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Tag: lawsuit

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)

Company was aware that euthanasia drug was present in its canned dog food

The TV station that disclosed the presence of the euthanasia drug pentobarbital in canned dog food — leading to the recall of 107 million cans — is staying on the case and reporting that the manufacturer was aware of, and remained silent about, even higher levels of the drug.

Earlier this year, ABC7 (WJLA) in Washington aired an investigative report on the drug being found in Gravy Train canned food.

A recall was later announced for Gravy Train and three other canned dog foods — Kibbles ‘N Bits, Ol’ Roy and Skippy, all of which, like Gravy Train, are made by Big Heart Brands, a subsidiary of Smucker’s.

Any levels of pentobarbital in dog food are concerning, as is the use of any drug-euthanized animal as a source of either human or pet food are outlawed.

The FDA (maybe recognizing a TV station was doing its job, maybe not) launched its own investigation into Smucker’s just hours after the report aired.

Big Heart Brands — saying its top priority is the “safety and quality of its products” — has maintained that the levels of pentobarbital detected in tests by the WJLA were far too low to be concerned about.

But WJLA reported last week that even higher levels — 80 times higher — have been found by the FDA.

According to a class action lawsuit against the company, the FDA found pentobarbital in the company’s fat supply, at levels at least 80-times higher than what the TV station discovered in products on the shelves.

And the company apparently had been alerted to that. It retained a sample of that fat from a full year earlier, in 2017, with levels of pentobarbital more than 50-times higher than the results that prompted the recall.

“It is an important fact because they retained it, yet they didn’t test it,” said attorney Rebecca Peterson, one of the attorneys handling one of the class action lawsuits against Smucker’s and its subsidiary, Big Heart Pet Brands “Or they did test it and they still went forward by including that tallow in the contaminated dog food.”

At issue is a rendered fat ingredient — the boiled byproduct of carcasses that contained the euthanasia drug pentobarbital.

In a statement, Smuckers said it has “robust quality assurance procedures in place, we are committed to enhancing sourcing and supplier oversight procedures to help ensure this does not happen again.”

Court documents allege the source of contaminated fat was the company’s supplier JBS.

JBS is also the subject of investigations related to E.coli contaminations and the inhumane treatment of animals.

In a statement, JBS stated it has modified it procurement process and “will divert all third-party sourced materials to non-edible production until the company can ensure these materials meet its high standards for quality and safety.”

Jury finds former sheriff Arpaio wasn’t malicious in prosecution of Sen. Flake’s son

arpaio

The son of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake was not maliciously prosecuted when Sheriff Joe Arpaio sought to bring charges against him in connection with the deaths of 21 dogs at an Arizona kennel, a civil court jury has ruled.

Four people, including Flake’s son, Austin, were indicted on 21 felony counts of animal cruelty in connection with the 2014 deaths, attributed to heat exhaustion.

Then-Sheriff Arpaio urged the filing of the charges against Austin Flake and his then-wife, Logan Brown, who had been supervising the care of the dogs at the Green Acre boarding kennel in Gilbert while its owners, Brown’s parents, were away.

All charges were later were dropped by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office because the grand jury didn’t hear about issues with the air-conditioning in the room where the dogs were kept.

Flake and Brown sued Arpaio for malicious prosecution in 2015. The lawsuit didn’t ask for a specific amount in damages, but an earlier notice of claim sought $8 million.

Last week a panel of eight jurors in a civil trial against Arpaio decided Flake had not proven the prosecutions were malicious.

U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake did not issue a final verdict, saying he is awaiting an explanation from defense attorneys on their failure to turn over documents that may have benefited the plaintiffs.

Jurors began deliberating at 5 p.m. Thursday and reached a verdict 90 minutes later, the Arizona Republic reported.

Arpaio and plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen Montoya confirmed the outcome of the case after a six-day trial.

Montoya said Arpaio used the case to boost his image through publicity stunts and by holding repeated press conferences. He pointed to a press conference in which Arpaio showed the media photos of the dead dogs, and a Sheriff’s Office-commissioned helicopter search for one dog from the kennel who had gone missing.

Montoya in his closing arguments said that while there was media interest in the case before Arpaio’s involvement, the lawman inflamed the coverage.

“Would there have been publicity? Sure. Would it have died down but for Sheriff Joe releasing press releases, including the pictures of the dead dogs?… Sheriff Joe wouldn’t let it die down, and then these kids were indicted,” Montoya said.

“I want to thank the jury of my peers for their decision in the Flake lawsuit,” Arpaio said after verdict. “We’ll have more to say about the Flake situation and the politics at the appropriate time.”

Arpaio was pardoned by President Trump in August, sparing the controversial former sheriff a jail sentence after he was convicted of criminal contempt related to his hard-line tactics going after undocumented immigrants.

(Photo: Ross D. Franklin / AP)

Woman says Starbucks hot tea burned her and killed her dog

starbucks

A Colorado woman is suing Starbucks, saying she was disfigured and her dog was killed when hot tea served in a cup with an unsecured lid spilled on them at a drive-thru window in Denver.

Deanna Salas-Solano’s dog Alexander was so severely burned that he died at the vet’s office, the Denver Post reported. Salas-Solano underwent skin grafts, the lawsuit said.

The federal lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

Starbucks, while declining to discuss specifics, denied the allegations and said video evidence “clearly contradicts the claims made by the plaintiff … While we are sympathetic to Ms. Salas-Solano and the injuries she sustained, we don’t have any reason to believe our partner (employee) was at fault.”

Salas-Solano’s attorneys originally filed the lawsuit in Denver state court in August, nearly two years after the incident.

Salas-Solano said the tea spill caused severe burns, disfigurement, emotional distress, lost wages and physical impairment.

She’d ordered a 20-ounce hot tea at the drive-thru window of a Starbucks on Leetsdale Drive in September of 2015. An employee failed to properly secure the cup’s lid, according to the lawsuit, which described the tea as “unreasonably hot.”

The cup was not sleeved, and it was burning her hands when she spilled it, she says.

Her dog, Alexander, jumped onto her lap and the tea spilled on him, causing the dog to yelp in pain, the lawsuit says. Alexander died shortly after he was taken to a veterinary hospital.

Why’d ya have to kick that dog, Marge?

homer

In the final episode of its 28th season, “The Simpsons” was making some pretty wry and thought-provoking observations on the ever evolving human-dog relationship.

But then Marge had to go and kick a dog, ruining — or at least tarnishing — the whole episode.

“Dogtown” started off with Homer swerving his car to avoid hitting the Simpson’s family dog, Santa’s Little Helper, and running into a human instead — a down on his luck character named Gil who was, like the dog, seeking to forage a meal from garbage cans in an alleyway.

The injured Gil files a lawsuit against Homer — one that he seems sure to win until Homer’s lawyer notices and seizes on the jury’s love for dogs.

He mounts a defense emphasizing Homer’s desire not to hurt the dog, highlighting all the wonderful things dogs do for us, citing historical examples and showing cute YouTube videos that lead jury members to utter extended “awwwwwwwws.”

Gil’s lawyer tries to show that a dog’s life shouldn’t be valued as highly as a human’s, pointing out some less than desirable canine habits, but the jury finds all of them cute as well.

They issue a quick not guilty verdict for Homer, and he goes on to be revered as a local hero for sparing the dog’s life.

bartNoting how the case has captured the public’s attention, Mayor Quimby decides he needs dog-loving voters in his camp and begins passing laws that turn Springfield into a dog paradise

Springfield becomes not just dog-friendly, but dog-serving, dog-pandering — a place where many human establishments once serving humans now service dogs almost exclusively, a place where dogs don’t have to answer to anyone about anything.

As farce, it worked. The outrageous scenarios it portrayed of dogs being coddled, pampered, spoiled and placed on pedestals rang at least a tiny bit true.

Other than a dejected Gil, who has realized the town values dogs more than someone like him, the only naysayer is local veterinarian Dr. Budgie, who predicts that dogs, without humans to be subservient to, are going turn on people once they discover that humans are no longer in charge.

When they do, things get chaotic. Dogs take over, taking advantage of new opportunities, but also growing more in touch with their wild roots, stalking and preying and wandering the streets in roaming packs.

When Santa’s Little Helper departs the Simpson’s home to live with his own kind, Bart and Lisa set off to find him, but end up getting treed by a pack of snarling dogs, led by the alpha dog, a Chihuahua.

marge

Marge comes to the rescue, facing down the pack of dogs, and particularly their leader. When that dog growls at her, Marge growls right back, ordering them all to sit and stay.

That, plot-wise, could and should have been enough to show she has reasserted her dominance, but the writers took it a step too far. Marge is shown kicking the small dog, who disappears into the horizon like punted football. After that she’s completely in control, dogs resume their place, and — though the esteem in which I once held Marge is forever altered — life returns to normal in Springfield.

It just wasn’t in keeping with Marge’s character. Sure, she’s a no-nonsense sort and will lay down the law when she has to, but violence has never seemed part of her repertoire. She has always favored brains over brute force.

It was not a good message. Even in a cartoon. Even in an adult cartoon known for pushing the envelope. And the worse part was, it was not at all necessary to the story, just a gratuitous dog kick that should have been edited out.

We’re guessing that scene wouldn’t have survived in Sam Simon’s day.

Simon, director and co-creator of the series, died in 2015, but his philanthropy and love for dogs lives on through the Sam Simon Foundation, which, among other causes, works to save animals from harmful and abusive situations.

To see that other part of his legacy, namely “The Simpsons,” resorting to depicting a dog being kicked — and kicked by Marge rather than a doofus like Homer — strikes me as shameful.

Surely, the writer could have come up with another three-second gag to replace that, and not leave viewers with the impression — even in the context of comedy — that violence and brute force are needed to train, discipline or keep dogs “in their place.”

That’s my verdict, anyway, and as for the writer we’d suggest a good strong correction — like a firm jerk on the leash.

$1.26 million awarded to family of dog shot and killed by police officer in Maryland

vern

A jury has awarded $1.26 million to a Maryland family whose dog was shot and killed by police in 2014 — the largest award ever in the U.S. for such a case, according to the law firm that represented the family.

According to a press release from the Hansel Law firm in Baltimore, the verdict came after a three-day trial in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County.

“The duty to serve and protect extends to our animal family members as well,” said Cary J. Hansel, the attorney for Michael Reeves of Glen Burnie.

Reeves’ four-year-old retriever, Vern, was shot by an officer responding to a burglary call in Reeves’ neighborhood.

Anne Arundel County police officer Officer Rodney Price claimed he was attacked by Vern, but forensic evidence presented at the trial led the jury to conclude otherwise.

vern2Vern was a Chesapeake Bay retriever. The breed is the state dog of Maryland.

The officer encountered the dog in the family’s front yard, and the officer said the dog barked and ran toward him.

During the trial, the officer admitted that the dog did not bite or injure him before he fired his weapon. The officer also said no other steps were taken to deal with the dog before the dog was shot two times, the Capital Gazette reported.

A necropsy performed at the request of Anne Arundel County police showed that one bullet entered the dog’s sternum, and another bullet entered the dog’s side, at a time when the dog’s body was perpendicular to the gun.

Attorney Hansel said that evidence contradicted Price’s testimony regarding how the shooting occurred.

An internal investigation by the police department earlier determined the dog had behaved aggressively. Price remains with the police department.

The jury found that Price was not attacked by the dog, that the shooting violated Reeves’ constitutional rights, and that it was committed with gross negligence.

Reeves got Vern in 2009 and took a year off work to train him. He declined to comment after the verdict.

The $1.26 million verdict includes $500,000 in monetary damages and $760,000 in damages for the anguish caused by the shooting.

The firm says the award was the largest ever in a case of a dog shot and killed by a police officer.

The Department of Justice estimates that about 10,000 dogs are shot by law enforcement officers every year in the United States.

Family seeks to halt use of cyanide traps

caseyandcanyon

An Idaho family has launched an online petition aimed at outlawing the government’s use of cyanide traps like the one that sent their son to the hospital and claimed the life of their dog last month.

The devices are used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in remote areas to control predators by exposing them to a blast of cyanide gas.

Canyon Mansfield, 14, was knocked to the ground last month when a cyanide trap, also known as an M-44, spewed cyanide gas into his face and killed his dog, Casey, within seconds.

Although the government has said the devices are only planted with the permission of property owners — and only after neighbors are warned — the Mansfield family says it had no knowledge of the device, installed about 350 yards from their home.

canyonmansfieldSince the March 16 incident, Canyon has experienced headaches, nausea and numbness and has visited a neurologist for testing, his parents say.

The USDA maintains the devices help resolve conflict between wildlife and people in the safest and most humane ways possible, but “the nature of the cyanide bomb is neither safe nor humane,” Canyon’s father, Mark Mansfield, a doctor in Pocatello, wrote in an online
petition.

“Cyanide gas has been used throughout history to murder masses of people,” he said.

The M-44s, also known as “coyote-getters,” are designed to lure animals who smell their bait. When an animal tugs on the device, a spring-loaded metal cylinder fires sodium cyanide powder into its mouth.

Over the years, thousands of non-target animals — wild and domestic — have been mistakenly killed by the lethal devices.

Four conservation and animal-welfare groups announced Tuesday they are suing the Trump administration for “failing to protect endangered species from two deadly pesticides used to kill coyotes and other native carnivores.”

“Cyanide bombs are indiscriminate killers,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“In just the past several weeks they’ve injured a child and killed an endangered wolf and several family dogs. These dangerous pesticides need to be banned, but until then, they shouldn’t be used where they can hurt people or kill family pets and endangered wildlife,” Adkins said.

The government, meanwhile, has called the accidental death of family pets from M-44s a “rare occurrence,” and said Wildlife Services posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when traps are placed near their homes.

(Photos by the Mansfield family)