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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

It All Started With A Cavalier Named "Gideon"

Updated: Jul 9, 2018

By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on June 20, 2018

I am not a dog owner, but a lot of my friends are. Until recently, I did not know much about “puppy mills” and so-called dog “rescue” groups in Alabama and around the nation. Prior to learning about a Cavalier named “Gideon”, my focus as a person and lawyer had been on the prevention of cruelty to people.

On November 22, 2016, a close personal friend of mine sent me this Facebook private message:

“My friend, Maggie Dawson, from England, needs an attorney to take her case concerning Gideon, the Cavalier King Charles dog that she has been trying to get back for two years. She was recently ruled against and her local attorney is John Grey. I think there was a summary judgment. Angie Ingram is the #@*&#@ lawyer/newly turned animal activist who is giving Maggie fits…. [Online journalist] Roger Shuler apparently knows Angie well. She is a former collections attorney and from Roger's posts she is the s--- of the earth. Maggie needs someone that will fight for her and someone that can put Angie in her place. Do you have anyone that you could recommend that may take a look at her case?”

My friend and I worked together in the past on a successful effort to clean up state government in Alabama. I have tremendous respect for my friend’s civic activism, dedication, and fighting spirit.

Unfortunately, I did not know anyone practicing in the animal rights advocacy area at the time, and I told my friend so. I soon forgot about her request for help.

On October 20, 2017, my friend reached out to me again about another animal welfare issue. This time she wrote: “Hi, is there anything you can do to spotlight the Greater Birmingham Humane Society's euthanasia rate. According to their own records they have gone from a 37% rate to either an 88 or 90% rate. The director is drawing a six-figure salary and there are some shady dealings apparently going on.”

Three days later, I promised my friend that I would look into this situation. After I procrastinated for nearly two weeks, my friend asked me whether I was ignoring her question about GBHS. I said, “no”.

On November 20, 2017, my friend sent me this message:

“I guess by now you know that I'm persistent on things that are important to me. Here's an eye opener that you really should read. [She attached a powerful animal advocacy article written by former GBHS staffer Phil Doster]. In many ways this is as much a cesspool as anything else you've been reporting on. There's so many dirty people involved in this entire mess and the mainstream media just won't look in to it. Donald, I'm asking as a personal favor... even though I know you're up to your eyeballs with the [Roy Moore] and [Megan Rondini] investigations .... to please look in to this.”

I promised my friend that I would research this situation in December, but I continued to procrastination for two more months because I did not fully understand the magnitude of the issues involved in the animal advocacy world.

On February 8, 2018, my friend sent me this message: “I have a case I'd like to discuss with you concerning the bogus use of a defamation lawsuit here in Birmingham.” I called her the next morning.

Our conversation that morning was the beginning of my introduction to the highly questionable conduct and pervasive abuse of power by Birmingham, Alabama attorney Angie Ingram and her “Cavalier Group of Greater Birmingham”. This group teamed with GBHS CEO Allison Black Cornelius and board member Lisa Thompson to wreak havoc on fellow rescue partners and financial supporters who had raised $268,000 for a 2014 Cavalier “rescue” operation at an auction in Wheaton, Missouri.

As I poured over court records, corporate documents, donor records, non-profit tax returns, news articles, and related records for the next two months, I was shocked by the questionable dealings, ethical lapses, and abusive conduct depicted in this treasure trove of documents. The list of disturbing conduct includes the following incidents: (a) Angie Ingram and her Cavalier Group of Greater Birmingham raised $268,000 in donor money to “rescue” Cavaliers in Missouri and then engaged in “insider” adoption transactions that resulted in Ingram and her friends taking ownership of Gideon and four other Cavaliers that were purchased for a total of $36,750 in donor money; (b) Allison Black Cornelius and Lisa Thompson aided and abetted Angie Ingram in harassment, bullying, and intimidating the “whistleblowers” who exposed the “insider” adoption transactions referenced above; (c) Angie Ingram and her followers orchestrated a campaign to ruin Terri Easterbrooks’ reputable Cavalier breeding business, which subsequently caused Easterbrooks to attempt suicide; (d) Angie Ingram engaged in judicial “forum shopping” for a “defamation” lawsuit filed by Lisa Thompson and her co-plaintiffs against the “whistleblowers”; (e) in recent years, GBHS systematically killed hundreds of healthy dogs and cats each year due to “overcrowding”; (f) Ms. Cornelius used GBHS employees and resources to conduct her private “for profit” Blackfish business on GBHS time; (g) GBHS created and used a deceptive fundraising video that featured adorable little kittens that were killed immediately after the filming ended; and (h) Ms. Cornelius systematically subjected GBHS employees and non-employee supporters of animal rights to “gaslighting” and other abusive practices.

The chart below presents Gideon’s tragic story and describes the conduct of the people involved in it.

Nothing in my background as a civil rights attorney and longtime proponent of ethics in government had prepared me for what I discovered while working on this series of investigative articles. GBHS, the agency that was founded in 1883 to prevent cruelty to animals and people, has inflicted unimaginable pain and suffering upon both groups.

What is worse, GBHS’s board of directors has condoned the CEO’s cruelty to animals and people. The board has also sought to neutralize and normalize this growing scandal by proclaiming its full and unequivocal support of Allison Black Cornelius.

Meanwhile, Lisa Thompson's “defamation” lawsuit against the “whistleblowers” has languished in the Alabama court system for more than three years. Even during recent mediation talks, Thompson and her co-plaintiffs are still trying to silence the “whistleblowers”.

Allison Black Cornelius continues to “moonlight” on GBHS’s time. GBHS continues to kill scores of healthy animals every month. Cornelius also pressures "rank and file" GBHS employees to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Maggie Dawson has never stopped in her efforts to get Gideon back home. Gideon was adopted to Mandy Johnson, who is one of Angie Ingram's friends and a co-plaintiff in Lisa Thompson's "defamation" case.

The public's fight for accountability and transparency in the animal rescue and welfare business continues. Gideon’s story has shed much-needed light on the Alabama power-players in this business who play “dirty” in the name of “good”.

CHART: Gideon's story.

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