WASHINGTON - A Virginia dog trainer is at the center of an alleged scam that's left victims from coast to coast. He's accused of charging thousands of dollars for diabetic alert dogs that were never properly trained.
The company called "Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers," claims to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit run by a self-proclaimed veteran. The website boasts client testimonials, with heartwarming photos and videos.
On Tuesday, the Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said the operation is a scam and is suing the so-called non-profit, as well as its owner Charles Warren.
When properly trained, a dog can smell when a diabetic person's blood sugar is dangerously low. And while they're supposed to save lives, Virginia's Attorney General says these dogs are nothing more than pets.
"You save up thousands of dollars. In some cases these dogs cost tens of thousands of dollars, only to get back a puppy that's untrained and can't really help your child at all," said A.G. Mark Herring.
Fifty plaintiffs from across the country allege they paid a small fortune for a diabetic service dog that couldn't perform. AG Herring is alleging a laundry list of violations of the consumer protection act, claiming it hasn't registered as a charity in years and that the owner isn't even a real veteran.
He's now helping people seek reimbursement for the thousands of dollars that families paid for the pups.
"We take this really seriously, not only to the investigation show that there is unlawful conduct as we showed in our complaint, but that it involves the health and safety of people who have diabetes."
Jessica Breeding with Premier Dog Training and Boarding says this is a widespread problem.
"The issue is there is no regulating agency and anyone could go out, even if you wanted to tomorrow, print out business cards, type out that you're a master dog trainer and start taking people's money to train dogs."
She says it costs up to $60,000 to train a service dog and takes up to two years for the dogs to learn skills that can save lives.
"Diabetic alert dogs are trained mostly to hit on lows. So we get a sample from a person when their blood sugar's low and we teach the dog to do a behavior when they smell that their blood sugar is at that level."
Breeding urges patients to do their research and visit these trainers in person. And she's calling on lawmakers to start regulating the industry.
However, the attorney general's multi-year investigation isn't over. A.G. Herring is asking anyone who may have been victimized to contact the consumer protection office.
"What we want to do is get people who were victimized their money back. We want to stop this kind of conduct in the future and the complaint also calls for civil penalties."
This isn't the first issue the Attorney General's office has had with "Service dogs by Warren Retrievers."
The company has already fined $90,000 for not responding to civil investigating demands.