APEX, N.C. (WNCN) — A service dog can change the lives of children with special needs and that’s what parents were hoping for when they paid big bucks to buy a service dog from an Apex nonprofit, but some parents claim what they got was an untrained and, in some cases, aggressive dog.
A North Carolina mom says her 11-year-old daughter with autism hasn’t been the same ever since they purchased a service dog from Apex nonprofit Ry-Con.
“She barely sees the sunshine,” said Rachel Cummings. “She is not herself. I haven’t had a hug since Mother’s Day 2017. That’s what it’s done to our family.”
Ry-Con Service Dogs is owned by Mark Mathis. CBS 17 introduced you to him back in 2017. He says he has a son on the autism spectrum and thought training a service dog could be a way to help him and he was right.
“Parents just kept approaching and asking if we could do a dog for them and then do another dog and then it became obvious there was not only a need and a real catharsis to interact with families that are in the same place that you are,” Mathis said in 2017.
Fast forward almost two years later and Ry-Con is closing up shop, this after dozens of parents have filed complaints with the attorney general’s office and even sued Mathis. Rachel Cummings spent thousands of dollars on one of these dogs for her daughter. She says it was completely untrained.
“She wouldn’t always sit when I told her to sit,” Cummings said. “She wouldn’t lay down when you told her to lay down. Maybe the third of fourth or fifth time if you tugged on the leash she would get it and lay down, but she was going after other dogs in public, in PetSmart.”
Cummings says the service dog attacked their family dog in front of their daughter, traumatizing her. Cummings returned the dog and asked for a refund. She says Mathis refused.
“The damage that’s been done, the grief, the trauma to these families is not about losing a puppy,” Cummings said. “It’s not about getting your hopes up about getting a cute dog. It’s about having hope sold to you. It’s about believing your life can be better and spending a year when your 10-year-old little girl, going to sleep every night with a picture of that hope sitting beside your bed and holding it and saying, ‘There’s only six more months until I get my service dog. That means in six months I’ll have friends, that means in six months my life will be better than it is today. I can make it,’ and then for that to all come crashing down.”
Christian Poirier’s son Daniel is also 11-years-old. He’s autistic and nonverbal.
“We started looking into getting a service dog for him because he’s getting bigger and faster and I’m getting older and slower and it’s harder to keep up with him,” Poirier said. “We were hoping to have a service dog to curb him when he’s running into dangerous situations.”
Poirier paid Ry-Con $2,500 for the dog, and an additional $11,000 for training.
“We were expecting a trained dog and what we got was a dog that was aggressive,” Poirier said. “A dog that started fights with our other dogs and eventually bit my son and none of that sounds like a service dog.”
Once the dog attacked his son, Poirier returned it to Mathis and asked for a full refund. He says Mathis refused. So he took him to small claims court and won, but Mathis appealed and then filed for bankruptcy, putting a freeze on any of the small claims suits against him.
“I believe that there will be justice for all of this,” Poirier said. “I believe that he’s not gonna get away with it. It’s out in the light of day now. He can’t keep hiding from this.”
CBS 17’s Kelly Kennedy went by Mathis’ house, but he refused to comment on any of the allegations against him.
CBS 17 learned 41 families from across the country have filed complaints with the attorney general’s office. The families claiming they paid thousands for dogs that were not trained properly. Some families even claim they paid more than $13,000 for a service dog and never received it.
“You can imagine a parent, many of them have limited means and they have a child with autism that they’re trying desperately to help that child to develop,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “So they’re sold a bill of goods, 14,15,000 dollars that this dog is gonna transform their child’s life and it doesn’t. It’s not house trained. It’s not trained as a service animal. That is cruel. If these allegations prove to be correct, we’re gonna do everything in our power to hold this guy accountable.”
Stein said both criminal and civil penalties could be possible in this case.
“There’s a criminal law of obtaining property by false pretense,” said Stein. “If they knew they were engaged in criminal fraud then yes, that’s a crime. We have another law, the Unfair Deceptive Trade Practices Act which I enforced which makes sure that no company deceives tricks, engages in unfair practices and if they’ve done that then we can hold them accountable.”
Stein says the investigation is ongoing and he encourages any other families who believe they may have been victims to call his office.