Rep. wants stronger regulation of service dog trainers after Sarasota amputee pays $10K for untrained, sick puppy

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-12th District) was saddened to see our Better Call Behnken investigation into a service dog dilemma that left a Sarasota amputee with a $10,000, untrained sick puppy.

Donald Schultz, a Sarasota amputee, bought the dog through Home Sweet Home Service and Therapy Dog Training, run by Lori Homer in Holiday. After he learned his dog trainer allegedly falsified vet records, he rescued the puppy, Astra, and found that the dog had worms.

“I have a dog and I love her, but it’s not going to help me,” Schultz said.

“There should be certification,” Rep. Bilirakis said. “There should be standards.”

Right now, there are no regulations or licenses for service dog trainers. Bilirakis wants to change that.

“With Channel 8, and my office, we’ll get involved and hopefully we will have a successful result,” he said.

Bilirakis said he plans to propose legislation to require service dog trainers to be regulated to ensure trainers know what they’re doing and that there is someone to complain to if things go wrong.

Schultz said things quickly went downhill with the trainer. Appointments for visits with the dog were canceled, and he was told the dog was sick.

Recently, he said he asked for proof of the dog’s illness and says Homer gave him a copy of vet records for a visit on Nov. 11. Schultz called the vet to check it out and was shocked.

8 On Your Side’s Better Call Behnken also called the vet’s office and was told that the visit never happened.

Schultz canceled Astra’s training with Homer and took the dog. He wants a refund for the training.

“We took her from a bad situation,” he said.

Better Call Behnken went to Homer’s home and business address and she shut the door and wouldn’t talk.

Pasco County officials are investigating the issue on several fronts. Homer doesn’t have a Business Tax Receipt, which is required to conduct business legally in Pasco County. She was cited for that last week and give one week to correct the issue.

In addition, she was cited by Animal Control for failing to have a health certificate for Astra. Pasco County Code Enforcement also cited Homer for trash and debris on the property.

A spokesman for Pasco County government says county investigators were told by Homer that she would pay back Schultz. However, Schultz says she has since sent him a message saying she has changed her mind.

Meanwhile, county officials say they referred the situation to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

If you have something you think needs to be investigated, contact Investigative Reporter Shannon Behnken at BetterCallBehnken@wfla.com or 1-855-BEHNKEN.

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Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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