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Tag: attorney general

Virginia files lawsuit against company whose service dogs were “little more than pets”

diabetic

After years of complaints — and enough controversy and drama to rate an episode of Dr. Phil — the investigation into a company that supplies service dogs for diabetics and others has led to the filing of a lawsuit by Virginia’s Attorney General.

The lawsuit against Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers was filed Tuesday in Madison County Circuit Court, accusing the company of violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act by charging $18,000 to $27,000 for 3-month-old Labrador retriever puppies that were unable to perform their task and had apparently received little or no training.

The company billed its dogs as highly trained lifesaving tools that were able to alert diabetics to dips or spikes in their blood sugar level by nudging them with a nose or a paw.

But what customers received, according to the lawsuit, were “little more than incredibly expensive pets” — some of them unable to walk properly on leashes, respond when called, or remain calm around loud noises or new people.

Customers were told that they would receive ample “scent training,” but that never came, and customer requests for assistance were regularly ignored, the lawsuit says.

“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,” Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring said.

The lawsuit followed a lengthy investigation based on complaints from more than 50 customers, Herring’s office said.

In 2016, some of them appeared on a Dr. Phil episode about the company.

In addition to deceiving customers about the company’s dogs, the suit alleges, owner Charles D. Warren Jr. illegally encouraged them to solicit charitable donations. He also lied about having served in the military, according to the suit.

That lawsuit seeks restitution for customers as well as civil penalties and attorneys’ fees, The Washington Post reported.

On behalf of the company, John B. Russell Jr., an attorney representing the company, denied the allegations, saying “we absolutely deny that we have ever set out to mislead, cheat or defraud our many happy clients.”

Diabetic-alert dogs use their sensitive noses to detect fluctuations in blood-sugar levels, but studies on their effectiveness have been mixed.

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers promised customers that assigned dogs possessed a “proven scent ability” and that they could be trained to seek help or even dial 911 on special devices, according to the attorney general’s lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, though, dogs arrived at consumers’ homes with no training and no apparent abilities to alert clients to shifts in their blood sugar levels.

The dogs have been sent to customers across the country, and the complaints range from Texas to Florida, where a woman says they stopped paying for the dog they received — only to be sued by the company.

Jovana Flores said the diabetic-alert dog for her 13-year-old son did little more than serve as a pet.

“In hindsight, now, maybe I should have been a little bit smarter, but you’re looking for any bit of hope,” Flores said.

(Photo: Service Dogs by Warren Retriever website)

NC starts new animal cruelty hotline

nc

If you live in North Carolina, and you care about dogs and other animals, here’s a number to program into your cell phone.

It’s the state’s new Animal Welfare Hotline and it’s now in service, fielding calls from citizens who have seen animals being mistreated.

“As a pet owner, I understand how important it is that our animal companions get the care they need,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in announcing the new hotline. “I encourage North Carolinians to use this new tool if they have information to report about animals being harmed.”

???????????????????????????????State lawmakers created the Animal Welfare Hotline during the 2015 session of the NC General Assembly.

The Attorney General’s Office will review animal welfare complaints submitted via the hotline and refer them to the appropriate authority. North Carolinians can report animals experiencing physical harm under the care of an individual, pet shop, kennel or animal shelter.

In addition to the toll free hotline (1-855-290-6915), animal cruelty reports can be filed via an online complaint form. It’s not easily found on the NCDOJ.gov website, but here’s a direct link.

Complaints can also be filed by mail: P.O. Box 629, Attention: Animal Welfare Hotline, Raleigh, NC 27602.

Please help my sick, dying, fat, abused dog

obiethen

It’s no secret that a sad dog story, properly promoted on social media, can bring in some pretty huge donations — for an animal shelter, a rescue organization, or an individual.

Whether your dog needs life-saving surgery, or even an intense diet regimen, you don’t have to be a nonprofit organization to ask the public for help — and you shouldn’t have to be.

But with the rise of social media, and online fundraising tools like GoFundMe, IndieGogo, and all those other I-would-like- some-of-your-money-please websites, there are likely more bucks than ever before being donated directly to individual dogs in need.

With all that unmonitored money pouring in, what ensures that it’s going to the rightful place — namely, helping the dog in question? What ensures any surplus won’t end up going to the dog owner’s kitchen remodel? What’s to guarantee that the sad dog story is even true in the first place?

In a word, nothing.

Just as the Internet has made us all published journalists, photographers and autobiographers, it has given us an easy route to becoming professional fund-raisers.

What gets lost in that transition is knowing who we can trust.

We can only cross our fingers and hope that those engaging in outright fraud get caught, that those soliciting funds to help a dog don’t get too greedy, and that money sent in by good-hearted people seeking to help a dog actually goes to helping a dog.

It’s a fuzzy area — legally and morally. What accounting, if any, does a private citizen raising money to help a dog owe those who contribute?

In Oregon, at least, the answer seems to be some, at least in the view of the state  Attorney General’s Office.

Since January, the office’s charitable activities section has been looking into how Nora Vanatta spent, and is spending, all the money sent in to help Obie — the 77-pound dachshund she adopted and whose weight loss program became a much-followed story.

obienowVanatta, a veterinary technician who lives in Portland, never purported to be affiliated with a nonprofit, but she did seek and accept thousands of dollars from people around the world who were inspired by Obie’s story.

Vanatta initially fostered Obie, after reading about him on the Facebook page of Oregon Dachshund Rescue.

After Obie’s story went viral, the rescue sought to get the dog back, and filed a lawsuit. The case was later settled, and Vanatta was awarded permanent custody. (Obie is down to 22 pounds.)

Meanwhile, money — Vanatta won’t say how much — continued to come in, $15,000 of which Vanatta says was spent on lawyers she hired to fight the custody battle. Some of it went to pay for $80 bags of specialty food Obie required, and a $1,500 skin-reduction surgery.

Since January, Vanatta has been answering questions from the Attorney General’s office, which began looking into the matter after receiving complaints about how she was spending the funds, and is now in the process of working out an agreement with her.

“They wanted everything – copies of every penny in, every penny out,” she told the Oregonian.

The Attorney General’s office won’t identify the source of the complaint, and it says no wrongdoing was found in how Vanatta has spent the funds so far. (Apparently, nobody in that office full of lawyers had any problem with all the money that went to lawyers.)

But the office does disagree with how she plans to spend the rest. (Obie’s PayPal account was closed last year.)

Vanatta says the office objects to her using the money to help individual  dogs with medical needs, which is maybe a little ironic given the money was raised to help an individual dog with medical needs. The Attorney General’s office frowned upon her giving $2,000 to a family she met at the Tualatin veterinary clinic where she works to help them pay for their dog’s back surgery. Instead, the office wants her to give the money away to established nonprofits, and wants to set a deadline.

The case raises lots of interesting questions, and some disturbing ones.

We’re all for the attorney general keeping an eye on such fundraising drives; slightly less for that office dictating what good causes should receive the remainder of the money, and when.

We agree with Vanatta’s reasoning on that: “I strongly believe you do not have to be a nonprofit to do good,” she said.

What bothers us most, though, next  to Obie’s previous owners letting him get so morbidly obese, is how much of the money donated has gone to lawyers — $15,000 on the custody case, another $11,800 for lawyers to represent Vanatta in the attorney general’s investigation.

Obie may be becoming a slimmer dog, thanks in part to donations from the public, but, as always, lawyers — gobbling up the bulk of the donations — just keep getting fatter.

Judge shuts down “seizure dog” business

Jon C. Sabin, ordered by a judge last week to stop training and selling service dogs to families of sick children, says any instances of his dogs not performing properly were the fault of the families.

“The dogs are trained when I’m there, but after I leave everything goes to hell in a handbasket,” said Sabin, who was accused by the New York Attorney General’s Office of duping more than a dozen families into believing the dogs he sold them — for as much as $20,000 each — were trained.

Sabin, who ran Seizure Alert Dogs For Life, was ordered by a judge last week to never again train or sell service dogs.

He has promised to fight the ruling, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, according to the Watertown Daily Times.

Sabin said families who have complained about their dogs have only themselves to blame — for not following through with the training plans that he made for them and for treating the service dogs like pets even though he advised them not to, according to Syracuse.com

“You don’t put these dogs in your bed. You don’t give them meatballs from the kitchen table,” Sabin said.

Sabin was sued by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for selling more than a dozen families untrained dogs he said could detect and control seizures in their ill children.

Court papers described how the families paid thousands of dollars for the dogs only to find they couldn’t detect seizures, much less do anything about them.

Sabin says he suffers from epileptic seizures, and that he developed his program after his medication failed to control them. Sabin estimated that, since 2009, he has sold and trained about 50 dogs

Not all of his customers are unhappy. The Stevens family in Washington D.C. bought a dog from Sabin three years ago for their son, Andrew, who has a severe form of epilepsy. The dog has detected hundreds of seizures and swiped the magnet on her collar over Andrew’s chest, activating a device in the child’s chest that stimulates his vagus nerve and stops the seizure, according to the family.

The state says Sabin “deceptively promoted dogs as ‘highly trained service dogs,’ when in fact he undertook no steps to select appropriate dogs for service work, nor did he undertake any relevant training of these animals prior to selling them.”

A judge last Tuesday issued permanent injunctions prohibiting Sabin and his company from advertising or selling dogs trained to assist people suffering from epilepsy or other medical conditions.

PETA deems Angel’s Gate a “hellhole”

(WARNING: The contents of this video are disturbing.)

Angel’s Gate — an animal sanctuary you may have seen Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray sing the praises of — bills itself as a non-profit organization that cares for disabled, abused and abandoned animals, providing them a place to live out their years in dignity and comfort while receiving holistic treatment and spiritual support.

PETA — hold the harp music — calls it “a chaotic hellhole.”

The hospice and rehabilitation center in Delhi, New York — founded and operated by Susan Marino — takes in “special needs animals” from all over the U.S., and provides for them through donations from the public. Marino promises both donors and people who send her animals that animals will “live out their days in peace, dignity and love.”

PETA says photos and video from its investigation show “Angel’s Gate was a chaotic hellhole where animals whose conditions required special, individualized, round-the-clock care were deprived of basic necessities and quality of life.”

PETA’s undercover investigator, posing as a volunteer, documented paralyzed animals dragging themselves until they developed bleeding wounds; animals kept in the same diaper for up to two days until they suffered urine scald; dehydrated animals denied access to water; animals confined to crates, bathrooms, cribs and a bathtub; animals denied treatment for pain, seizures, tumors, open wounds, respiratory infections, eye infections, ear infections, and mouth, gum and skin infections; and crowded conditions so stressful that fights broke out daily.

Despite claiming to provide “hospice care” and “rehabilitation” to hundreds of animals, Angel’s Gate does not have a veterinarian on staff and most animals were denied veterinary care for a variety of ailments, from simple to terminal, PETA reports.

Among the investigator’s findings:

  • An elderly Chihuahua named Malcolm, sent there from Animal Care and Control in Brooklyn, suffered for about two weeks before he finally died — anemic, lethargic, thin, dehydrated, and unable to balance, walk, or even eat.
  • Medications that had been prescribed for Shifty, a bulldog suffering from seizures, and Tucker, a dog with hydrocephalus, was untouched almost a week after a veterinarian had dispensed them.
  • A miniature horse named Mimi was denied veterinary care for respiratory distress for days before she finally died. More than four months after Mimi’s death, Marino still solicited sponsorship donations for Mimi’s care on the Angel’s Gate website.

Angel’s Gate, like any facility that houses the sick, terminally ill and handicapped — be they dogs or humans — is bound to have messy moments and daily disasters. But the investigator’s video goes a long way toward documenting that, whatever love Angel’s Gate may, as it promises, be providing, “peace and dignity” are far from ever-present.

Some of PETA’s findings may have been judgment calls: “Horribly suffering animals on death’s door were deprived of the dignity and relief of euthanasia.”

Others clearly were not: “The bodies of dead animals were left out for days among live animals. Animals were fed rancid, raw meat that had been left unrefrigerated.”

PETA says that in 2004, the IRS listed Angel’s Gate as an organization that failed to establish its status as a public charity, and in 2010, it was listed by the IRS as being at risk of having its charity status revoked.

Marino, PETA points out, has been featured positively on national TV, prompting public donations — one lottery winner apparently sent $50,000 — and what PETA says is the “false impression” that Angel’s Gate is a good place for animals.

PETA has turned over evidence gathered by its investigator to Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup Jr., and it is asking its members and others to urge his office to file animal cruelty charges against Marino.

Pennsylvania ups reward for dogfighting tips

Authorities in Pennsylvania are offering up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in dogfighting.

The reward was announced Monday in Philadelphia by Attorney General Tom Corbett and The Humane Society of the United States. About 40,000 people are believed to be involved in dogfighting across the country, Corbett said.

The reward also applies to cockfighting.

The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) says it has received more than 400 complaints about dogfighting in the first six months of this year —  up from 245 complaints during all of 2008.

The announcement came the morning after convicted dogfighter Michael Vick played in his first regular season game as a Philadelphia Eagle.

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Governor seeks review of animal cruelty laws

phoenix111Gov. Martin O’Malley has asked the state’s attorney general to review Maryland’s animal cruelty laws to determine if they are sufficient to deter “heinous” crimes like the torching of a pit bull in Baltimore last month.

Last month’s death of “Phoenix,” a pit bull doused with gasoline and set on fire in West Baltimore, was followed by another animal torturing this week — that of a cat found chained and tied to a utility pole and severely burned by firecrackers. Animal Control officers found the dead cat Wednesday on the 3700 block of Lewiston Ave.

“We must communicate to our young people that cruelty to animals is not acceptable behavior,” Olivia D. Farrow, interim commissioner of the Health Department, said in a statement. The health department has asked that witnesses to the cat torturing, as well as any dog fighting or animal abuse, call 311, the city service line.

Gov. O’Malley said he has received hundreds of e-mails and letters about dog fighting and the case of Phoenix, according to a story in today’s Baltimore Sun.

He said he was “deeply disturbed and saddened” by what happened to Phoenix, who died three days after she was found ablaze.

Baltimore police have charged two teenagers in the pit bull case. Police believe Phoenix was involved in dog fighting.

Under Maryland law, aggravated cruelty to animals through torture, beatings or dogfights is considered a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and $5,000 in fines. Abuse or neglect of an animal is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days and $1,000 in fines.

More often, though, offenders receive a “slap on the wrist,” according to Debra Rahl from the Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter: “It’s often looked at as just an animal,” she said. “We have so many other serious crimes happening in the city and state, so this is not taken as seriously.”

Here’s the full text of the governor’s letter to constituents:

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