APEX, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s been two weeks since CBS 17 first broke the story about an Apex non-profit being accused of selling untrained and aggressive service dogs.
Since then, CBS 17 has been working with news stations across the country and connecting them with families who are now out thousands of dollars.
The list of families left brokenhearted by Ry-Con stretches beyond North Carolina.
“My mom was so hopeful and so many of the families that she talked to were so hopeful and it was just kind of crushed,” said Payton Webb, the sister of a child with a Ry-Con dog in Colorado.
Forty-one families from across the country have filed complaints with the North Carolina Attorney General’s office saying the service dogs they shelled out thousands of dollars for turned out to be very expensive and — sometimes aggressive — pets.
“I can’t take the dog anywhere,” said Rhonda DeCrescentis, who bought a Ry-Con dog for her son. “It’s almost like an embarrassment.”
The Virginia Beach mom bought a service dog from Ry-con for her 22-year-old son with autism.
Like so many other families, the dog arrived untrained, DeCrescentis and officials have said.
The family has to keep the dog in a crate because DeCrescentis worries it will attack strangers.
“It’s a big disappointment — you thought they had the right intentions, their heart was in the right place,” said DeCrescentis.
According to one of Ry-Con’s price sheets, owner Mark Mathis charged $2,400 for a dog itself and $6,000 for training.
Megan Thomas has been training pet dogs for a decade and owns “All Dogs Allowed.”
CBS 17’s Kelly Kennedy asked Thomas if she thought it would be easy for a dog trainer to pull something like this off.
“Unfortunately yes,” Thomas said. “I would think that it wouldn’t be as easy to do with service dogs because their standard of training should be much higher than the average pet. But, unfortunately, in dog training there really are no regulations. There’s no governing body that’s overseeing anything that a dog trainer does.”
Thomas says a lot of trainers claim to be certified, but that doesn’t mean much.
According to Ry-Con’s website, which has been deleted since our original story aired: “In 2013 Mark was certified as an N.C. State approved service dog trainer with a specialty in autism service dogs for children.”
There is no such state certification.
“Since there’s no governing body and there’s no national certification, most of these are just diplomas from various online schools, so it can be very confusing,” said Thomas.
Thomas would like to see lawmakers put some kind of regulations in place that would hold dog trainers, especially service dog trainers to a higher standard.
Thomas also suggests asking for references before a buyer commits to any trainer.
“You want to make sure that you’re picking somebody that is qualified even if they’re not certified, because certification doesn’t really mean much,” said Thomas.
Vicki Smith has been working in the disability advocacy arena for more than 40 years.
“I would like to think that what happened here in the Triangle is an anomaly,” said Smith, Executive Director of Alliance of Disability Advocates of North Carolina. “That that doesn’t happen very often, but it probably happens more often than it should.”
“For children with autism and a trained dog would be able to read and respond and calm the child and diffuse a potential situation,” said Smith. “If the dog isn’t well trained, it puts the child at risk.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is investigating the company. He’s hopeful he’ll be able to get these families their money back.