WALB Investigates, Part 1: Former nonprofit accused of defrauding families of children, adults with disabilities
HOMERVILLE, Ga. (WALB) - Several families are looking for answers about service dogs they were supposed to get from a South Georgia nonprofit.
According to state documents, the “Barefoot K9 Project” (BFK9) was a nonprofit incorporated by Cecil Allen Brown, Colleen Miller and Miller’s son Dalton Miller in Homerville in 2016.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office said in a 2018 cease and desist order that clients’ contracts with the nonprofit required that the families raise thousands of dollars in donations.
Then, the nonprofit would give them a service dog trained specifically for their needs.
Several years later, some families say they haven’t gotten their dogs.
Former client Rayna Fisher said she is one of very few clients who did receive their dog.
However, she said she had to beg and plead to take her dog home.
Fisher’s German shepherd Aslan helps with her PTSD because of trauma she dealt with both as a child and as a young adult.
“I was physically, emotionally and sexually abused,” she said. “I grew up for the first half of my life locked in a linen closet.”
Fisher said the abuse continued as an adult in a marriage that eventually ended, and the effects have been long-lasting.
“I had agoraphobia. I would not leave my house,” Fisher said. “My son’s autistic, and I felt like I was making everything worse for him.”
She and her doctors decided a service dog would help her lead a normal life, though finding and training a service dog can be expensive.
That’s when she found the Barefoot K9 Project.
“I spoke with Colleen, who was the director of the program, and gave them my life story, which was put on a Rally Up page for fundraising,” Fisher said.
I latched on to having this dog for myself and my son. It was all my strength that I had at the time.
Fisher said of Aslan.
Fisher said she met the dog assigned to her, Aslan, during family days Brown hosted at the Homerville farm where the nonprofit was run. Aslan was one of six German shepherd puppies that breeder Dee Brown from Virginia said she donated to BFK9 to become service dogs.
In early 2017, things quickly started to take a turn.
“To find out that it was all a scam was just devastating,” Fisher explained.
Clients said Colleen Miller, the program director, eventually made a Facebook live, saying she was “outing” Brown and the project.
Fisher explained some of the allegations she was told by Miller.
“None of the money was used for anything that it was supposed to be used for. Some of the dogs had been sold. Some of the dogs were being bred and puppies being sold. None of the dogs have received any vet care,” Fisher said.
Several clients saw the Facebook live and panicked.
“I called Allen directly, and he said that it was a vengeful woman,” Fisher said. “He had broken up with Colleen, and she posted all this stuff.”
She said Brown claimed none of the allegations were true, but she said that was the last time she would ever get any kind of answer out of Brown.
It just felt like my world had been ripped apart. Everything just went into a state of chaos.
Fisher said she eventually reached her breaking point while on the phone with Miller.
“I was begging and pleading with her to give me my dog,” Fisher said. “She said, ‘No, no, no, he’s gonna kill me. He’s gonna call the cops on me.’ I had a little pistol, and I’m not proud of it, but my emotional state was that far gone. I told her, give me the dog or listen to me die.”
Miller then told Fisher, who lives in Florida, to drive to the farm in Homerville to pick up Aslan. Fisher said when she saw her dog, the smell is the first thing she noticed.
It smelled like death, like they were bringing something dead, they scraped up off the side of the road.
Fisher said of when she first met Aslan, who she claims was caked in feces and had matted fur.
Fisher said it did not appear as though Aslan ever saw a veterinarian while on the farm.
“He was not neutered. We got lucky that he tested negative for heartworms,” Fisher said.
Her first few months with Aslan were tough.
“He wasn’t socialized, and he was fearful of everything,” she said.
A few years later, she said he has gotten to be more of a normal, happy dog.
After finding out what happened, Fisher’s community in Florida raised money to get Aslan trained to help with her PTSD.
“It’s changed everything for my life,” Fisher said. “I think we both have a little touch of PTSD going, but we’re tight.”
Fisher said she plans to use her experience and her past trauma to influence others, with plans to graduate with a master’s degree in trauma counseling.
However, Fisher said she can’t help but think of the other clients who didn’t get the chance to have the special relationship she feels blessed to have.
The other victims, they lost out on that opportunity. They lost out on that big change.
WALB found Cecil Allen Brown and spoke with him, but he refused to comment.
Wednesday at 6 p.m. on WALB News 10, WALB speaks with family members of two other BFK9 clients: One whose own dog, sent to the non-profit to be trained, has been missing for several years, and another who has not gotten a dog or gotten back any of the donations made on his behalf.
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