September 22, 2023
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Here’s how to know if you’re hiring an expert dog trainer – NBC Los Angeles

Here’s how to know if you’re hiring an expert dog trainer – NBC Los Angeles

A group of dog owners recently met The I-Team in a Santa Monica park, where they came together with one issue in common: they all hired the same dog trainer who they say neglected their dogs. 

“The state that our animals were brought back in, it was like the sickest things I’ve ever seen,” said Jessica Stanger, one of the dog owners.

They all say they paid an LA-area trainer, Kristine Diruscio, roughly $2,000 to teach their dogs basic commands. They say Diruscio insisted she board the dogs for two to three weeks in her home while she trained them. But they say when they got their dogs back, they were drenched in urine and had feces matted to their hair. 

Nicole Johnson found open sores on her dog Lucky and immediately took him to the vet, where they found “signs of acute infection” and said he was likely suffering from spinal pain, too. 

“It was just atrocious, the condition she returned these dogs in,” said Johnson.

Stanger said she showed up at Diruscio’s doorstep after Diruscio didn’t respond to her repeated texts asking for updates about her dog Chewy. Chewy was there for both basic and service dog training. 

“I was already freaking out. I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t eat, I was missing work. I just had this feeling that something was definitely wrong,” she said.

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According to vet reports, Chewy lost 12 pounds in the two-and-a-half weeks he was with Diruscio. 

Stanger says she doesn’t believe Chewy received any service training. 

And all of Diruscio’s clients say the basic training they paid $2,000 for didn’t seem to happen. 

“You do feel like you totally got scammed. And this poor dog,” said dog owner John Sobanski.

Diruscio declined an interview for this story. But in text messages with the I-Team, she called these claims a “blatant lie.” She also said she has “proof of all dogs being trained and healthy.” We asked to see that proof, but she didn’t provide any. Instead, she repeatedly threatened to sue. 

Bradley Phifer runs the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, an organization that certifies dog trainers. To become certified, trainers must complete hundreds of hours of supervised training and pass a written exam. But getting certified is voluntary.

“Right now anyone can read a book, train their own dog, take an online course, and they can identify as a dog trainer, set up shop, and offer services to the public,” said Phifer.

Phifer thinks certification should be an industry standard, and he’s working with other groups in the industry to push for state legislation to require it. 

“There’s a consumer safety component here that we feel strongly about. That people offering services to the public, just like other professions, should have demonstrated competence in some way and should be held accountable to a standard of practice and code of ethics,” said Phifer.

And when dog owners have a complaint against a certified trainer, Phifer says the trainer may be required to undergo more supervised training or could even lose their certification. 

Phifer hasn’t been successful in passing legislation yet. 

The I-Team asked Diruscio if she was certified. She said yes, but we couldn’t verify that. We asked her for proof, but she didn’t provide it.

The dog owners we met hope legislation is eventually passed, so other pet owners don’t have to experience what they did. 

“I don’t want any family to have to go through this again. I still sometimes can’t look at him without bursting into tears,” said Stanger.

Tips when hiring a dog trainer:

This content was originally published here.

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