LONGMONT, Colo. (CBS4) – The owner of a service dog organization in Colorado Springs has agreed to surrender her license after state inspectors found animals were housed in filthy conditions, were fed cat food and had various diseases and abnormalities.
Under an agreement with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Tina Rivero, the owner of Noelle’s Dogs Four Hope must shut down by the end of the month. It comes after dozens of complaints were filed against the organization that prides itself on providing service animals to children with disabilities and veterans in need.
“That’s really not the whole picture,” Briggs Geister, who purchased a dog from Noelle’s Dogs Four Hope, said.
Geister bought a Golden doodle through the organization for $9,000. She thought it was a wise investment to help her terminally ill husband.
“My husband pulmonary fibrosis and it affects his lungs and ability to walk,” Geister told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann, “so I thought it would be really great to have a dog to help him with some mobility and to help keep him safe.”
Everything seemed right early on when Geister researched Noelle’s Dogs Four Hope and learned they the trainer would to come to their Longmont home to help the dog settle in. But things quickly changed just hours after the trainer left.
“That afternoon our palliative care nurse came and that’s when all hell broke loose,” she said.
Geister said the dog, Lilo, showed signs of fear. She knocked over the nurse as well as Geister’s husband, and was aggressive.
“I realized there’s no way we can keep this dog, even as a pet, because she’s not going to allow people coming into the house,” Geister said. “She was a liability.”
Geister called Noelle’s and organized to return Lilo, but was told she wouldn’t get her money back because of the contract.
“She said, ‘We can either retrain Lilo, give you another service dog, or you can donate her to another family,’” Geister explained. “This shouldn’t be allowed to go on at all. We don’t have a dog, we don’t have our money.”
After complaining to the Department of Agriculture, Geister learned several other people had similar bad experiences with Noelle’s Dogs Four Hope. She is frustrated families with disabled children had to go through something like this, but is happy to know Tina Rivero had her license taken away.
“I’m glad that they won’t be able to hurt anybody anymore, at least that’s my hope,” Geister said. “But my worry is she’ll open up another business under a different name and continue with her practice because it’s lucrative.”
Combined with legal fees, Geister is out about $15,000. The painful experience is keeping her from searching for a service dog, but said she is adopting a rescue dog for her husband to have as a faithful companion at home.
Rivero can reapply for a pet care facility license after two years.
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.