Vulnerable families who need dogs for assistance are 'preyed upon'
Between 500 and 750 families are waiting up to five years for an assistance dog to help people who are blind, autistic or suffering from other conditions.
Jennifer Dowler, head the Irish Assistance Dogs Umbrella Group, comprising various charities, warned this has led to some families being "preyed upon" by operators outside the sector.
"The families here are preyed upon as their basic need to try to improve their children's quality of life is met with a promise of a magic bullet that will never occur with the charitable sector," the Oireachtas health committee was told yesterday.
"Due to the shortage of assistance dogs in Ireland, families have to employ private trainers which can cost up to €10,000 for six weeks' training.
"The families can then be left in limbo if the dog fails or worse misbehaves, as there is little or no fall back but civil contract law, the family could be exposed to litigation.
"Pet Insurance will not cover them in normal training," she added.
"There have been major problems in the US and the UK with so called assistance dogs trained by non-qualified personnel, wearing jackets purchased online."
She told the committee that there was an urgent need to update the law to cover assistance dogs in the same way as guide dogs.