Who's policing Vermont's pet rescue organizations?

WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) Pet rescues bringing animals up from the South for adoption has become a prominent industry in Vermont.

But as our Christina Guessferd found out, there isn't much oversight to make sure it's being done right. She digs into multiple claims accusing one local rescue of fraudulent behavior.

Valerie DeBrita of Essex Junction has fallen in love with her pit-mix rescue, Xylo. But in the month since she got him, DeBrita discovered some disconcerting details about her new companion.

"I was under the impression that I was bringing home a dog that I would be training to be on the trails and to kayak with me," DeBrita said. "But instead, we are going to be going through a long heartworm protocol."

Results from a blood test during a vet visit days after his adoption revealed Xylo has heartworms. DeBrita says it came as a shock because the adoption paperwork she received showed he'd tested negative for the contagious disease back in December.

DeBrita adopted Xylo from A Canine Gem in Winooski.

We found out there have also been an additional four complaints made to Winooski Police since January about the facility's conditions -- which police say have been unsubstantiated.

"We've inspected the facility, we've searched the facility, we've checked all the animals that were there, and up until this point there has been nothing that's criminal going on there," Lt. Justin Huizenga said.

In response to DeBrita's complaint, owner Hilary Davis claims a dog can still have heartworms even if it tests negative, so there's no way she could have known. She offered to refund the $495 adoption fee upon Xylo's return to the shelter.

"There's no point to having an unhappy adopter and, ultimately, maybe an unhappy dog out there," Davis said. "Why would we do that? That's not why I do this 24/7."

But DeBrita decided that wasn't an option.

"I love this animal," she said. "This isn't something that I'm willing to bring back."

DeBrita and Davis met and agreed to disagree on the issue. But we still wanted to know what adopters can do if they aren't happy with a rescue's service. What can the state do? It turns out, not much.

State Veterinarian Kristin Haas says, right now, the only paperwork needed to bring an animal into Vermont under the Agency of Agriculture is proof of a rabies vaccination and a health certificate deeming them free of contagious disease. She says, unfortunately, that can leave room for loopholes.

"Sometimes they are shipped, transported into Vermont appropriately. Other times, I hate to say it, there are some less than appropriate situations that are going on," Haas said.

Legally, paperwork problems can only be handled in small claims court. So, Haas says it's the adopter's responsibility to do their homework.

But adopters like DeBrita argue the rescues and the state should be doing more.

"Saving lives is a wonderful thing to do," DeBrita said, "but you have to finish it."