MADISON COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Virginia's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against a Madison County service dog company for selling expensive and poorly trained puppies.

More than 50 customer complaints have now turned into a lawsuit, following a state investigation that was launched into Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers back in March 2015.

In the 28-page lawsuit, the attorney general's office argues Charles Warren, Jr. and his company have broken the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions Law.

Dozens of customers complained the company sold the dogs for $18,000 to $27,000, but the company failed to train them properly. Some people say the dogs could not even walk on a leash.

“These are supposed to be a diabetic alert dogs, and these complaints that came in talked about how there were representations about the dog's ability to be able to detect dangerous blood sugar levels, and to help protect the owner, and get help, and so forth, but in many cases the dogs couldn't do any of that,” says Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

Customers also complained the company didn't provide support once the dogs had been sold.

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers Response to Lawsuit:

We have not yet seen the Attorney General’s lawsuit, but we deny any allegation of wrongdoing and we absolutely deny that we have ever set out to mislead, cheat or defraud our many happy clients. Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers has a long history of serving people with invisible disabilities, including many people with Type I Diabetes. This long history of service includes being a recipient of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s “Spotlight" Award in 2017.

We have been working with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to address any areas of concern they may have. In many areas, we had already changed our procedures long before their investigation began. The Attorney General’s Office, however, made it clear that they only wanted the complete destruction of SDWR and Dan Warren. Over the last 8 months, Mr. Warren has suffered a series of debilitating brain injuries. His doctors indicated that the severe stress he was under certainly contributed to these brain injuries. This stress included the Attorney General’s investigation. Dan is working hard at rehab.

The Attorney General’s Office has been aware of his condition for many months. I am personally very disappointed that an agency as important and powerful as the Attorney General’s Office would allow itself to wage such a personal campaign against a company that has done so much good and to take such an action while knowing the delicate medical condition of Mr. Warren and the possible effects this action could have.

We will review the lawsuit when we receive it, and we promise to fight these ridiculous allegations at every step. We ask that all of our loyal clients who are all fighting their own battles against invisible disabilities know that we continue to work with them and support their efforts in training and improving the performance of their support dogs.

05/08/2018 Release from the Office of Attorney General Mark Herring:

RICHMOND (May 8, 2018) - Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he has filed a lawsuit against Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, Inc., a Virginia-based company that sells purported service dogs to consumers nationwide, and its CEO, Charles D. Warren, Jr., for alleged violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions law.

The suit alleges that Service Dogs and Warren sold so-called “diabetic alert dogs” for tens of thousands of dollars, when they were often delivering poorly-trained puppies with significant behavioral issues and inadequate skills or training to notify a customer of a potentially life-threatening high or low blood sugar situation. Service Dogs and Warren also misled customers and charitable donors about certain aspects of the business’s payment structure, and lied about Warren having served in the armed forces.

“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,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “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. Customers have a right to rely on the accuracy of a business’s claims, especially when it involves a person’s health and well-being. We will continue to hold businesses to the highest standards and take action whenever necessary to protect Virginia consumers.”

The lawsuit alleges that Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers and Mr. Warren charged $18,000 to $27,000 for a dog that could purportedly identify and alert individuals to life-threatening low and high blood sugar in individuals with diabetes. 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.

An investigation of customer complaints showed that, instead of the well-trained service dog that was promised, Service Dogs often provided an untrained 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, dogs that were billed as a potential lifesaver failed to alert customers to dangerous high or low blood sugar.

The complaint also alleges that Service Dogs encouraged customers to solicit charitable donations to cover the cost of their dog despite several times not being properly registered to solicit charitable funds, and misled customers about a partnership with or endorsement from JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Finally, the suit alleges that Mr. Warren lied to customers and donors when he claimed to have served in the United States Marine Corps, to have trained dogs for the military, and to have received a medical discharge because of a diabetes diagnosis. In reality, Mr. Warren has never served in the United States Marine Corps or any other branch of the military.

Attorney General Herring specifically contends that Service Dogs and Mr. Warren violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions law by, among other ways, deceiving consumers about:

  • the testing and training dogs would undergo before being placed in a home with the diabetic person;
  • the skills and abilities dogs would have when assisting a consumer or family member with diabetes;
  • how the dogs could be paid for, and how long consumers would have to pay their balances; and
  • why consumers—or those who donated on their behalf—could not receive refunds.

In his lawsuit filed in Madison County Circuit Court, Attorney General Herring is seeking restitution on behalf of affected consumers, civil penalties, attorneys' fees, and asking the court to block Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers from further violations of the Consumer Protection Act and Solicitation of Contributions law. He is seeking civil penalties of up to $2,500 per willful violation of the Consumer Protection Act and $5,000 per violation of the Solicitation of Contributions law, with the exact number of violations to be determined during trial proceedings. In addition, Attorney General Herring is seeking an accounting from the company of all funds obtained through unlawful solicitations, and the establishment of a charitable trust so those funds can be provided to an appropriate charitable organization.

During the course of investigating complaints against Service Dogs, Attorney General Herring had to ask a court to enforce a civil investigative demand compelling the company to produce information about its business. The company failed to fully comply with the civil investigative demand for nearly two years, resulting in approximately $90,000 in sanctions against Service Dogs and Warren.

Consumers who believe they have been injured by Service Dogs should file a complaint with Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section as soon as possible. For information about filing a complaint, to get a complaint form, or to submit a complaint online, consumers should go to the Attorney General's website: Online Complaint Form. Consumers with questions or who need assistance can contact us:

Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section is handling this matter. During Attorney General Herring’s administration, the Consumer Protection Section has undergone a significant reorganization and expansion, and recovered more than $243 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators.

If you have any consumer-related inquiries, the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline telephone counselors are available to assist you with your consumer questions. Please call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-552-9963 if calling from Virginia, or (804) 786-2042 if calling from the Richmond area. You can also subscribe to the Consumer Protection Quarterly Newsletter here.