The 5-person board of the nonprofit Warren Retrievers has a problem. It appears that the nonprofit that is headed by its founder, Chair of the Board, and CEO has not been delivering on its promises: trained service dogs.
According to the Washington Post:
A lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Mark R. Herring in the Madison County Circuit Court, accuses 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 or even 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” support; instead, their requests for assistance were regularly ignored, the suit 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,” Herring said in a statement. “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.”
The lawsuit followed a lengthy investigation based on complaints from more than 50 customers, Herring’s office said. Beyond 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, which seeks restitution for customers as well as civil penalties and attorneys’ fees.
Warren Retrievers' lawyer (no, not its board chair (who again, is also the founder and CEO) has responded accordingly:
On behalf of the company, attorney John B. Russell Jr. said via email Tuesday afternoon that it denied the allegations “and we absolutely deny that we have ever set out to mislead, cheat or defraud our many happy clients.” Russell said Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers had been working with the attorney general’s office to address the concerns raised and, “in many areas, we had already changed our procedures long before their investigation began.”
Accusing Herring’s office of wanting to destroy the company and its owner, Russell promised “to fight these ridiculous allegations at every step.”
So what do I believe is going on here? That the CEO is Board Chair is my first hint that this nonprofit may not be about mission as much as it is about personal gain for the CEO/Chair. The arms-length or at least appearance of arms-length relationship in these two positions helps add a measure of reliability and honesty. That the board has only five members including the CEO as Chair (and yes, it is certainly legal to have such a small board and even the dual position of Chair and CEO) also raises for me a warning that too much power is concentrated in one person and that the remaining members' only role is to give a semblance of legitimacy. Finally, while I applaud revenue generating activities as a means of offsetting the dependency on philanthropy, this organization is subsidizing itself (and likely rewarding the CEO) off the backs of the folks who, based on its mission, are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the organization. And to top-it-off, there are all these complaints by those who have been "served".
Conclusion, all the signs are present: by all standards, this organization is not charitable and has gone beyond failing to meet its charitable goals/mission to perpetuating fraud. The AG should shut-down the organization and require that the founder and his board members provide restitution to those who it has failed and perhaps, pay the equivalence of donated money to a legitimate service animal nonprofit.