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Chihuahua Cherubs is an unregistered animal adoption charity that has allegedly been representing itself as an authorized non-profit organization and soliciting contributions, according to a press release from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General.

The Huntingtown organization will now have to comply with the Maryland Solicitations Act or face $12,000 in civil penalties under an agreement reached with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Secretary of State, according to the press release.

Chihuahua Cherubs is required to register immediately with the Office of the Secretary of State, which it has already done, and to take concrete steps to improve how it depicts to the public both its charitable status and its treatment of contributions. The organization is also required to improve its charitable accounting and to submit copies of its charitable records to the Office of the Secretary of State every quarter for three years. Failure to comply with the agreement will result in a $12,000 civil penalty and any state costs associated with enforcement of the agreement, the press release states.

Mike Schlein, investigator with the Office of the Secretary of the State, said the organization is going to comply with the agreement reached, which was the main objective of the state.

“Our goal is to bring the organization to compliance and help them do what they are set up to do,” he said.

Kim Owens, owner of Chihuahua Cherubs, said she was “really confused” and “stunned” that a press release was sent out to news outlets because she thought the issue “was resolved.” Owens said she has “been through hell and back” dealing with the issue, which apparently began after a December 2010 fire.

“I can’t tell you how horrible this has all been,” Owens said. “We tried to do something that was giving back.”

At about 2:45 a.m. Dec. 12, 2010, firefighters responded to a fire on Neptune Lane in Huntingtown and rescued dozens of dogs, the majority being Chihuahuas. Four puppies died of smoke inhalation, according to original reports, and the owners told officials there were about 40 dogs inside the residence at the time of the fire. The day after the fire, Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Officers checked the welfare of the animals and saw about 100 Chihuahuas and some puppies, about 40 Staffordshire bull terriers and some puppies and 10 Rottweilers and some puppies were on the property. The origin of the fire was determined to be in the chimney, and spread through the dining and kitchen areas.

Schlein said a complaint was received from a citizen about the organization in May 2011. He said that citizen had read an article about the fire and questioned what the status of the charity was.

Chihuahua Cherubs is a member of the Chihuahua Club of Maryland and the Chihuahua Club of America, according to the website, and has been rescuing Chihuahuas for more than 10 years. The website says the organization’s mission is to place rescued pets with people who are terminally ill, cancer stricken, bed ridden, elderly or disabled. Owens said all of the adoptions were free, and if someone who was not depressed or disabled wanted to adopt a dog, a donation was suggested. Owens said those donations were used to give vaccines to or spay or neuter dogs for people who may not have had the means to do so. She said the donations were not “required, it was suggested,” and she never told anyone that the donations were tax deductible.

Schlein said it was hard to determine what the donations were actually being used for, but the owners did provide some receipts for medical care given to dogs that were at the shelter.

“There wasn’t a lot of record keeping,” Schlein said. “It was tough to say what everything was being used for, but they provided evidence that they did use some of the money they were receiving to care for the animals.”

Owens said the only thing that the organization was “guilty of was not understanding that we were using improper wording on a website that we designed to help place dogs to help people.” She said because the word “foundation” and requests for donations were made on the website, an investigation into their organization began. Owens said she also applied for grants to keep the organization open, which was part of the investigation.

“That’s how this all got started,” Owens said. “It got started by trying to do something good, not by trying to do something bad. And unfortunately, we didn’t understand what we needed to do.”

Owens said in the decade the organization was functioning, no one told her that what she was doing needed to be changed or that accepting donations as a charity and not keeping records of what those donations were being used for was illegal. She said now that she understands what she needs to do, she is “complying 110 percent with the state” and plans on keeping the organization open.

“We’re not going to give up,” Owens said.