BREAKING UPDATE (February 11, 2014):
The APA has received an Investigation Summary from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture which outlines the results of their investigation into Last Hope K9 Rescue and founder Rachele Huelsman. See UPDATE HERE
SEX, LIES & EXPLOITATION... A VOICE FROM THE GRAVE
My name is Laura.
All I ever wanted was to be loved. Just like all of you.
I wanted more than anything to be your best friend… to see you smile at me and accept my unconditional love. You just never understood I would love you more than I love myself.
I wish I was still with you ~ curled up next to you, feeling at peace that you’d never leave me. Yet throughout my short life all I ever knew was pain, neglect and ~ betrayal.
You’ll never know this, but for the last two months of my life I found that love… from people I had never met. More than 20,000 people around the world loved me for who I was.
People who heard about me and took me into their hearts when I had nothing to offer but love in return. They cared about me in a way I’d never known. They helped pay for my care, sent me treats, clothes and blankets, offered me up in prayer and cried for me. They offered me compassion when I was in pain. They fought for me when the world would have just thrown me away. When I was sad, they showed me happiness. When I was tired, they made me comfortable. They knew somehow just how sick I was. And they loved me even more.
I am no longer here. I just couldn’t fight any longer. I had no choice in the decisions made about my life… or my death. But I’m no longer in pain. My body is healed. I can run through meadows with the sun on my face ~feeling the warmth of being loved eternally. I want you to know my story. Even though I am gone, my life must mean something. This is my voice. This is the story of love… and betrayal. It’s a story that must be told.
My name is Laura…
On January 10, I received an email from a group of rescue/foster volunteers in the New England area asking me to look into a story they felt needed to be exposed. The case involved a 3-year-old Pitbull Mix named Laura, pulled from Brooklyn Animal Care & Control of New York City (ACC) on behalf of Last Hope K9 Rescue (LHK9), a non-profit rescue out of Boston. After several weeks of evaluation and treatment at East Side Animal Hospital, Manhattan, Laura was transported to a foster mom in Boston.
Last Hope K9 was founded and managed by Rachele Huelsman, who currently serves as the Massachusetts fundraising coordinator for Make-A-Wish Foundation. I first became aware of Last Hope and Huelsman during a 2011 animal abuse/neglect case in Benton, Arkansas (story HERE). Along with members of another rescue in Arkansas Huelsman falsely accused a young couple, Casey and Heather Hill, of animal abuse and neglect, managing to raise more than $5,000 for “legal/rescue fees.” In the end, the presiding judge issued a Directed Verdict against the prosecution’s presentation, finding there to be NO truth to the allegations of abuse and neglect. All charges were dismissed and Kaos was ordered returned to her owners.
Little did I know at the time this would not be my last encounter with Huelsman. There is no vendetta proposed in this article. It is meant in no way to harm the efforts of the thousands of selfless rescue/foster volunteers who work day in and out to give our pets another day of life and love. The record speaks for itself and there still remains more questions than answers. This is Laura’s voice. And she deserves to be heard.
For five days following my initial contact I was inundated with history, documents, and medical records involving Laura, phone conversations with rescue volunteers involved in Laura’s case and representatives of various government agencies in Boston. I had to at first ensure that the information I was receiving was not something based on a grudge held by “disgruntled or alienated former volunteers.” What I found out follows… a story of lies, deceit, fraud and the exploitation of Laura by Rachele Huelsman in an effort to raise money for her “care and treatment.”
Little is really known about Laura’s life prior to her intake at Brooklyn ACC November 5, 2013. According to her intake records she was found tied up near Buffalo Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and classified as a stray. Her initial ACC Intake Report describes Laura as friendly and affectionate, underweight and scared. Laura had numerous medical issues including Mastitis, a bacterial infection of lactating glands among nursing females, which most likely indicates Laura had recently given birth. Additionally, Laura had redness around the eyes and wounds to the right side of the mouth, right hind and left front forelimb as well as an inflamed/enlarged vulva. Laura’s complete intake report from ACC/NYC can be viewed here ~ Laura ACC records.
During her stay at BACC, there were full evaluations of her medical condition, temperament and interaction with other people and animals. Nothing suspicious or abnormal was noted except those conditions already mentioned. It was during this time Laura was brought to the attention of Huelsman through a conversation on the Facebook page “One Dog At A Time.” Huelsman asked Michelle MacDonald, a volunteer and foster for Last Hope K9 at the time, if she would foster Laura if she pulled her. MacDonald agreed and the stage was set for her rescue.
On November 11, 2013, Laura was pulled from Brooklyn ACC by Woof Dog Rescue of NY on behalf of Last Hope and Rachele Huelsman. Within hours, the story would become confusing, facts distorted and fabrications of the truth offered to anyone who dared question Huelsman’s narrative… opening the door to even more questions and confusion.
At approximately 3:30PM, Laura was picked up for transport to Eastside Animal Hospital by Rachel Bennett, an ACC volunteer. While en route, Bennett received a call from another rescue volunteer who said Huelsman had contacted her to say Laura’s doctors CONFIRMED Laura did indeed have “human bite marks and [they] suspected sexual abuse.” Bennett was confused. She still had Laura in the vehicle and due to heavy traffic congestion that time of the day, wouldn’t arrive at Eastside until almost 5PM. Tests required in determining these type of injuries and conditions generally take much longer than 15 minutes to perform and interpret.
What’s equally interesting are the times indicated in the photo at the left… within minutes of Laura’s departure from BACC Huelsman had already established a fundraising site and made sure to mention Laura’s treatment would be extensive… a subliminal message that it would be EXPENSIVE! (Click for full-size image) At 5:07PM, Huelsman sent a private message to MacDonald stating the New York veterinarian confirmed bite marks on Laura’s forearm and rear quarter were indeed “human bite marks” adding “they also think her vulva is inflamed from being penetrated by an object or person.” We would later discover this was simply NOT TRUE… and one would be hard pressed to determine Huelsman’s motivations for making up such an incredible story.
Until… Within hours of pulling Laura from BACC, and with NO veterinarian even remotely alluding to this scenario….It was becoming glaringly apparent the motive behind Huelsman’s efforts and her use of the most horrific possible conditions affecting Laura…fundraising.
Just after noon on November 13, 2013, Huelsman once again sent a private message to MacDonald claiming “the vet” confirmed Laura had “TVD” (a human-to-dog) “sexuallly transmitted disease and that she was starting treatment that afternoon. Huelsman also claimed doctors confirmed the tests performed on Laura had come back NEGATIVE for lymphoma. Shortly thereafter, MacDonald, still believing Huelsman’s creative versions of Laura’s diagnosis, established the “Love For Laura” Facebook page, of which Huelsman was an administrator. Huelsman asked MacDonald to please provide a link to the YouCaring fundraising site, and several days later, to further perpetuate her claim of human bite marks and sexual abuse, Huelsman established a blog entitled “UNBREAKABLE – LAURA’S STORY.”
In the blog posts, Huelsman makes the following claims about Laura’s condition without ANY CONCLUSIVE MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS whatsoever:
“At the vet we learned that Laura had human bite marks on several areas of her body. She presented with redness and swelling around eyes, wounds on her front and hind legs and mouth. While these wounds are horrific enough, the depth of Laura’s abuse was much deeper. What was initially thought to be a mammary tumor and prolapsed uterus ended up being a sexually transmitted disease.”
“And this, my friends, is why I rescue dogs. Because even with this level of repeated, unimaginable abuse, Laura is forgiving. She wants nothing more than the love and acceptance of people, despite the injustices bestowed upon her for who knows how long. This dog, this pit bull, never retaliated. She never fought back when the one person who was supposed to love and care for her, her owner, violated her in so many ways.”
Several factors were beginning to not add up in Huelsman’s presentation. First, Laura was still in New York under the care and treatment of Eastside veterinarians Keith Manning and Danielle Hammer. At NO TIME did either of them diagnose or confirm that Laura had human bite marks or had been subjected to sexual abuse ~ yet time and again Rachele Huelsman posted on social media and fundraising sites the “vets” confirmed both.
To be clear, Laura WAS diagnosed with a Transmissible Venereal Tumor (TVT) on November 12. TVT’s are NOT necessarily a sexually-transmitted disease. They can be transmitted among dogs by touch or contact and do NOT suggest sexual abuse by a human as Huelsman falsely led people to believe. However, they are in fact highly contagious. (Laura’s East Side Animal Hospital records can be seen HERE) Secondly, on numerous occasions Laura was visited by Elisa Lafont and other BACC volunteers, and were told NOT to ask any questions of the veterinarians, something that would become a recurring theme whenever Laura had to be transported by volunteers to doctor appointments. It was obvious Huelsman did NOT want the truth to come out.
But WHY? WAIT….. Let’s backtrack a moment…
Before Laura even showed up at East Side Animal, Huelsman had contacted numerous people claiming the “the NY vet” had confirmed “human bite marks.” What vet? Who was Huelsman talking to? We know for certain it was NOT anyone at BACC. If they had suspected that, Laura would have been placed on a Department of Health “hold” for quarantine. She wasn’t. But what was the genesis of the “human bite marks” and the human sexual abuse?
Quite simply, it was a seed planted in Huelsman’s mind during a thread and photo posted in the Face Book secret group “One Dog At A Time” on November 9, 2013. Rachel Bennett posted the following picture, asking a simple question about Laura’s condition… “Doesn't it look like a human bite mark on her front left leg?” (See full photo HERE). This is believed by many to have set the stage for Huelsman’s storyline about Laura’s human bite marks. But what about the HUMAN SEXUAL ABUSE?
On numerous occasions throughout the course of the next few weeks, Huelsman continuously declares “the VETS” confirmed Laura was SEXUALLY ABUSED by (a) HUMAN. But where was THIS coming from? How did Huelsman confirm this and WHO was the veterinarian that confirmed this? There simply was NO ONE… except Huelsman.
While trying to understand this imaginary scenario in Huelsman mind, one can only believe she zeroed in on ONE WORD… Laura’s TVT… more specifically~ VENEREAL.
But in what appears to be the most unbelievable scenario possible, a post was made by an individual who believed Huelsman’s comments and blog entries repeating the following to garner even more support and financial contributions for Laura’s treatment…
“…Once they got her to their vet, the real horror was discovered. She put her head down and sighed as the “male” vet went behind her to examine her. It turns out those “tumors” weren't tumors at all. She was repeatedly RAPED by a HUMAN and she has a sexually transmitted disease. She has human bite marks all over her little body. She will need six months of heavy medical treatment to rid her of the STD she contracted from this filthy parasite who raped her…”
Absolutely APPALLING… not that this unsuspecting animal lover posted this. But the fact that she was led, like so many to believe it to be true. By ONE PERSON ~~ Rachele Huelsman. What is MOST DISTURBING is that the ONLY PERSON who had ANY contact with these “VETS” was… Rachele Huelsman. She in fact, on numerous occasions dictated to her volunteers that they NOT ask the vets ANY questions during examinations and treatments. And now we know why. However…
As time went on in the storyline and fundraising efforts, questions and concerns began to surface from those intimately involved in her case as well as those who had provided monetary donations on Laura’s behalf. Innocent questions as to who diagnosed her, what treatments she’d received, what records were available, how much money had been raised and what was the estimate on the cost of treatment?
On November 22, Lafont and Rachel Bennett went to visit Laura at ESAH and noticed Laura’s body condition to be far worse than it was a week earlier. That day, East Side received a report from Doctor Patrick Hopper of Wave Diagnostics detailing the results of Laura’s examinations and ultrasound. His assessment: Cutaneous Lymphosarcoma. (The ACTUAL Wave Diagnostics report can be seen HERE.) This wouldn’t be confirmed until the results of Laura’s Histopathology were complete.
However, the Wave Diagnostics report sent out on numerous occasions by Huelsman would become the center of controversy, when it was revealed and confirmed the document had been altered in an effort to validate Huelsman claims concerning the alleged sexual abuse against Laura. (See the FORGED Huelsman document HERE). It is the same document that has triggered complaints and investigations against Huelsman by the Massachusetts Attorney Generals’ Office, Internal Revenue Service and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, who recently concluded their investigation and has forwarded the results to the District Attorney’s Office in Boston for investigation of criminal charges. As part of the investigation by MA DOA Investigator John Kenney, Dr. Patrick Hopper, Wave Diagnostics, submitted the following affidavit with regards to the forged document stating:
“The SEXUAL ABUSE allegations is [NOT] in [ANY] part of our report concerning Laura/Laura T.” (Click HERE to review the full letter)
In the ALTERED report from WAVE submitted by Huelsman on NUMEROUS occasions to both MacDonald and Bennett, there is a line inserted between the Reproductive Tract and Stomach… that being:
“ANUS: RECTAL INFLAMMATION CONSISTENT WITH POSSIBLE SEXUAL ABUSE.” As well, there are a multitude of misspellings and misinterpretations. The cause?
I have spoken with several people who are experts and proficient in converting a .pdf file to Microsoft Word or other editing software. In the case of conversion, many words are not translated correctly, in this case, terms used exclusively by the veterinarian field. This explains the situation where someone attempting to alter the document did not understand what they were doing and never bothered to examine the entire document for errors.
But who had access to these documents? Who would benefit most from their altercation to support a fundraising scenario? The fact is regrettably… Rachele Huelsman. By this time in the story, she had raised more than $20,000 in her exploitation of Laura. This story was so horrifying to animal lovers and other rescue organizations alike, that many asked Huelsman if they could join her fundraising efforts to support Laura. Huelsman welcomed the additional financial support. She had garnered support from around the world and the donations where coming in at an incredible pace.
So back to the time line…
On November 18, Huelsman sends a Private Message to MacDonald stating that Laura has to go to a “no dog” foster because the TVT is contagious to other dogs. This would then leave Michelle out of the foster equation.
On November 23, Laura is diagnosed with Cutaneous Cancer (of the skin). In looking at the ESAH records, Page 7, one will see that Dr. Manning first broached the subject of having Laura put down. Her condition was just that bad. In addition, Dr. Manning raised the concern that Laura should really be in quarantine due to the TVT.
The next day, Huelsman and Last Hope volunteer Julie Velluto drove to NY to pick Laura up and transport her to her Arlington, MA foster home. This in itself presents a problem. It was Dr. Mannings’ understanding that Laura was going to be placed in quarantine at Angel Memorial Hospital in Boston. He has stated in Department of Agriculture documents that he would NOT have released her had he known otherwise. Now, here’s the issue with the placement of Laura in her Arlington foster home…. the individual taking Laura not only had another dog, she herself suffers from a medical condition that could cause her immune system to become compromised, which could possibly place her in a susceptible position with regards to the “confirmed Brucellosis” Laura was thought to have had.
The questions kept rolling in on social media sites as well as the Last Hope blog, prompting the following response from Huelsman on November 26, 2013, still holding to the “human bite marks” scenario…
“This page was to share Laura’s story because her voice was taken away by abuse. The strength of this girl is inspiring and we hope you will follow her journey. To those who question her story, to think that any person would make up such horrific abuse, shame on you. But to put the chatter to rest, while still respecting her dignity, we will share Laura’s current conditions. Preliminary pathology results from Laura’s initial biopsy showed that the cells were consistent with lymphoma. Today’s results and blood work indicate that this is not likely the case. We are waiting on the histopathologic evaluation 100% conclusions that it isn’t lymphoma. Laura has human bite wounds on her body. Her injuries are consistent with persistent sexual abuse. Laura has tested positive for TVT (not transmissible by humans) and Brucellousis. While it cannot be conclusively determined whether the Brucellousis (though it is a possibility) came from a person, it is conclusive that she’s been sexually assaulted. Her path to health will be paved in a lot of hard work, but if anyone can make it through this it is Laura. We plan to stand by her and support her and we hope that you will too.”
So Laura HAD cancer, then she DIDN’T? But then she DID have it again? The holes in this scenario presented by Huelsman keep getting wider and wider, and yet the ONLY person talking to the “vets” is, of course, Huelsman.
On December 3, MacDonald questioned Huelsman as to whether she would be pursuing a criminal investigation to find and prosecute the person responsible for Laura’s condition. This became somewhat a source of contention after Huelsman brought up the Kaos/Arkansas case where she claimed she flew down there TWICE to fight it in court and the judge wound up giving custody BACK to the family… or in HER TERMS, “the ABUSERS”. She also stated several times…”the police can’t do anything because we do not know where Laura was found”. Note that the ACC records indicate precisely where she was tied up.
On December 4, 2013, MacDonald transported Laura to an appointment with another veterinarian in Plymouth, MA. During the exam, MacDonald casually mentioned what she believed about Laura’s condition. The veterinarian looked confused, stating, “I would not call this abuse, neglect is the worst thing I could accuse someone of here… This dog was clearly bred in nasty conditions,” ”so it would be more of a matter of neglect rather than abuse”.
That same day, Huelsman contacted both the foster and MacDonald to inform them she had spoken to Laura’s veterinarian, who confirmed her histopathic results indicated Cutaneous Lymphoma and that her prognosis was poor… two years at the most. She needed to be seen by an Oncologist for confirmation.
On December 5, MacDonald confirmed with her own vets, as well as her primary care physician, that in fact Laura’s condition [Brucellosis] was contagious to not only other dogs, but humans with a compromised immune system, which the foster had. MacDonald, at the advise of her own medical doctor, contacted the foster to explain the situation and asked her to speak with her own healthcare provider for guidance. Within a short time MacDonald received a private message from Huelsman stating, “Hi Michelle, the brucellosis is no longer an accurate diagnosis based on the subcutaneous lymphoma. In the future, instead of causing a fury of crazy misnomers, please reach out to me first.”
From there, the story become a maze of questions and concerns evolving around Huelsman’s deceptions and exploitation of Laura.
On December 8, 2013, MacDonald confronts Huelsman regarding questions on social media and blogs about Laura’s story of sexual abuse. Huelsman immediately become defensive, irate and informs MacDonald she can no longer be involved in Laura’s care. She further stated “It is disturbing to me that you could think I would make something like this up, shame on you”.
That same day, Bennett calls Huelsman as well to express concerns about the inconsistencies surrounding Laura’s story. After a 20 minute conversation Huelsman insists Laura’s story is TRUE, even though there had NEVER been any evidence, from ANY VET, verifying Huelsman’s versions of the story. She then offered to forward the records proclaiming, “I have nothing to hide.”
Three days later, on December 11, 2013, Huelsman emailed the FORGED and ALTERED vet records to Bennett. Immediately, it was clear they had been altered. Huelsman also forwarded those documents to MacDonald. What Huelsman was not aware of is that on December 14, 2013, an attorney for both Lafont and Bennett contacted Barbara Fox, Director of Woof Dog rescue and received permission to contact both Dr’s Manning and Hammer, Laura’s original vets.
On December 15th, the attorney spoke to both Dr’s Manning and Hammer who confirmed they in NO WAY ever indicated, documented or alluded to ANY such HUMAN SEXUAL ABUSE with regards to Laura. They denied ever reporting Laura had human bites marks on her body. A copy of Huelsman’s FORGED/ALTERED document was sent to Dr. Hammer. To say the least, she was “shocked” and “appalled.” Her response, as well as Dr. Mannings’, can be found in the statements and documents relating to the MA Department of Agriculture investigation of Huelsman which has been turned over to the Boston District Attorney for criminal investigation.
These are the facts in the case of Laura vs Huelsman. An egregious case of lies, deception and exploitation. This is what we know…
Laura was a beautiful girl. She deserved the best in life and for a brief moment in time, thanks to volunteers and supporters worldwide, she knew she was loved.
She was exploited for the purpose of fundraising by a professional that saw the value in Laura’s story.
She was used. She was subjected to a period of pain and suffering she should NEVER have been exposed to.
Rachele Huelsman LIED every step of the way from the time she became aware of Laura, to the time she put her down. Huelsman is a professional fundraiser. She plays the emotional button with more effectiveness than I have ever seen in my life.
She lied. And she put people who care deeply about animals and rescues on an emotional rollercoaster for one reason. Fundraising.
And in the end, Huelsman had raised in excess of $20,000 off of Laura. In the end, after proclaiming for days that Laura was responding so well to her chemo treatments, she put her down. We don’t truly know what happened to Laura, in life or in death. But this is her story. Her voice WILL be heard. And she will remain a part of our hearts forever. Rest in peace, Angel. Know that finally you were loved.
I have filed Freedom of Information Requests with Last Hope K9 Rescue and reached out to Huelsman in telephone and emails with no response. As well, I have filed FOIA’s with the MA DOA and Attorney General’s office as well as the IRS, all of whom are currently investigating Huelsman for fraud and criminal activity. This story will be updated accordingly as I receive this information. However, since the story began breaking under the clouds of suspicion, Huelsman has publicly announced Last Hope K9 will offer refunds to any individual who has contributed to Laura’s cause. To request a refund, send contribution details to:
UPDATE February 11, 2013: In a previous version, The APA incorrectly identified Huelsman's travel companion to NYC to pick up Laura and transport her to Boston. The actual individual was Julie Velluto, another LHK9 volunteer. We apologize for the error.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 11, 2013: The APA has received the completed Massachusetts Department of Agriculture's Final Investigation Summary outlining the complaints filed against Last Hope K9 Rescue and founder Rachele Huelsman. The Summary was included as part of a complaint filed against LHK9's 501(c)3 status with the Internal Revenue Service. It is a matter of public records as outlined in the MA Public Records Act and obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request from The APA. The FULL REPORT can be seen HERE. In the Investigation Summary, the finding concluded there to be validity to the complaints and has forwarded their investigation to the Massachusetts Attorney Generals Office, Public Charities Division as well as the AG's Criminal Division and Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. Additionally, Huelsman is being investigated for her role in bringing Laura into the Commonwealth in direct violation of MA 330CMR3 and MA Emergency Order 1-AHO-05. According to MA DoA rules and regulations anyone importing an animal into the Commonwealth MUST obtain an Interstate Health Certificate from the originating state and transport the animal to a register quarantine facility for a period of NO LESS THAN 48 hours. Afterwards, the animal must be examined by a qualified veterinarian and issued a Health Certificate. As we pointed out in our investigation we learned that East Side Animal Hospital had advised Huelsman that Laura should be placed in quarantine and NOT placed in a foster with another animal due to her Transmissible Venereal Tumor. Huelsman had assured Dr. Manning of ESAH that Laura was being transported to Angel Memorial Hospital. In fact, Laura was transported directly to her foster home in Boston WITHOUT a Health Certificate OR period of quarantine. This is the lastest in a series of violations Huelsman has committed, with two in Massachusetts resulting in fines of $1800 and $1000, and one in Connecticut and Rhode Island.