The owner of a local service dog training facility agreed to shutter the business after state inspectors discovered dogs were fed cat food, housed in undersized kennels and returned to their owners with "undisclosed disease, injury and abnormalities."
Noelle's Service Dogs Four Hope at 4923 Northpark Drive will close at the end of the month. Company owner Tina Rivero must surrender her pet care facility license under the terms of an arrangement with the state's Department of Agriculture.
The infractions, uncovered during three evaluations in March and June, were a tipping point for the business, which has been the subject of nearly 40 complaints to the department.
Two of Rivero's former clients were relieved to hear of the development. They said she failed to keep promises made to customers and operated a business that ultimately put profit over the needs of her clients and their animals - accusations that others have echoed.
"It was just a big scam," said Rebecca Hyer, who purchased and trained her daughter's service dog through the company. "That's all they really care about: taking advantage of families and taking their money and not really caring about what sort of product they delivered."
Hyer said she paid the company about $7,500 to purchase a golden retriever, Hiro, and teach him how to help her daughter, who has epilepsy. The dog returned home from a five-month stay at the facility with a severe double ear infection, Hyer said. He was overweight and unusually skittish.
"He was a mess" she said. "He could not do any of the tasks that they supposedly trained him on for seizure response."
Rivero and her attorney, Shelly Dill, declined to comment on the violations and claims against the company by its customers.
Under the terms of Rivero's agreement with the state, which was finalized on Tuesday, her business must transfer legal ownership of all of the animals it's currently housing before Oct. 31.
"The sale of the company has not been finalized," Dill said in an email. She declined to elaborate on what will happen to the dogs that are currently at the facility.
Rebecca Haacke, who worked as a volunteer puppy raiser for the company, said trainers and foster families were often underqualified. Rivero also required her customers to pay for an annual certification that served no real purpose, other than another source of revenue for the company, added Haacke, who was involved with the business until the fall of 2015.
"I really think that they did want to help people, but at some point along the way greed got involved," she said. "It became a numbers game."
If Rivero does not violate any more laws related to pet care, her license may be reinstated in two years. During that time, she cannot train dogs out of the presence of their owners, have a hand in operating a pet store or animal shelter or do anything else that would require a license from the department, according to Nick Fisher, a program administrator for the agency.
The Denver Post contributed to the reporting of this story.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108