A Dublin family who thought their autistic son's 'life would change' after he received his service dog say they have been bitterly disappointed as the dog was allegedly unfit for purpose.
Little Joseph O’Brien Murray (2) from Dublin suffers from Regressive Autism, when a child appears to develop typically but then starts to lose speech and social skills.
His parents Michael Murray and Gillian O’Brien Murray had been campaigning vigorously since last year to get their son his much-needed companion – a special Autistic service dog.
In February this year they received service dog Star, after months of waiting on the 'puppy list'.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Gillian O'Brien Murray explained that the family were on the 'puppy list' of Service Dogs Europe, as the waiting list for Autism services in Cork was six years.
The couple paid €5,000 plus €1,100 VAT to be put on the list for a dog.
"We were promised a puppy within a year and a half to two years, fully trained and certified to work with your child," she said.
However, Gillian claims that 'Star' was unable to carry out her functions as a service dog - acting 'timid and scared'.
"From the moment we got her, she was sick. She was under-nourished. I was spoon-feeding her.
"We spoke to the company and they said we had to be firm, that she just needed to settle into new surroundings".
Three weeks later, Gillian said that problems with the dog were not easing.
"When we called her, she'd wet herself. We were told it was 'submissive urination' and that she would never be a service dog because she was too scared.
"He apologised and offered more training, to try bring her back, or we could go back on the puppy list.
"Joseph had really bonded with Star but we needed a service dog, not a pet," she continued.
"We were meant to get a new pup in April... never happened. May... never happened.
"We have no dog, no money, nothing to show for the donations".
The family have launched a petition to get their money back here.
Independent.ie was unable to contact Service Dogs Europe for a comment.
Meanwhile, in a statement released on their Facebook Page, the company wrote:
"Due to the ongoing threats of death and violence towards me and my staff plus legal issues resulting from ex staff members... and some clients who were having handler/settling in issues we are having to freeze our training for the time being," they wrote.
"We are having to lay off 12 members of staff which may rise to 16 in the coming weeks.
"I personally have received death threats over the phone". one such call was heard in full by one of my staff with the person giving both my staff member and myself his name plus we took note of his phone number."
The statement claims that an unidentified person 'abused' a puppy he was given.
"We have never told anyone to smack his dog on the nose for peeing in the house," they continued.
"When he returned the puppy to us 3 of my trainers told me under no circumstances was he to get another puppy as he had in their words 'abused the puppy'.
"Over a 3 week period this same puppy was reassessed and behaviour trained so that he did not flinch when someone went to pet him. The puppy was then placed with a new family who are having none of the issues that were associated with it before".
"Another woman is sending an email out to people saying her puppy peed on the floor she slipped in it and is now seeking legal advice as to whether she can sue me for her fall.
"Another person is saying we kept her puppy in a small area in its own mess for 13 weeks. We have a purpose built puppy cabin with tiled floor and walls raised water bowl and sleeping area, a sleeping area that has oil fired underfloor heating that is on low even during the summer nights.
"Everyday the stories get bigger and wilder with those involved trying their best to have a worse story then the previous one".
"My staff have been accosted in the street sworn at and told they are scum," it added.
Dad Michael Murray described his son's condition, regressive autism, as 'heartbreaking'.
“For example he would have speech, but then he would stop talking or he would walk, and then regress back to crawling and so on,” he told Independent.ie.
“Since Joseph’s birth this has happened three times.
“Each time has been heartbreaking for us to witness as his family. Since his last regression, he has come back to two repetitive words and walking but to date, Joseph is still none verbal.
“The dog is essential for our son’s well-being. This will truly enhance his life, so we simply must fundraise in order to get one for him – not having one isn’t an option.”