Lawsuit alleges $36k puppy rip-off
AN AMERICAN company has been accused of misleading customers and endangering lives by charging tens of thousands of dollars for diabetic alert dogs that turned out to be "poorly trained puppies with significant behavioural issues".
Virginia Attorney-General Mark R. Herring on Tuesday announced he had filed a civil case against Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers and its chief executive, Charles D. Warren, Jr., for alleged violations of consumer protection and charitable donations laws.
The lawsuit alleges the company charged $US18,000-$US27,000 ($24,000-$36,000) for dogs that could purportedly identify and alert individuals to life-threatening low and high blood sugar in individuals with diabetes, "often as much as 20-45 minutes before a meter shows there's even a problem".
In reality, the dogs were "often poorly trained, ill-behaved, and unequipped to help manage a life-threatening situation, rendering them little more than incredibly expensive pets", according to the Attorney-General's office.
Customers complained that, instead of a well trained service dog they were promised, the company often provided a puppy that "showed significant shortcomings such as an inability to properly walk on a leash, inappropriate chewing and destruction, inability to respond when called, jumping on people, fear of noises, and frequent barking or whining".
Critically, they failed to alert customers to dangerous high or low blood sugar.
"This suit alleges not just dishonest and unlawful business practices, but a recklessness that could have endangered the lives of customers who relied on the claims made by Service Dogs and its owner," Mr Herring said in a statement.
"Our investigation shows that, in many instances, Service Dogs was simply selling a $US25,000 pet, leaving customers with a huge bill and no protection against a potentially life-threatening blood sugar situation.
"Customers have a right to rely on the accuracy of a business's claims, especially when it involves a person's health and wellbeing. We will continue to hold businesses to the highest standards and take action whenever necessary to protect Virginia consumers."
The complaint filed in the Madison County Circuit Court alleges Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers made representations to customers including: "We provide dogs with countless hours of training", "Our service dogs are backed by science", "Diabetic alert dogs are 100 per cent accurate" and "From the best in the litter, our trainers choose a pup for each client based on that individual's unique needs."
It further alleges the company and Mr Warren misled customers and charitable donors about "certain aspects of the business's payment structure", and lied about Mr Warren having served in the armed forces, where he claimed to have trained dogs before receiving a medical discharge for diabetes.
The company was also accused of lying to customers about how the dogs could be paid for and how long they would have to pay their balances.
According to the suit, customers were told they could fundraise the entire amount of the cost of their dog, and many did not learn they would be required to pay for the dogs if they could not raise the funds until they were presented with a "Puppy Purchase and Training Agreement" and an "Instalment Payment Plan".
In an email to The Washington Post, a lawyer for Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers vowed "to fight these ridiculous allegations at every step" and said "we absolutely deny that we have ever set out to mislead, cheat or defraud our many happy clients".
He said the company had been working with the Attorney-General's office to address the concerns and "in many areas, we had already changed our procedures long before their investigation began".
The Attorney-General's office said the company and Mr Warren had already been slapped with $US90,000 ($120,000) in court fines for failing to produce information during the course of the investigation.
It's not the first dog switcheroo to hit the headlines. Earlier this week, a Chinese woman claimed she paid $255 for what she thought was a Japanese Spitz, but which eventually turned out to be a fox.
In 2013, a Argentinian man bought what he believed to be two toy poodles at a street market, only to discover they were actually ferrets that had been pumped up on steroids, according to a local TV station.