A Virginia business is accused of netting tens of thousands of dollars for "poorly trained puppies" sold nationwide and billed as able to detect life-threatening fluctuations in blood sugar in diabetics.
The company, called Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, misled consumer by selling so-called "diabetic-alert dogs" that in reality were often poorly trained and ill-behaved, making them "little more than incredibly expensive pets," Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement.
"Our investigation shows that, in many instances, Service Dogs was simply selling a $25,000 pet, leaving customers with a huge bill and no protection against a potentially life-threatening blood sugar situation," added Herring, who filed suit against the company on Tuesday.
The company is accused of violating the state's Consumer Protection Act by charging $18,000 to $27,000 for three-month-old Labrador retriever puppies that were unable to perform their supposed duties or even to respond when called. Customers told by that company that they'd get "scent training" support were routinely ignored when they requested assistance, the suit alleges.
That scenario reportedly bore out for a Florida mother who sought four-footed protection for her 13-year-old diabetic son. "In hindsight, now, maybe I should have been a little bit smarter, but you're looking for any bit of hope," Jovana Flores told the ABC affiliate WJLA in 2015.
Touting as being able to use their highly attuned sense of smell to detect fluctuations in blood-sugar levels, studies on the effectiveness of diabetic-alert dogs has been less than definitive.
Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers claimed its dogs had a "proven scent ability" and that they could be trained to dial 911 on certain devices, according to the Virginia suit.
In addition to deceiving consumers about the company's dogs, owner Charles Warren Jr. lied about serving in the military and encouraged customers to solicit charitable donations to cover the cost of their dogs, the suit claims.
In an email, an attorney representing the company promised to fight the "ridiculous allegations," stating, "We absolutely deny that we have ever set out to mislead, cheat or defraud our many happy clients."