WALB Investigates, Part 2: Deaf woman’s dog missing after being sent to nonprofit for service dog training
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a four-part investigative series into The Barefoot K9 Project, a former nonprofit. For the first part, click here.
HOMERVILLE, Ga. (WALB) - “They said that she wouldn’t live to see her first birthday,” said Theresa Buelman, the mother of Cynthia Walker, 27.
Buelman knew her daughter was a fighter the day she was born.
She has been diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome, which is a disorder that includes several abnormalities and defects, including heart defects and developmental delays.
After an open heart surgery before Walker’s third birthday, things took a turn for the better.
“She started learning to walk, eat on her own after a lot of therapy,” Buelman said.
Now Walker, who is 27 and deaf, lives life to the fullest in South Carolina.
“She will talk about dogs all day long,” Buelman said. “That’s her favorite thing, but Chipella is the biggest.”
A few years ago, a friend gave Cynthia a German shepherd named “Chipella.”
They became inseparable.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a connection like them.
Buelman said of Walker and Chipella, her dog.
After Chipella became part of the family, Buelman got in contact with Cecil Allen Brown on Facebook.
According to state documents, in 2016, Brown, along with Colleen Miller and her son Dalton Miller, incorporated a nonprofit in Homerville called “The Barefoot K9 Project” (BFK9).
Buelman said Brown told her at the time that if she could raise enough money, the nonprofit would train Chipella as a service dog for Walker. Her mom hoped this would give Walker more independence and keep her safe.
“She was completely 100 percent supposed to be Cynthia’s ears when Cynthia has no clue what’s going on around her,” she said.
However, that has yet to happen.
During an interview with WALB, Walker used sign language to say she can’t find Chipella, and that it makes her sad.
“She shows everybody — complete strangers — pictures of Chipella,” Buelman said of her daughter.
In 2018, Cecil Allen Brown and The Barefoot K9 Project were issued a cease and desist by the state of Georgia.
Read it fully below:
Sheila Weaks and her son Sam, who has Asperger Syndrome, live in north Alabama.
“He was diagnosed with the Asperger’s mood disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety, depression,” Weaks said.
She said she came across an ad for BFK9 on Craigslist, and that Brown offered them similar hope: that the nonprofit would find and train a service dog for Sam.
Sam’s mother said she hoped a service dog would help head off Sam’s emotional outbursts that were hard to get under control.
“The dog will be able to pick up on his emotions and his anxiety levels and kind of give us a warning of what was about to take place,” she explained.
Both mothers, excited at the opportunity for what they thought would be better lives for their children, signed contracts with the nonprofit four or five years ago.
Walker sent Chipella to Homerville to be trained. The nonprofit was supposed to find a dog to train for Sam.
According to her son’s contract with BFK9, which Weaks sent to WALB, everything would cost $30,000.
How much services from The Barefoot K9 Project cost
|A service dog.||$25,000|
|Equipment, certifications and continued education.||$5,000|
The contract stated the client (Sam) would be responsible for raising $15,000 via online and local fundraisers. As of now, Sam has not gotten his service dog or any money back from Brown. Cynthia’s dog, Chipella, is still missing.
Read the full contract below:
Thursday on WALB News 10 at 6 p.m., we dig into the red flags that led to an investigation by the Georgia Office of the Secretary of State’s Securities and Charities Division, plus where those investigators say $60,000 donated to the non-profit was actually spent.
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