Missouri authorities have collared a business owner who allegedly misrepresented that she could train diabetic alert service dogs and charged consumers thousands of dollars in advance.
Attorney General Jay Nixon sued Heaven Scent Paws (HSP) of St. Elizabeth, Missouri, and its owner Michelle Reinkemeyer for failing to refund consumers' money.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Cole County, Missouri, Circuit Court, Nixon stated the company only accepted consumers for its program who raised a minimum of $,6000 and then required those funds to be turned over to HSP before participants could start the three-week course.
Nixon also stated that once consumers made that $6,000 payment, HSP required them to sign a contract that stipulated their participation in the program.
Nixon said his office has received several complaints about Reinkemeyer and HSP, including:
• They misrepresented that their trained dogs could alert diabetics to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), when some HSP-trained dogs could not;
• They misrepresented that HSP-trained dogs were service dogs, when some of those canines lacked the temperament to act as service dogs;
• They required consumers to sign contracts (after paying $6,000) that permitted HSP to dismiss them from the program -- at any time -- for reasons that were vague and subject to unilateral interpretation by HSP. The contracts also provided no recourse for consumers to challenge their removal from the program or to recover their money;
• They required consumers to sign contracts that permitted HSP to remove a dog from the participant's possession -- at any time -- at the company's discretion. The contracts, however, did not give consumers' any recourse to challenge such action or recover their money;
• They required consumers to sign contracts that allowed HSP to retain ownership of the dogs--even after completion of the program. The contracts also released HSP of any liability for the dogs, which they selected and trained, once the animals went home with consumers;
• They falsely claimed that consumers who finished their program had completed the training and testing required by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP). But the IAADP does not have a program for diabetic alert dogs, its standards are not meant to certify assistance dog teams, and the IAADP has demanded HSP to remove any mention of the organization from its graduation certificates.
In the lawsuit, Nixon asked the court to bar Reinkemeyer and HSP from violating the state's consumer protection laws. The lawsuit also seeks full restitution for consumers, appropriate civil penalties, and all costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of the case.
ConsumerAffairs.com contacted HSP, but no one return our call.
The company's Web site , however, continues to tout its program, stating: "We specialize in Diabetic Alert Service Dogsupon completion of the 3 week classes, our clients will have the tools & skills needed to further, enhance, & strengthen the training started by HSP."
The Web site adds: "Our Diabetic Alert Service Dogs detect & alert their diabetic partner and support team (parents, spouse, friend, etc) to both low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) & high blood sugar (hyperglycemia)."
Consumers with concerns about HSP can file a complaint on the Missouri Attorney General's Web site or call its Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222.