Elizabeth "Libby" Osterbauer founded Close to Home Canine Rescue in October 2013. The entity with the nonprofit-sounding name wasn't registered as a charity with the Minnesota Secretary of State, but as a conventional corporation.
Police documents would later show that Osterbauer chose the option because "it's too much money to get the [nonprofit] 501.3C [designation], so she runs it like a business… a [straight] cash [business], under the table $413 [per dog sold]."
About six months after the official registration, Osterbauer operated out of a house on 193rd Avenue in Elk River. According to a May 2014 police incident report, an officer responding to an animal complaint "observed several puppies, different breeds, in separate fenced in areas inside the shed."
By 2016, Osterbauer had relocated. Home Canine dogs were kept at two locations. One was a four-acre rented hobby farm in New Prague. Buildings on the property consisted of a clapboard house, two sheds, and a barn, large enough to accommodate eight horses. The other was a house in south Minneapolis near the airport.
That's where Jon Goldstein and his wife, Kate Krieg, would meet Osterbauer.
The couple first learned about the rescue on petfinder.com. They viewed photos of five dogs that were available for adoption. During the course of email correspondence, Osterbauer said a $350 adoption fee helped to offset veterinary and other expenses.
Osterbauer met Goldstein and Krieg at the front door of her house on 35th Avenue South last October and showed them two puppies. She spoke of how her rescues came from shelters in Kentucky and Alabama.
"She told us she would go there and pull these dogs out of these kill shelters, bring them back to Minnesota where she had a network of foster homes -- that she would foster some of them herself --and then assist in finding them new homes," says Goldstein. "She basically gave off the impression she was rescuing these dogs from death. She represented her rescue as if it was a [nonprofit]."
Goldstein and Krieg drove back to their northeast Minneapolis home with a puppy they'd name Oliver, but $650 poorer.
"[Osterbauer] said it was that and not the $350 because, first, 'I can,' and second of all… because the dog's mother had an emergency C-section and she had to pay for that," Goldstein says. "One of the dogs really took to us, and we took to him. She said no checks, no credit cards, cash only. I had to go to the ATM. It seemed shady, but we felt it was a mom-and-pop operation, and we had fallen in love with the dog."
The new dog owners, along with the public, were about to learn much more about Osterbauer.
Shelly Byzewski's interest in canine rescues first exposed her to Close to Home. But soon, she claims, she was rejecting Osterbauer's romantic advances.
Then her Minneapolis home was twice burglarized. Byzewski also suspected Osterbauer had "tortured, drugged, and killed" her miniature pinscher.
Minneapolis police obtained a search warrant for the New Prague farm, which is where they would arrest Osterbauer on December 15. The search produced nearly $1,000 in $20 bills, a bulletproof vest, three handguns, and ammunition.
Sixty-six dogs were found on the property. Some were outside "in the frigid cold." Some were located "throughout the premises." Many were found inside the "very cold" barn and the garage. Most appeared to suffer from "extensive dehydration" and "other various maladies indicative of extended inadequate care."
Dog flipping has been aided by the internet age. The "flipper" will adopt, buy, or even steal dogs, then turn around and sell them for a profit. The ads often appear on online forums like Craiglist.
Reached by text message yesterday, Osterbauer didn't respond when asked if Close to Home is "a dog flipping business." She declined to answer any other questions "due to pending litigation."
Osterbauer has been charged with two felony burglary counts. She's also accused of torturing and killing Byzewski's dog.
All 66 dogs were seized by Minneapolis Animal Control officials as a result of the December search. Osterbauer surrendered custody of 28 of them, but wants the other 38 returned. She's suing Minneapolis Animal Control so she can "take them back to her rented residence in New Prague."
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