HOWELL – Among the allegations questioning the veracity of newly elected Congressman George Santos (R-NY), one actually has a local connection.
A disabled Navy veteran claims Santos sought donations on his behalf to pay for surgical intervention to save the life of his beloved pup. Although the GoFundMe collection brought in more than $3,000, Richard Osthoff says the lawmaker never turned over one penny.
Osthoff was already down on his luck when his best friend Sapphire exhibited signs she wasn’t well. Out of work for two years after four surgeries himself, Osthoff found himself unable to completely pay his rent.
“After five months of not paying the full amount, I got evicted and moved close to the place where I grew up near the Howell Lanes. I had a tent and a heater set up for the two of us,” said Osthoff.
Howell seemed to be a logical place for Osthoff to land when he was out of a home. Both his parents worked for the township; his mom did the municipality’s payroll for decades. Osthoff’s father was part of Howell Township’s Fire Prevention office.
Just before he became homeless, Osthoff noticed a little lump growing on Sapphire’s ribs. As it started to grow, Osthoff headed to a local veterinarian to have the 10-year-old pit bull mix examined.
The vet told him to keep an eye on the lump and not worry about it unless it continued to increase in size. By the time Osthoff was out on the street, the growth by Sapphire’s rib was visibly larger.
Osthoff headed to the office of a Howell veterinarian who has since retired. The doctor suggested that Sapphire needed a surgical procedure that would cost $3,000 and required upfront payment.
“One of the staff members in the vet’s office said she knew this guy who had a large network of people that were in the animal rescue community,” Osthoff shared. “She told me he sets up requests for funds and that with his respect and credibility, he’d be able to raise money for my dog in my time.”
The concept sent a wave of relief through Osthoff who accepted the staff member’s offer and helped Sapphire pose for her GoFundMe cover shot. Facebook posts set up under the name Anthony Devolder gained instant attention.
Like wildfire, $900 came in within days, giving Osthoff great hope. It took a couple of months for the full $3,000 and the concerned pet owner finally felt a sense of relief.
“I was raring to go,” exclaimed Osthoff. “I planned to take my buddy in for the surgery and get it done. I’d get another two or three years of life with her.”
Osthoff said he contacted Devolder and began to sense he was getting a runaround. Devolder wanted Sapphire’s surgery done in Long Island. The idea was that if the bill went over $3,000, Devolder’s Friends of Pets United would make sure it was covered.
The trip out to Long Island added a new layer of frustration. The New York based vet said the growth was too big and the surgery would kill her.
Not to be dissuaded in his life-saving rescue attempts, Osthoff returned to New Jersey. Requests for payment for an ultrasound came with excuses – none that made sense according to the frustrated pet owner.
“He kept arguing back and forth with me on the phone,” Osthoff said. “He was telling it was my all my fault that Sapphire wasn’t worked on and it felt like he enjoyed torturing me.”
A text message sent to Osthoff informed him that if his dog wasn’t a candidate for surgery, the funds would be moved to another animal that needed it.
Left no other alternative, Osthoff took to panhandling to find the money to euthanize and cremate his jewel of a pup in 2017. The emotional pain continues to haunt him.
Osthoff said he contacted New York authorities back then and nobody could find a record of Devolder. It wasn’t until Santos started making national news that the Navy vet realized he recognized him from somewhere.
“I watched a gaggle of reporters chasing him in early January,” shared Osthoff. “Some male reporter asked what his name was on that day – George Santos or Anthony Devolder.”
As he looked at his text exchange with Devolder, Osthoff had an epiphany. A local New York reporter listened to Osthoff and the story took off.
Most recently, Osthoff said the FBI contacted him as part of an investigation.
Santos raced away as ABC News followed him to ask him questions about the allegations and the investigation. He claimed he knew nothing about the investigation by federal law enforcement.
“He (Osthoff) claimed he never met me, and I never met him,” Santos said. “It’s on the record.”
Previously, Santos sent out a tweet saying that reports that he would let a dog die were “shocking and insane.” The freshman congressman said his animal advocacy was a labor of love and hard work.
Sapphire’s loss left a huge void in Osthoff’s life although he now has two other dogs to keep him company. He considers the adoption of pups Ruby and Diamond as precious gems.
The national attention came with some rewards for the formerly homeless vet who now lives in Freehold.
“I was listening to Howard Stern when his wife came on,” said Osthoff. “She said that the North Shore Animal League was looking to get a hold of me and asked if anyone knew how to reach out to me.”
Beth Ostrosky Stern is a prominent animal-rights activist. Osthoff couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds. He said the North Shore Animal League wants to waive adoption fees and give him another dog with free lifetime veterinary costs. Ruby and Diamond would also receive reduced cost vet care.
As for Santos, the list of allegations continues to grow – in what he might see as reflective of a “dog eats dog” world.