation” case is really a classic First Amendment “freedom of speech” case. Ingram and the other plaintiffs are “public figures.” They have engaged in a sustained campaign of self-promotion on social media and in the mainstream news media for their Cavalier "rescue" work. They have openly aligned themselves with publicly funded animal welfare organizations like the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. They have sought donations for their "rescue" operations using highly coordinated and well-publicized public solicitations.
Friendly news reporters like Joey Kennedy have featured the plaintiffs in glowing articles about their Missouri "rescue" operation. Additionally, Ingram and her group have received public awards and recognition for their Cavalier “rescue” work.
As such, Angie Ingram and her co-plaintiffs fit every definition of a "public figure" that is provided in U.S. Supreme Court cases on "freedom of speech."
The defendants are “whistleblowers” who have responsibly exercised their Constitutionally protected right of "freedom of speech" to raise questions about matters of significant public interests (i.e., Whether Angie Ingram and her “rescue” group “scammed” GoFundMe donors? Whether the rescuers' ownership of the highest priced dogs was appropriate? Whether the “rescuers” circumvented Cavalier Rescue USA’s adoption process in order to take ownership of high-price Cavaliers?). These questions involved well-known “public figures” within Birmingham’s Cavalier rescue community.
A review of the published comments that form the basis of the plaintiffs’ “defamation” lawsuit, together with sworn deposition testimony taken in the case, shows that (a) the “whistleblowers” have acted “without malice” and (b) their published statements do not rise to the level of a “reckless disregard for the truth.”
This case should have ended in the defendants' favor after the February 6, 2017 admissions by the plaintiffs. Instead, the “whistleblowers” are still battling Ingram and the other “rescuers” in court.
Stay tuned for more shocking developments in this unfolding story.
PHOTO: From left to right, Christina Carnes, Brittney Wilk, Angie Hubbard Ingram and her daughter Kara Ingram, with the Judy Merritt Servant Leader Award on January 15, 2015. (Photo by Jan Walsh).