June 10, 2008
Nixon lawsuit against St. Elizabeth dog trainer alleges that diabetic alert service dogs were not properly trained Jefferson City, Mo.
Attorney General Jay Nixon is suing a Miller County business and its owner who took thousands of dollars in payment from consumers to train service dogs, many of which did not perform the service for which they were trained. Nixon says Heaven Scent Paws of St. Elizabeth, and its owner Michelle Reinkemeyer, failed to refund those consumers' payments. The lawsuit filed Monday in Cole County Circuit Court seeks an injunction, consumer restitution, penalties and court costs.
According to Nixon, Heaven Scent Paws (HSP) advertises and offers a three-week training program in Cole County for diabetics to obtain diabetic alert service dogs. Acceptance into the defendants' training program was conditional on the participant raising a minimum of $6,000, which was to be turned over to HSP before the start of the three-week program. Once the $6,000 payment was made, HSP required participants to sign a contract which governs the terms of their participation in the program. Nixon's office received numerous complaints from consumers, alleging that HSP:
- Misrepresented that their trained dogs could alert diabetics for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), when some HSP-trained dogs could not;
Misrepresented that HSP-trained dogs are service dogs, when some of those dogs lack the temperament to act as service dogs;
- Required participants to sign contracts (after paying $6,000) which permits HSP to dismiss them from the program at any time for reasons that are vague and subject to unilateral interpretation by HSP, providing no recourse for the dismissed participant to challenge their dismissal or recover their money;
- Required participants to sign contracts that permit HSP to remove a dog from possession of the participant at any time at HSP's discretion, with no recourse for the participant to challenge the removal of the dog or recover the money donated to HSP;
- Required participants to sign contracts which provide that HSP retains ownership of the dogs provided to participants, even after completion of the program, but absolves HSP of any liability for the dogs, which they selected and trained, once the dogs go home with the participants; and
- Falsely claiming to participants who complete the training that they have completed the course of training and testing as set forth by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), when the IAADP does not have a program for diabetic alert dogs, its standards are not meant to certify assistance dog teams, and that the IAADP has demanded that HSP remove any mention of the organization from its graduation certificates.
Nixon's lawsuit is seeking an injunction to stop the defendants from violating state consumer protection laws. The Attorney General is also requesting that the court order HSP to pay full restitution to all participants who suffered financial loss due to the defendants' unlawful conduct, appropriate civil penalties and all costs in the investigation and prosecution of the case.