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  • Donald V. Watkins

Playing “Dirty” In The Name of “Good”

Updated: Jun 18, 2018

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on April 28, 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.


I did not know that some of these dog “rescue” groups raised vast sums of cash through online donations to their non-profit charities, or that they attended puppy mill auctions and paid dog breeders top dollars for a single dog using donor money.


I did not know that occasionally successful “rescue” bidders would acquire these dogs and resale them for exorbitant prices to buyers wanting a specific breed of dogs. In some cases, rescuers would keep these dogs for themselves or give them to their friends and family members.


Rescuing dogs sounds good in principle. The terms “bid rigging” and “profiteering,” when used in connection with dog rescue charity work, sound "dirty" under any circumstances.


The Planned Adoption of Pomelo Gideon


Pomelo Gideon is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that was sold by Maggie Dawson, a breeder in England, to Terri Taylor Easterbrooks, a breeder in Lineville, Alabama, in 2009 to help improve Easterbrooks breeding stock. Easterbrooks elected to sell Gideon, along with 97 other Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dogs, at an auction held in Missouri on November 22, 2014.


A couple from Kansas, Cheryl and Jay Mohr, attended the auction on behalf of

Maggie Dawson. They also intended to purchase Gideon as their family pet. The Mohrs did not prevail in the bidding for Gideon.


Birmingham, Alabama Attorney Angie Ingram, a volunteer with the Alabama branch of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club Rescue, Inc. (a/k/a “Cavalier Rescue USA”), was the successful bidder for Gideon. Working together with Cavalier Rescue Trust, Lucky Star Cavalier Rescue, and Treasured Pals Small Spaniel Rescue, Ingram's group and the other dog rescue groups purchased all 98 dogs, including Gideon and 45 other Cavalier King Charles Spaniels from Easterbrooks’ Rock Cliff Farm. After the auction, the dogs were dispersed across the United States.


Ingram, Crys Carnes, and Ingram's daughter Kara attended the auction and participated in the bidding on the dogs on behalf of the Birmingham group. Cavalier Rescue USA had been raising money for the auction since it was announced. Cavalier’s Birmingham branch raised more than $220,000 for the “rescue” effort. Thousands of people donated money to this cause. Working closely with the other rescue groups, Ingram was able to purchase every one of the dogs auctioned.


The rescuers coordinated their efforts so they would not be bidding against each other. Whether this coordinated action constitutes impermissible “bid rigging” remains to be seen, It is clear that Ingram and her group crossed state lines to engage in interstate commerce in which they used a coordinated bidding scheme.


All 46 of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were purchased in Angie Ingram’s name and the plan was for Ingram to transfer ownership of the dogs to Cavalier Rescue USA, as Cavalier’s bylaws reportedly prohibited it from purchasing the dogs directly.


Angie Ingram, together with Cavalier’s Alabama co-coordinators, Brittney Wilk and Lisa Thompson, brought 34 dogs back to Birmingham following the auction. After they were examined, the dogs were bathed and then picked up by their foster families. Foster homes for all of the dogs, including Gideon, were arranged by Cavalier Rescue USA before they were bought at the auction.


Carolyn Stigler, President of Cavalier Rescue USA,emailed Brittney Wilk and Lisa Thompson to make sure they were aware of Cavalier’s plan to adopt Gideon to the Mohr family in Kansas. Cavalier’s protocols required the organization to give strong consideration to the wishes of reputable breeders when dogs of their breeding came into Cavalier’s program. Once Cavalier researched the breeder and the Mohr family, it was the group’s intent to place Gideon with the Mohr family, which Cavalier found to be a loving, kind, and very well qualified adoption family.


On November 23, 2014, Angie Ingram signed Cavalier Rescue USA’s official Transfer to Rescue form, which formally turned over ownership of the dogs she purchased at the auction, including Gideon, to Cavalier so that they could be vetted and placed according to the organizations adoption policies. There were no conditions to the transfer. At that point, Cavalier Rescue USA became the rightful and sole owner of Pomelo Gideon of Rock Cliff Farms (Registration No.: TR77929601).


Gideon went into temporary foster care with Mandy Johnson in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a veterinarian check and assessment. He was to go to the Mohr family within the next three weeks.


Mandy Johnson was in regular contact with both the Mohr family and Gideon’s breeder. These contacts were positive until Johnson decided to keep the dog for herself.


On December 8, 2014, Cavalier learned that Brittney Wilk had notified the Mohr family that they could not have Gideon, and that the dog would be staying at the foster home permanently.


On December 10th, Cavalier notified Brittney Wilk that the organization had planned to adopt Gideon to the Mohr family and that this was a unanimous decision of Cavalier’s Board of Directors. On December 13th, Mandy Johnson wrote a letter to Cavalier outlining why she should keep Gideon. Cavalier responded to Mandy Johnson the next day reiterating the Board’s decision to follow through on the adoption of Gideon to the Mohr family, as originally planned.


On December 15th, Angie Ingram notified Cavalier that she was rescinding the assignment of Gideon to Cavalier. Mandy Johnson then refused to surrender Gideon on that basis.


Reportedly, Angie Ingram, Brittney Wilk, Crys Carnes, and other members of Cavalier social group in Birmingham adopted about fourteen of the dogs that were purchased at the Missouri auction. Some of these dogs reportedly cost between $5,000 and $10,000.


Using Litigation as a Tool for Harassment and Intimidation


When concerned dog lovers started questioning the use of donor money to purchase dogs that were eventually adopted to individuals associated with Cavalier’s Alabama branch, they were threatened with “Cease and Desist” letters, followed by a lawsuit in Jefferson County, Alabama Circuit Court.


On March 19, 2015, Brittney Wilk and Lisa Thompson filed a defamation lawsuit against Lisa Swoboda (California), Liz Moe Dickens (Ohio), Heather Hagen Halldin (Pennsylvania), Cathy Moon (Ohio), Peggy Kenney (Massachusetts), Karen Orange (Florida), and Beth Reed (Alabama) in a Jefferson County court. These named defendants were identified as contributors to the “Beware of Cavalier Rescue of Alabama” Facebook page. The lawsuit was later moved to Shelby County after Reed was added as a defendant.


This whistleblower group openly questioned the placement of these dogs with “friends and family” of Cavalier's Alabama volunteers and coordinators, and whether Cavalier’s Alabama branch devised a prearranged procurement method to get expensive dogs for themselves using donor money.


Even though Lisa Swoboda retained counsel on May 14, 2015, Angie Ingram called Traveler’s Insurance (Swoboda’s employer) on June 3, 2015 and left a menacing message with her boss complaining that Ms. Swoboda was avoiding service of the complaint in the defamation case.


On or about March 24, 2016, Lisa Thompson filed a complaint with Traveler’s Insurance accusing Swododa of improperly accessing Traveler’s insurance records to discover that Kim Preskitt was Thompson’s live-in girlfriend/wife. Thompson and Preskitt apparently have personal policies with Travelers. Swoboda works in the commercial division of Travelers and did not have access to personal policies. Thompson’s household “partner”, however, was mentioned in several emails in a federal court case Angie Ingram had previously filed against Terri Easterbrooks.


Lindsay Cordes, a Louisville, Kentucky attorney and animal “rescue” advocate who collaborates with Angie Ingram, asked Jyll Underhill to join Lisa Thompson as a plaintiff in a Birmingham federal court lawsuit against Terri Easterbrooks that was filed several years earlier. In an apparent act of "client solicitation" and “forum shopping,” Cordes sent the following text to Jyll Underhill:


“Another attorney (Angie Hubbard Ingram) and I are going to move forward with trying to file a federal lawsuit (we want to be in federal court, not state court) against Terri. To do so, we need Plaintiffs that are out of state. I know you are interested in suing Terri. Are you an out-of-state person? ….. We want to file this before the auction on 22nd and attempt to get an order of garnishment so her bank account is frozen with the auction proceeds so we are doing this at the 11th hour …..”


Lisa Thompson’s text was more revealing: “We want to milk her [Terri Easterbrooks] of all her $ ….. We are going to hit her hard. And her lawyer is old and tired…. Not one expected to fight.”


Even Dog “Rescuers” Must Be Held Accountable


While the prevention of animal abuse is a lofty goal, it cannot be done in a manner that is calculated to inflect mental anguish, emotional distress, and financial harm on human beings. The misuse of the legal system by some well-meaning “rescuers” in Alabama has been horrendous and inexcusable.

Furthermore, individuals who use donor money to “rescue” dogs must be held accountable for how the money is spent and where the “saved” dogs are placed. Accountability begins with transparency. “Rescuers” who seek to block transparency and crush their critics are suspect.


Finally, any person or organization that openly solicits donations from the general public for charitable purposes is a “public figure” within the meaning of freedom of speech laws. This is especially true for Angie Ingram, Lisa Thompson, Brittney Wilk, and Crys Carnes after their rescue of 98 dogs was profiled in an article published by AL.com on November 23, 2014.


Public figures cannot be defamed unless their critics act with malice or with a reckless disregard for the truth when they comment on matters of significant public interest (e.g., rescuing dogs, coordinating the bidding process with other bidders at dog auctions, abusing the legal system for the purpose of harassing critics, etc.).


I do not know much about the puppy mill industry but I do know when freedom of speech is being trampled. It has to stop. Dog rescuers cannot play "dirty" in the name of "good."


PHOTO: An adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog.


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.