‘Rescue Dog’ Flap Has Bethlehem Couple In Tight ‘Spot’

By Scott Salad

Published June 21st, 2015

A Finnish-Spitz named Clarence is at the center of a
"Rescue Dog" controversy in Bethlehem.

BETHLEHEM — When Mike and Denise Choator began coming to the Town of Bethlehem Dog Park with their “rescue dog” Clarence last summer, regulars there had no reason to doubt the couple’s story.

“They had their rap down pretty good, I'll give ‘em that,” said Mindy Frazier-Gint, a self-described “lab-lover.”

“They told us Clarence was adopted from a high-kill shelter down south; that he was abused by his previous owner; and that he had worms, skin allergies and irritable bowels. You know, the standard spiel.”

But after an anonymous call led The Smudge to a contract that the Choators signed with a breeder in Amsterdam, the jig was up.

“It was all a lie,” Mike Choator admitted sheepishly. “Clarence is not a rescue dog. He's a pure-bred Finnish-Spitz and he has the papers to prove it.”

The 39-year-old physical therapist said that after he and his wife paid $1,550 for the pooch in June of 2014, they conspired to create a heartbreaking backstory for him in order to milk praise and admiration from unsuspecting people.

“We thought that if we said we adopted an abused rescue dog, folks would perceive us as the compassionate do-gooders we wish we had the time and stamina to be,” said Choator.

Jeanine Warthoffer-Mellons, a frazzled-looking owner of 17 Tibetan Mastiffs, was floored by the admission. “They had a ‘Proud Owner of a Rescue Dog’ sticker on their Prius. I totally believed them.”

She wasn't alone.

Several hundred people throughout Bethlehem appear to have fallen victim to the Choators’ scheme, ranging from close friends to complete strangers.

“Wait, he's not a rescue?” asked Raymond Chestnit, a Jehovah's Witness who got an earful when he knocked on the couple's door in February. “They wouldn't shut up about him, and I had places to be. Finally, I threw a handful of pamphlets at them and ran.”

But for neighbor, Stew Dunklebook, news of the ruse came as no surprise.

“I've been living with their smug attitude and hypocritical nature for years,” said the retired civil engineer. “They drive hybrids one week, then they trade them in for Hummers the next. They tell people they're vegans, and then they’re slaughtering endangered rhinos in Africa. All I know for sure is that they're total shitheads.”

Shitheads or not, the Choators acknowledge their “mistake” and say they are now prepared to give a good home to an actual dog in need.

“We're meeting with several rescue services this weekend,” Denise Finchy-Choator told The Smudge via email. “For we realize now that it is better to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

Clarence, meanwhile, is scheduled to be euthanized on Friday.


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