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Lawsuit Filed Against Local Dog Rescue

By WRILEY NELSON
CHERRY VALLEY

Animal rescue donor Arlene Dean, of Ulster County, filed a Class Action Federal RICO and Charity Fraud lawsuit in the Northern District of New York against Rescue Dogs Rescue Soldiers and related persons and entities of Cherry Valley on Thursday, November 2. The complaint alleges that the respondents organized to defraud a large number of animal-welfare donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars with a sham dog rescue and that they used the donations for the personal benefit of the board and their friends, including amassing a million-dollar real estate portfolio for founder Elizabeth Keller.

Rescue Dogs is a partner of the New York City Animal Care and Control shelter that receives stray dogs in Cherry Valley to train them as companions for disabled war veterans. It is a charity registered with the New York State Department of Corporations and uses a website and Facebook pages to solicit donations.

“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,” said Susan Chana Lask, a well-known animal rights attorney and advocate who represents Dean.

Otsego County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Smith responded to an animal complaint at one of the charity’s facilities in August. Executive Director Stacie Haynes of the Susquehanna Society for the Prevention of Animals told the Sheriff’s Office, “I am afraid of what we might find,” at the time of the complaint.

Smith reported that he was “overwhelmed by the smell of ammonia/cleaner/urine” and noted 10 dogs, one of whom appeared underweight, in a barn. Smith then asked to see another one of the shelter properties and Keller initially wanted to delay the visit by a day or two. At that property, Smith found “multiple dogs outside in their own shelters” and “multiple dogs” in a barn.

“Three dogs in the middle of the barn were living in really poor conditions as [the] housing area was covered in feces,” the report reads. “The dogs appeared to be healthy besides their housing conditions.” Fifty-four dogs, three donkeys and a number of cats were found at the location. Smith told Keller that the living conditions needed to improve and that she could face criminal charges. A follow-up visit by Deputy E. Lincoln found improved conditions and that each dog had access to food and water, but noted that none of the dogs were licensed or had proof of vaccination. The Sheriff’s Office closed the investigation on Saturday, September 9.

Lask posted a collection of graphic photos from the sites as well as a collection of witness statements as part of the complaint; they may be found at https://bit.ly/49ooeMb. The case number is # 23-01370, for more information.

“No donor paid for these deplorable conditions and abuse, and this is no sanctuary,” Lask said. “These dogs remain unlicensed and unvaccinated.

“Many of the rescue’s dogs are housed at Mossy Creek Kennel, which is a for-profit business. The website still lists the former owners, who had an excellent reputation in the area,” Lask said.

According to Otsego County property records, the Mossy Creek property was sold to El-Liza’s Dog House Inc. by owner Kurt Schafsteck in July 2020. As of Friday, November 3, the “about us” page of the kennel website read, “Owners Ramona and Kurt Schafsteck live on the premises so your pet is never far from immediate attention, day or night.”

The complaint seeks accountability for RDRS and El-Liza’s Dog House, named as a conspirator, and to hold board members personally liable, restitution of funds to donors, and to shut down the “sham charity and protect the dogs by removing them to a safe rescue.”

Keller and other respondents denied the accusations and several refused to comment.

“We’ve never been sued before, but the truth will come out,” Keller said when asked for comment. “[Lask] definitely has an agenda and our dogs are much loved and cared for. Our side is going to prevail and we aim to release a more complete statement soon.”

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