VEEDERSBURG, Ind. (WISH) -- A viral Facebook post led to a monthslong investigation into an animal rescue. I-Team 8 saw the post and searched to find out what was happening inside the central Indiana rescue.
Adopted from Hoosier Hooves and Hounds
Stephanie Middleton and Pinky know better than most the power of the bond between a dog and an owner, especially after what she said Pinky went through before she adopted her. Middleton got the senior Boxer from a rescue called Hoosier Hooves and Hounds.
“When we got home, she was really timid,” said Middleton. “She couldn't climb the stairs. Her muscle tone was pretty much gone. She was really, very skeletal, all bones.”
When Middleton took Pinky to her first veterinary appointment after the adoption, she weighed in at only 37 pounds. According to the American Kennel Club, an adult female boxer should weigh 50 to 65 pounds.
Some of the these photos circulated on Facebook; others were obtained by I-Team 8 from people close to the situation.
“I’ve had some crying over this,” Middleton said. “I was hoping it was an isolated event, but I've found out since that it was not.”
I-Team 8 did not have to look hard to find more people with pets rescued from Hoosier Hooves and Hounds in poor shape.
Hoosier Hooves and Hounds brought Joey to a mega-adoption event in Indianapolis where Adrianne Embry adopted her.
“We got paperwork and it said that she was dewormed two months previous, that she had heartworm medication, I think, two months previous as well, and then flea medication,” said Embry.
After her adoption, Embry took Joey to the vet. What her vet found directly contradicts what Hoosier Hooves and Hounds put on Joey’s paperwork: At her first visit, she had heartworms and fleas. Embry wonders whether Joey was ever seen by a vet at all before her adoption.
“I am completely disgusted and broken apart by how the animals were reportedly treated at Hoosier Hooves and Hounds,” said Embry. “I always imagine rescue shelters to be a loving place because you’re bringing in animals and you have to be there, take care of them physically and take care of them emotionally. And to find out that that wasn't what was going on, that breaks me apart.”
Former volunteers blow the whistle
Stories from eight former volunteers we spoke with reinforce what the adoptive owners said.
Debbie Jones volunteered with Hoosier Hooves and Hounds for almost a year and was the only former volunteer brave enough to speak with I-Team 8 on camera. Jones said Kira Terry, the president of the rescue, got rid of any volunteer who questioned the way she treated the animals.
Jones helped take dogs to the same mega-adoption event where Embry got Joey.
“We were loading the dogs up to go that morning to Indianapolis and we let them each use the restroom and I was taking Splitter and he had worms really bad,” said Jones. “I looked at her and I said, 'Kira, he's got worms' and she said, 'Oh well, that's for the new owners to take care of.’”
Jones said the dogs were kept in undersized crates for most of the day and night.
“The majority of the time when I got there, the dogs hadn't been let out. … Their cages were a mess,” Jones said. “So they were in their cages a majority of the time.”
Volunteers told us they were the only ones to care for the animals, and the ones Terry did not like were euthanized.
“I think the cash donations she was getting, I think she was pocketing them because none of it was going to the animals,” said Jones. “I never saw her vaccinate any of them. The only time, that one mega event we went to, the day before we took all of them to get their rabies shots and that was it.”
Talking To Terry
I-Team 8 went out to Hoosier Hooves and Hounds to talk with Terry. She told us she closed down the rescue and had nothing else to say.
On the rescue's website, she wrote "friends, family members and colleagues have asked us if we're moving on because of these 'animal neglect' allegations and more. the short answer is no-, and we were turning down more jobs than we were taking on."
She went on to say they have not accepted any more work and won't for the foreseeable future.
Your tax dollars
I-Team 8 looked into what could be done on a local level. Neither Fountain County nor Veedersburg, where Hoosier Hooves and Hounds was located, have any local laws on the books about animal shelters or animal cruelty.
In rural areas, most towns and cities do not have enough funds or enough demand to own and operate their own animal shelters, so they rely on area rescues to take in animals caught by law enforcement and animal control. Hoosier Hooves and Hounds had contracts with three different cities to help with their animal control.
- Hoosier Hooves and Hounds has a contract with the Town of Hillsboro from 2015-2017, during which time they paid Terry a total of $900.
- They had a contract with the Town of Fowler from 2014-2017 and received a total of $1,165.
- Veedersburg contracted with Hoosier Hooves and Hounds from 2016-2017 and paid Terry a total of $3,330.
I-Team 8 spoke with the clerks for the Town of Fowler and Town of Veedersburg. Fowler’s clerk said they paid Hoosier Hooves and Hounds a one-time $50 fee per animal. She said she had no idea about the controversy surrounding the rescue and that Terry ended her contract with them in early 2018. When we showed her pictures from the rescue, she was appalled and said she would have canceled their contract if she'd seen the images sooner. The clerk for Veedersburg said the same things.
Hoosier Hooves and Hounds had nonprofit status, which means it was eligible for tax breaks from the state, but the Secretary of State's office could not tell us if she got any.
What can be done?
I-Team 8’s investigation revealed that even if Hoosier Hooves and Hounds had remained open, not much could have been done. There are no state laws regarding animal rescues. The state of Indiana requires a license for roles like dietitians, hearing aid dealers and librarians, but you don't need any kind of licensing to run an animal rescue or shelter.
“Having a shelter like this and running a shelter like this, it was all about greed and not taking care of who was in her care, which was these animals,” said State Rep. Linda Lawson.
Lawson worked on several pieces of animal rights legislation in the Indiana State House before retiring at the end of the 2018 session.
She said people who see animal neglect or cruelty should call their county sheriff. The Fountain County Sheriff's Office got a call from another rescue in January 2018 alleging Terry was neglecting animals. The chief deputy said by the time they got out there, it was all cleaned up. He said that was the only call they got about Hoosier Hooves and Hounds.
“This woman probably was overwhelmed, but then she should have done something about it,” said Lawson. “You cannot continue to take animals and get the dollars that you're being paid if you're not taking care of them correctly.”
Lawson said passing new animal rights laws is often an uphill battle in an agricultural state like Indiana, but she believes Indiana needs more regulations.
“We need some people to step up,” said Lawson. “Maybe local government, if the state's not going to do it. But at this point, the state doesn't have any regulations. But we do need to be working in a direction of making sure that our pets, companion animals, are safe.”
People who adopted from Hoosier Hooves and Hounds told I-Team 8 they paid a $100 adoption fee. Stephanie Middleton and others wonder where the money went.
“The animals that I've seen the pictures of were in such poor shape -- a lot of them in worse shape than Pinky was,” Middleton said. “So I got lucky; I got her and she saved me.”
Middleton said she wished she had checked out the kennel more – researched them and been able to see where the animals were being kept.