GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Denver7 Investigates is digging into a popular dog training school after both locations suddenly closed their doors, leaving customers out hundreds of dollars.
When the time came for Jo Webster's Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever named Rio to get some training, she found the Paw School, with locations in Denver and Greenwood Village, and bought a package of classes.
"She is spot on. She's great," said Webster, who added that her dog soon progressed to agility training, so when the school offered a sale on classes, Webster bought 20 sessions for $500 on July 30. "There was a Christmas in July sale, and I still had classes left from a package in March, but I thought, 'My puppy will get trained.' She loved the school. It was a great school."
But in September, she received an unexpected email that the school had closed on Sept. 19 and "refunds are not possible."
Denver7 Investigates heard from other clients as well after the Paw School closed, saying they were out hundreds of dollars and learned that the business was taking money from new customers until the day before it closed.
"I was shocked. We were just there the Sunday before," Webster said. "I don't know what happened. I just think it's totally wrong that she was taking money from customers up until the day before she closed."
Catherine Emanuel also bought 20 training sessions at a cost of more than $500 for her poodle named Clark, but her dog only took one class.
"I was really flabbergasted," Emanuel said. "I found it very hard to believe that this school didn't know that they were in dire financial straits. And they were still accepting very large payments from new clients up to a week before they closed with no intention of fulfilling their contract."
Inside the Greenwood Village location, displays are still lined with dog treats and the signs inside still promote fall classes.
The Paw School's owner Kathy Thorpe declined an on-camera interview, but in an email, she wrote: "I feel horrible for anyone that didn’t receive all their classes, but there is no money for refunds, and there was no way to continue operating and pay staff to run the facility. So I made the incredibly difficult, and life-altering decision, to close down and file bankruptcy."
Thorpe said that seven weeks of profoundly poor sales did not improve as she expected at the end of August and the beginning of September, and she announced the closure the moment she realized the business was not viable.
She added that she made a "crucial error" opening the Greenwood Village location last year.
While she said she refunded customers who bought packages on Sept. 18th, the day before the school closed, she said anyone who bought packages before that date will not receive refunds.
Thorpe also suggested that customers are successfully receiving refunds by disputing the credit card charges.
But customers like Webster are left scrambling. She still had almost $100 worth of classes that she bought in March left, and she said not everyone paid with credit.
"I don't think it should be on the customer's insurance for their bank or credit card. I don't think that's how it should be solved," Webster said. "I wanted to get the news out. I'm glad you're investigating. Because I don't want it to just be a news story. I want there to be help for people who did experience a loss"
Robin Bennett, a representative with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers in Colorado, stated in an email that trainers are very busy right now and "not facing issues that would close them down from a financial standpoint."