Allegations of Abuse at Animal Rescue
Published February 28th, 2014
GAINESVILLE -- Alachua County Animal Services is investigating a North Central Florida dog rescue group over allegations that dogs were kept in poor conditions.
Several former volunteers and one board member with Phoenix Animal Rescue have signed sworn affidavits claiming numerous dogs were kept in dark, dirty conditions without access to water.
The non-profit's director, Michelle Dunlap, calls the claims baseless, but TV20's Trent Kelly reports, the volunteers say there's no denying what they saw.
"It was shocking seeing the condition that the dogs lived in," said Ashley Setters, a former volunteer with Phoenix Animal Rescue.
During her time with the non-profit -- from April through July of last year -- Setters lived on property owned by Michelle Dunlap's mother. That's where Setters says she saw several dogs being held in very poor conditions.
"She called it 'the barn', but it was really more like a shed," said Setters. "It would basically be anywhere from 10 to 15 crates shoved into this small area."
Setters says the dogs inside the "barn" spent their days in filthy conditions, sometimes up to 22 hours a day without any water, or even any sunlight.
"There was one window that she specifically would block off, and her excuse was if she was tired the night before, she could sleep in longer so the dogs wouldn't wake up," said Setter.
"I was very shocked," said Ashley Roehner, another former Phoenix volunteer who says she saw the same conditions.
"I came into this, and [Michelle] had me thinking that she knew what was best for the animals," said Roehner. "When I went to the farm the first time and saw the barn, I was pretty shocked to see how they were living, especially since my fosters came out of there."
In an interview on Friday, Dunlap defended Phoenix against claims that she said were unfounded.
"These are baseless accusations that have no proof and no evidence to back them up," said Dunlap.
Dunlap would not specifically address the barn allegations, even when repeatedly asked.
"Once again, I've been instructed by our attorney as well... When I'm faced with baseless accusations, and at this point, they are accusations that have no proof, no evidence. They are defamatory in nature," said Dunlap.
As of Friday, officials with Alachua County Animal Services were declining to comment citing their open investigation. Officials did confirm they have received at least a dozen sworn affidavits pertaining to Phoenix.
But in her interview Friday, Dunlap said she has yet to be contacted by any law enforcement agency about any investigation.
Additionally, TV20 can confirm that PetSmart Charities -- which has worked with Phoenix for several years -- is conducting an audit of their books as well.
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