Lawsuit against Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers founder moves forward
Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Charles D. Warren, Jr., the founder and CEO of Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers Inc., will move forward.
The suit against SDWR alleges that SDWR and Warren sold so-called “service dogs” that purportedly could assist consumers or their families with diabetes, autism, seizure disorders, or post-traumatic stress, but instead consumers often were delivered poorly-trained puppies with significant behavioral issues and inadequate skills or training.
The amended complaint also alleges that SDWR and Warren misled customers, as well as and charitable donors, and the general public about certain aspects of the business’s payment structure; its affiliation with local police departments; and Warren’s own military service.
“Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers and Dan Warren not only allegedly took part in dishonest and unlawful business practices, but their reckless actions put the lives of their customers who were relying on the business’s claims in danger,” Herring said. “I’m really glad that this lawsuit can now move forward, bringing us one step closer to holding Mr. Warren personally accountable for putting the health and safety of consumers at risk. My team and I will continue to take action against businesses who deceive or take advantage of Virginia consumers.”
Herring’s lawsuit filed in the Madison County Circuit Court alleges that SDWR and Warren charged $18,000 to $30,000 for service dogs that could purportedly:
- Identify and alert individuals to life-threatening low and high blood sugar in individuals with diabetes.
- Assist children on the autism spectrum, including aiding in search and rescue, or redirecting from self-harm.
- Support people with epilepsy or other seizure disorders by finding help, acting as a ballast, or stimulating a person during a seizure.
- Help those with post-traumatic stress by providing relief from emotional overload, offering increased independence and comfort, and helping with memory issues and routines.
In reality, the dogs were often poorly trained, ill-behaved, and not equipped to help manage a life-threatening situation or disability, rendering them little more than incredibly expensive pets.
An investigation of consumer complaints showed that, instead of the well-trained service dog that was promised, SDWR often provided an untrained or under-trained 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 potential lifesavers failed to alert customers to dangerous high or low blood sugar.
The amended complaint also alleges that SDWR encouraged customers to solicit charitable donations to cover the cost of their dog, while the company was not 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.
Further allegations state that SDWR also promoted its “Fall Officer Puppy Program” using images of state and local police departments and personnel to mislead consumers about a partnership or endorsement by law enforcement.
Finally, the suit alleges that Warren lied to consumers 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, Warren has never served in the United States Marine Corps or any other branch of the military.
Herring is seeking restitution from SDWR and Warren on behalf of affected consumers, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, and asking the court to block SDWR and Warren from further violations of the Virginia 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 subsequent proceedings. In addition, Attorney General Herring is seeking an accounting 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.
In May 2020, SDWR filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in the Western District of Virginia Bankruptcy Court. Despite SDWR’s attempt to prevent him from doing so, Herring sought, and was granted, permission by the bankruptcy court to continue his litigation against SDWR.
SDWR is now in default of the Amended Complaint, having failed to file any response to Herring’s latest, more expansive, allegations. A hearing for Herring to put on evidence of the amounts of consumer restitution, civil penalties, and attorneys’ fees to be awarded against SDWR is scheduled to take place in May.
As a result of the judge’s ruling on Warren’s demurrer, a jury trial against Warren for his role in directing, controlling, approving, and participating in the alleged misrepresentations of SDWR will now go forward as scheduled in October.
Consumers who believe they have been injured by SDWR should file a complaint with 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 OAG website: Online Complaint Form.
Consumers with questions or who need assistance can contact us: