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CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Cindy, right, and Amber Bartlett sit in the lobby of the Best Western in Clear Lake with their three dogs and recount the evening a fire caused significant damage to their home in Britt on Nov. 15.

Britt family struggles over holidays after fire destroys home

CLEAR LAKE | For nearly 20 years, Cindy Bartlett’s Britt home has been a family gathering place for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But this year is different.

“It has been a rough couple weeks,” said Bartlett, 48.

Bartlett’s single-story house of 18 years at 361 Fifth St. SW and many of her belongings, including Christmas presents, were significantly damaged in a fire on Nov. 15.

The house, which was home to Bartlett, her pregnant daughter Amber and their three dogs Chyna, Kayos and Kitty, has been deemed uninhabitable due to smoke and water damage.

“It’s kind of hard knowing that the place I grew up is no longer livable,” Amber said. “Everything I’ve gone through I’ve gone through at that house.”

Bartlett said the fire, which began after 6 p.m., ignited after they heard a loud pop behind the TV in their living room and part of the house lost electricity.

In the minutes following, Bartlett attempted to extinguish the fire with water until the local volunteer firefighters arrived, while her daughter and the dogs escaped.

“I’ve been here for almost 18 years and never once had a problem with anything,” she said.

The Britt Fire Department was assisted by the West Hancock Ambulance Service and the Britt Police Department. Britt Public Works and Alliant Energy were also on the scene.

Bartlett, Amber and their dogs have been staying at Best Western Holiday Lodge in Clear Lake since the fire with the help of the American Red Cross and hotel staff.

“It’s not a full home, but it’s warm,” Amber said.

Bartlett, who is on Social Security with her daughter, said she didn’t have insurance on the house.

Years’ worth of furniture, clothes and other belongings were destroyed in the fire, as well as items, like clothes, toys and equipment, purchased for Amber’s baby due in February were smoke- and water-damaged.

Bartlett said they’ve sifted through the house “trying to get stuff out that we can save,” but a lot of it, especially her stuff, has been lost completely.

“It hurt seeing the pile where my Christmas tree would’ve sat under three feet of installation and ceiling tiles,” she said. “That really bothered me because I can’t hold my holidays there anymore.”

Fortunately, the stuff in the garage, including Bartlett’s car, wasn’t damaged and they’ve been able to recover some items from the house, like her daughters’ baby albums. Bartlett has another daughter Haley, 25, who lives in Garner.

But Bartlett and her daughter have had little — to no — success securing new housing and finding resources to get them back on their feet, which Bartlett said has been difficult given the time of year.

On Thanksgiving, Bartlett and Amber had turkey dinners from a nearby restaurant in their hotel rooms, instead of hosting a family gathering at their house.

“I just want to be home,” Bartlett said as her voiced cracked on the phone with the Globe Gazette Tuesday afternoon. “Pretty much all I got left is my dogs and my kids.”

Bartlett and Amber said they’ve reached out to individuals and organizations for assistance but “have hit a brick wall.”

“It’s just really hard knowing that you live in such a small town, you’d think people would come together and try to help you,” Amber said.

To help, Bartlett’s sister Eileen Olson of Duncombe started a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising $5,000 for her and her daughter.

“For them to be able to get back on their feet, they are going to need help, and lots of it,” Olson wrote on the GoFundMe page. “We need to get Amber back in a safe environment before her baby arrives.”

Amber said the last couple weeks have been stressful for her and her baby, but they remain healthy.

Bartlett is grateful for the help she’s already received from the hotel staff, her sister and her longtime friend, Cory Davis, but she knows the road ahead will be challenging.

“I’d just like to thank everybody (at Best Western) for everything that they’ve done for us,” Bartlett said through tears. “Any help right now is greatly appreciated.”

For those interested in helping the family, call Eileen Olson at 515-543-8174 or visit the “Sister lost everything in a fire 11/15/18” GoFundMe page for Cindy Bartlett-Hutchinson and her daughter, Amber.

Single Mason City mom helping raise friend's children requests Cheer Fund support

MASON CITY | A single mother of three is seeking assistance from the Christmas Cheer Fund.

The 30-year-old woman who lives in Mason City has children between 5 and 10 years old and she is helping a friend raise two children, according to her Cheer Fund application.

Her application states if awarded Christmas Cheer Fund assistance, it’d be used to purchase clothes.

Since the Cheer Fund began in 1927, more than $3 million has been raised to help about 2,700 North Iowa families.

This year’s goal is $125,000.

The Christmas Cheer Fund was established by Globe Gazette Publisher Lee Loomis in 1927 so every child could have a present on Christmas morning. In the years since it has come to mean a little help at Christmastime to people of all ages.

Donations may be dropped off or mailed to the Globe Gazette office, 300 N. Washington Ave., Mason City, IA 50402-0271.

Any remaining funds not distributed for the holidays will be given to local nonprofits. The Christmas Cheer Fund balance will return to $100 in January to maintain the checking account.

Those in need can apply for help from the Cheer Fund at the Globe Gazette between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Applicants must use the 2018 request form. The last day to apply is Dec. 18.

ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 

The Globe Gazette received more than 2,600 applications from North Iowans for the 2017 Christmas Cheer Fund. 

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North Iowa puppy mill owner says she didn't neglect dogs, gave them up 'under duress,' documents say

NORTHWOOD | A Manly woman accused of running a puppy mill at her home has responded to allegations of animal neglect as she seeks to keep nine of the Samoyeds and four cats, court documents say. 

Barbara Kavars, 65, who operates White Fire Kennels, filed a response through her attorney Michael Byrne Wednesday. She asked Magistrate Douglas Krull to find the 13 animals are not threatened and have them returned to her.

Based on the animals' health and the conditions at Kavars' property, the Worth County Attorney's Office argued in court documents Nov. 21 that Kavars is not fit to care for or have custody of the dogs and cats.

Abandoned pets rescued by the Humane Society of North Iowa (with photos)

A hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in Worth County District Court to determine if those animals should be returned to Kavars or remain in ASPCA’s custody.

Kavars surrendered ownership of the rest of the dogs -- more than 140 Samoyeds that were seized from her rural Manly home by the Worth County Sheriff's Office and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) during an animal neglect-related search warrant Nov. 12. 

In her response, Kavars claimed the county obtained the search warrant claiming animal neglect, but references state law regarding animal abuse. 

Kavars also claims the search warrant approved by the magistrate failed to provide verification of probable cause for animal abuse or neglect, violating state law. 

The response also states Kavars did not voluntarily surrender ownership of the dogs or cats taken from her property and that she was not "informed of her legal rights" during the search warrant. 

Kavars also claimed she was "under duress and threatened loss of animals" if she refused to sign an agreement giving up ownership of the animals at the time of the search warrant, according to the response.

Kavars response

Kavars also addressed the animals' health and living conditions, stating in the response the 13 animals in questions were not neglected as they were given sufficient food, water and "adequate shelter was provided for a dog of this breed."

In her response, Kavars said the dogs had not been fed or watered for the day, as it was only 7 a.m. when the search warrant was executed. 

ASPCA officials said the dogs lived in overcrowded kennels with little to no food and no clean water. The kennels had limited roof coverage, smelled strongly of ammonia and were full of feces, according to court documents filed by the Worth County Attorney's Office. 

She said in court documents the kennels were covered, protecting the dogs from rain or sun. Fallen branches throughout the property had nothing to do with the care of the dogs, her response stated.

“Overcrowding of kennels is not a basis for animal neglect under (state law) as it does not relate to food, water, adequate shelter from the elements of the ‘necessary sustenance’ as provide (sic) by the code,” Kavars said in court documents.

Kavars said the court cannot consider the condition of other dogs except for the nine in the petition.

Court documents say the nine dogs Kavars seeks to keep, as well as many others on the property, had dirty, matted fur that, on some, the matting was so severe it encompassed their entire tail or underbelly.

Many were underweight, had dental problems, untrimmed nails and fecal matter on their bodies and between the pads of their feet. Some dogs were fighting, others were cowering, and some had trouble standing and walking.

Further exams by ASPCA veterinarians revealed the nine dogs and four cats Kavars wants to keep were underweight, had heavily-matted fur and dental disease. One dog had seeds, burs and fecal matter on a 6-by-4-inch mat on its tail, court documents said.

Photos: 10 Iowa puppy mills on Humane Society watch list for inhumane conditions

One of the dogs is pregnant and another has a mass in its mammary area. Others had fleas, flaky skin, stained eyes and waxy buildup in their ears, as well as eye problems or degenerative muscle wasting, documents said.

The veterinarians found the cats were thin and had dental disease, eye problems, itchy ears and overgrown nails, as well as wounds and scabs.

She also denied her home is unsafe for human or animal habitation. 

Investigators say the home had an “overwhelming odor of ammonia and feces,” making it impossible to breathe.

Court documents said containers of unopened animal and human food were piled throughout the home, which had mats of fur and dirt caked on surfaces, including kitchen counters, and pee pads soaked in feces and urine covering the living room floor. 

Kavars' response claimed that Worth County was making unspecified standards for animal care that were not backed up by state law. 

Photos: Inside a puppy mill

Kavars also argued against several of the county's observations about neglect in her response. She claimed pregnancy, past pregnancy, past wounds, dental disease, eye discharge, overgrown nails or dirty, matted coats are not signs of neglect. 

She also argued senior cats are more likely to weigh less and "do not have the best of bodily functions" but that she had taken care of her cats. 

Kavars has not been charged with a crime, but the ASPCA says animal neglect charges are pending.

Photos: ASPCA rescues Samoyeds from North Iowa puppy mill

Photos: ASPCA rescues 160 dogs from Worth County puppy mill