Charles Co, MD- R & T Loving Paws, Inc., an animal rescue located in Charles County, is in debt to several kennels in the DMV area leading to an emergency call to assist several dogs stranded at a kennel in Danville, VA.
Cindy Coulter, the owner and founder of R & T Loving Paws, has racked up over $100,000 in unpaid vet in Georgia and boarding bills across several states, according to financial records obtained from several kennels and rescue organizations.
“I am not denying I owe kennels, I owe lots of people money… everybody’s hurting [for money] so everybody wants me to take care of it for them when I’m trying to stay afloat myself [during Covid-19],” Coulter said. “I will pay off every single one of my bills that I owe.”
The increase in unpaid fees by Coulter has caused many kennel owners to seek legal action to get what is owed to them. Danville Pet Resort, Inc. and Mt Victoria Kennels have pending lawsuits against the rescue owner. Hallie Kugler, the owner of Mt Victoria Kennels, and Coulter are set to meet in Charles County District Court on Aug. 19, 2021.
However, one Maryland kennel chain forewent a lengthy court battle to avoid the court costs that would outweigh the nearly $60,000 bill that Coulter has yet to pay for boarding the dogs at their facilities.
Accident at Countryside
Coulter approached Countryside Kennels, a family-owned and operated upscale pet boarding business, with the initial intent of housing 23 dogs at the discounted rate of $20 per dog per day.
The dogs arrived at one of Countryside’s three facilities at the beginning of August 2020 where some dogs remained until early to mid-December 2020, according to Countryside’s records, which included several emails exchanged between the business and Coulter.
“When I got that call in August, and she asked me about this, we had been just losing money hand over fist [due to Covid-19]. So we thought ‘oh, this is amazing.’ This would help us pay our bills,” Angela Montgomery, one of the Countryside owners said.
Countryside Kennels took the gig as a way to recoup the financial loss the business had suffered due to Covid-19 restrictions on businesses. The added income was also planned to help cover the cost of payroll and mortgage payments for their three locations, including their newest one in Hughesville, MD.
Coulter currently owes Countryside Kennels a little over $56,000 for boarding and other unpaid fees, according to statements obtained from the kennel.
“She’s knowingly going in and dropping dogs on you when she knows that she can’t afford to pay the bill,” Elizabeth Vilmot, another Countryside’s owner said. “Then she just took [the dogs] from us and went to other kennels,” she later added.
Coulter’s rescue dogs have been linked to several kennels over the last year, including Olde Towne Pet Resort, Mt Victoria Kennels and Danville Pet Resort. The owners of those kennels declined to comment at this time.
“She shouldn’t be making either verbal or written contracts knowing that she can’t actually live up to the obligations,” Kevin Montgomery, the Countryside owner said.
During the boarding of the rescue dogs, Countryside Kennels dealt with an incident involving one of the rescue dogs biting one of their maintenance workers at their Owings location in what Angela Montgomery describes as “a mauling.”
The accident, which occurred in late October 2020, resulted in multiple bite wounds to the shoulder, back and arms of the maintenance worker, according to the Countryside owners.
“[The maintenance worker] was sitting holding his arms and there was blood all in the rocks and all over [him],” Tiffani Rickman, a Countryside employee said in a written statement to Calvert County Animal Control.
However, the fact that the cane corso known as Dozer had previously injured someone before was never disclosed to the kennel. The only information Countryside received about the dog was in an email from Coulter that said he was “better with men.”
In July 2020 Coulter sustained a severe wound to her fingers when they became lodged in the cane corso’s mouth in what Coulter said was an “incident of surprise and protection” in a Facebook post. Coulter endured several surgeries and a partial amputation due to the severity of her injuries.
Dozer, the cane corso, has since been euthanized, according to Countryside Kennels.
Adopting from R & T Loving Paws
There have been several claims made through Yelp reviews, Facebook posts and from kennel employees who adopted dogs from the rescue about the lack of transparency regarding the demeanor and vetting of the dog. Many have accused the rescue of not disclosing positive heartworm diagnoses and other diseases to potential adopters, leading many new owners to return their rescues.
“She’s adopting these dogs to people and not giving them the information,” Wilmot said.
While there have been many accusations made about the divulging of animal history to adopters, there has been no hard evidence to support these allegations.
Coulter explained that dogs have been returned to the rescue for a multitude of reasons, including the inability to financially care for the dog, allergies and puppies with sharp teeth.
“When people couldn’t afford them or something was going on, they returned them but they would tell you a different story,” Coulter said.
Upon return of the dogs, Coulter issues a refund — funds that could have been invested back into the rescue to provide food, veterinary care and boarding. During a time when many businesses are struggling to stay afloat, the rescue that had been paying its bills up to the beginning of the pandemic, took a large financial hit, Coulter said.
Furthermore, Coulter affirms that each dog goes through a rigorous vetting process. However, with many players involved in the process, paperwork can be misleading and make it difficult to judge the accuracy of animal records, according to the rescue owner.
As per many state agricultural laws every pet has paperwork stating everything that has been done for the dog. Everything from vaccinations, gender, heartworm testing and location is included in the paperwork, Candas A. Bennet, the owner of Paws Furever Home, LLC said.
Bennet has been involved in rescue for nearly seven years, starting with rescue transport before moving on to open her own rescue in late 2017. And up until June 2020 the Georgia pet law activist had been sending rescue dogs to Coulter.
Bennet met Coulter in late 2018 and by early 2019 was aiding R & T Loving Paws by sending dogs pulled from kill shelters. Coulter would send staff down to states like Georgia to transport dogs to Maryland in hopes of having them fostered or adopted out.
However, all of that changed in mid 2020 when Bennet started receiving word from several veterinary offices that Coulter wasn’t paying bills. Sensing something amiss, Bennet immediately stopped sending R & T Loving Paws rescue dogs.
Running a rescue isn’t easy and requires a lot of money to run it, but it is easy to get lost in the cause of rescuing animals without thinking about the financial consideration and planning that goes into maintaining a rescue, according to Bennet. “I think she went in with the best intentions. I don’t think she ever meant to get this way. But now that she is this way, she doesn’t know how to dig herself out of it,” Bennet said.
Emergency in Danville
When a Facebook post published by Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue on May 29, 2021 emerged asking for assistance for dogs that had been left at Danville Pet Resort for several months, Bennet knew she couldn’t stay silent on the matter.
“I’ve carried it around for almost a year, knowing that she was not paying people and knowing that she was adopting out dogs that were unhealthy,” Bennet said.
R & T brought 38 dogs to the kennel in Danville in December 2020, and at the time of the post 19 dogs had yet to be adopted or fostered and remained at the facility, the post said.
When dogs are moved from location to location it tends to cause a lot of stress and anxiety to the animal. Coupled with being locked in a kennel for the majority of the day, they can become depressed and stop eating.
“She failed all of those dogs by leaving them in a kennel. They already come from hell and out of shelters. And now here she is the second human to fail them,” Bennet said.
When R & T Loving Paws approached the Danville kennel about boarding their dogs, the kennel agreed to house them for $15 a dog per day and notified them that payment would need to be made on a bi-weekly basis.
“I told her that I was waiting for the border to open up in Canada so that some of our dogs could go there… This was only a temporary thing and she said ‘fine.’ But what was hard for me was that she wanted us to pay every two weeks,” Coulter said. “I made it pretty clear to her that I wasn’t sure if I could do that, but I would certainly try.”
Boarding 19 dogs over the period of the last several months at a rate of $15 per dog per day would cost the rescue over $40,000. But unbeknownst to Coulter, the lack of payment was subject to serious consequences as outlined in the boarding contract signed by former employee and dog trainer, Jonathan Hughes.
According to the signed boarding agreement with Danville Pet Resort, R & T Loving Paws consented to the policy stating that pets could not be released unless all fees were paid in full and the kennel reserved the right to claim possession over the dogs and place a lien on them unless the debt was paid.
“I never agreed to that and I would have never put our dogs at risk,” Coulter said.
Emails exchanged between Coulter and Danville Pet Resort owner Dana Nielsen reveal that after a little over a month of unpaid bills Nielsen enacted the part of the agreement that allowed her to take ownership of the dogs. Nielsen’s intent was to sell them back to Coulter in exchange for the payment owed. The emails also confirm that at this point Nielsen was threatening Coulter with legal action.
However, Coulter alleges that she did not permit her now former employee to sign the agreement and trusted Hughes to be the “face of [the] rescue” during a time that she was in the hospital. Hughes declined the offer to comment.
In the end the R & T Loving Paws owner insists that she did not leave the dogs in Danville — they were stolen from her.
During the duration of the dog’s stay at the Danville kennel, Coulter only sent five bags of dog food and paid for one vet visit, leaving the kennel to financially support the dogs, according to the Facebook post. Records provided by Coulter indicate that the rescue also made a payment to Danville in mid-January for $435 via PayPal.
After the post went viral, several rescues stepped forward to answer the call for help — one was Angels of Assisi, a rescue group located in Roanoke, VA. Angels of Assisi was able to take on four of the 19 dogs in Danville. Danville Pet Resort also received dozens of donations, including food, treats and toys in early June following the post.
At the time of publication, there have been no recent updates on the dogs.
Update: Both Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue and Angels of Assisi took on all 19 of the dogs from the Danville kennel. As of July 9, 2021, Angels of Assisi has managed to adopt out four of the seven dogs they rescued, and one was adopted through Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue. All of the dogs in their care are doing well.
You can follow the dog’s journey on the Angels of Assisi Facebook page.
Rescue & Transport
The viral Facebook post shining a light on the situation in Danville opened the door for countless others to share what they knew of R & T Loving Paws. One of those people was Jimena E-Bourdin, who briefly worked for Coulter by assisting in the rescue and transport process.
“I was actually proud of going to pick up 45 dogs because I thought I was making a difference,” E-Bourdin said.
E-Bourdin assisted in the transport of dogs, which consisted of being sent on long road trips in a “airport shuttle bus” that was in constant need of repair to collect dogs from shelters. E-Bourdin traveled to locations in Georgia and occasionally picked up 40 plus dogs at a time.
According to The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement’s transportation best practices guide, an organization should consider the financial burden placed in transporting animals and have a good understanding of where the animals are going before transporting them.
There were some transports where E-Bourdin would be en route to Maryland without knowing where the dogs were being dropped off because at that point few kennels wanted to work with the rescue, E-Bourdin said.
When dogs were finally brought to a kennel where they would be temporarily boarded until they could be fostered or adopted, there was never an exchange of money, according to E-Bourdin.
“It was like ‘put it on my tab.’ These kennels were trusting and they wanted to work with the rescue,” E-Bourdin said. “You’ll see a pattern, they keep bouncing from kennel to kennel because [the rescue] doesn’t pay so [the dogs] get kicked out.”
Several sources, including Bennet, have attested that Coulter might be continuing to pull dogs from Texas. The remaining dogs in the care of R & T Loving Paws have been linked to BaMar Farm Country Kennels in Zelienople, PA. Bennet made the connection when she identified dogs she had sent Coulter last year and recently appeared on the kennel’s Facebook page.
BaMar Farm Country Kennels refused the request for comment and the current location of the rescue’s dogs has yet to be determined.
“They’re just continuing to pull and pull and pull, and they’re leaving a trace of dogs all over this country,” E-Bourdin said.
For the Love of Rescue
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals an estimated 3.3 million dogs enter animal shelters in the US. Of the 3.3 million, 670,000 dogs don’t make it out of the shelter and are euthanized.
R & T Loving Paws is just one of thousands of rescues in the US working to save dogs from states with the highest rates of euthanasia. Since beginning in 2017, R & T Loving Paws has managed to adopt out over 1,700 dogs at $450 each and has put the funds back into the rescue, according to Coulter.
“It’s never about the money, we don’t make money. It’s always about making a difference and saving lives, and finding them forever love and forever homes,” Coulter said.
But not all rescues are created equal.
The ASPCA estimates that there are 2,500 to 3,500 cases in the US of rescues hoarding animals every year — some of them from nonprofit rescues. These animals are often found in unlivable conditions and suffer from animal neglect.
Most rescues in the US are registered nonprofits and operate in large part by charitable donations. In order to solicit donations and fundraise in Maryland, the organization must be registered. Under the Maryland Solicitations Act, a charitable organization must file for registration with the state and submit an updated registration annually during each tax season.
R & T Loving Paws maintains its status as being a nonprofit corporation for public benefit. However, the nonprofit rescue hasn’t updated its filings as a charitable organization with the state of Maryland since its initial filing in 2017. An outdated filing, which is not regularly enforced, ultimately impacts a charity’s ability to collect donations in the future and to continue operating as a charity.
Since information about the rescue’s operations over the past year has surfaced, Coulter has been the victim of countless threats to her and her family. People have called for her rescue’s immediate shutdown and others have refused to help her with the rescue after reviewing the Facebook post.
“We’re still going to keep doing what we’re doing, unless we’re told we have to shut down. But for the life of me I don’t know why, we’re not doing anything wrong but just struggling to stay afloat and continue to help those in need,” Coulter said.
Coulter has taken everything that has transpired as a learning experience that she hopes to grow from to ensure the continuation of the rescue. R & T Loving Paws has vowed to continue their rescue operation and mission of protecting dogs, but doing it in a safe and careful manner surrounded by people that are trustworthy and share the rescue’s values.
Last updated on 3:00 pm, July 9, 2021 for clarity and updates of dog wellness