PORTLAND, Ore. -- There are some serious concerns regarding the now-canceled Portland Pet Expo. It’s an event in October that pet lovers, service providers and pet rescue groups look forward to every year.
Vendors pay several hundred dollars to be part of it, but this year, without warning, the event was canceled. And now vendors say they cannot get their money back from the St. Louis-based company that runs the expo.
And part of the the reason for the cancelation, that company director said, is than an employee “had come to believe she was a prophet tasked with writing a new book of the Bible, was Moses reincarnated, and that the COO of the company was the anti-Christ."
For pet lovers, the Portland Pet Expo is a great event. Food, services, apparel and pet events are a big part of the expo, as are the rescue groups that work to get many of the animals adopted into their forever homes.
“Paid my $500 fee, got my receipt and said, 'We'll see you next year.'” said DeAnn King, the director of Wigglin Home Boxer Rescue. It’s a volunteer organization that runs on donations. The money is tight, and every dollar is used to benefit the animals. “I am a nonprofit, all of my people are volunteers, we are not paid, and that $550 is a lot of money.”
King and a lot of other vendors were disappointed when the Portland Pet Expo was suddenly canceled this year, without explanation. And now that disappointment is turning to frustration, because several say they cannot get a refund on the money they paid to be a part of it.
“It was going to be $300 for a booth, a corner booth, so a large booth and a quarter page ad in the brochure,” said Rachel Davis, the director of the nonprofit Lily’s Pad Rescue. Davis said she cannot get a refund.
Carole Bigwood, of Wild Child Pet Fashions, said the cancelation also cost her. “I'm out about $3,000 that I put in.”
The company that runs the Portland Pet Expo is St. Louis based “Amazing Pet Expos.” The Director is Sheila Rilenge. Vendors like DeAnn King say instead of getting a refund, Rilenge has spent weeks giving them the run around.
“I'll send an email, get a response saying, ‘Our IT system changed our computers. We're sorry you didn't get this email, now we have a new phone system.' I tried to call you, it rang two times, the phone was all static,” King said.
Davis said she took it a step further and contacted the employees at the Portland Expo Center. She said they told her Rilenge didn’t even book the event. But she still took vendors’ money.
“I contacted the Portland Expo Center themselves, and I asked them if this event is booked. They said it is not even booked, and I asked them to put that in writing, for me and they did, they sent me an email stating the event was never booked.”
Lily’s Pad Rescue is a nonprofit that takes in medically fragile and needy bulldogs and finds them homes. Many need immediate surgical interventions and every dollar Davis gets goes to helping these animals. She says losing hundreds to Rilenge and Amazing Pet Expos really hurts her organization.
KGW found out that Amazing Pet Expos has canceled other events across the country. In addition to Portland, pet expos in Sacramento, Tampa, Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland and St. Charles were also canceled. KGW contacted Rilenge about refunds to Portland vendors and she sent us proof of a refund to a vendor in Minnesota, along with a document called "Batch Inquiry Report" referring to a refund for Rachael Davis.
But Davis says the money has never been refunded. “I sat down with my bank yesterday, went through it with a fine tooth comb, there is no $300 refund so I don’t know where that batch transaction report comes from.”
In addition, we also got an email from Rilenge that said she takes full responsibilities for her company’s difficulties and the problems it created for vendors. But she says she will not deny a refund to anyone.
She also blames a lot of the company’s troubles on the aforementioned employee: A female "controller” who was hired by Amazing Pet Expos.
In a statement to KGW, Rilenge claims her former employee “had come to believe she was a prophet tasked with writing a new book of the Bible, was Moses reincarnated, and that the COO of our company was the anti-Christ. She had been timing all of the COO's actions and claimed they all took place in increments of six seconds, six minutes, six hours, etc, thereby confirming he was indeed Satan. She was incredibly sickened by our LGBTQ staff members, and in the most chilling portion of the recording, stated she needed to kill the COO/Satan."
When contacted, Rilenge also told KGW that she couldn't talk because of the time difference between Portland and St. Louis, and said she was heading into an appointment. She said she would contact us the next day to further discuss the refunds to Portland vendors. She didn't.