CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. - A family and local charity turned to Channel 9 with concerns about a Catawba County nonprofit that trains therapy dogs for children with special needs.
One said they paid thousands for a dog and never received it and the other said the dog eventually delivered was not properly trained.
Carol Veschi’s 6-year-old son, Mikey, has moderate autism. She said he is often attracted to objects that spin, but her biggest concern is his tendency to wander off.
That led her to search online for a service dog trainer and then to Allen’s Place near Maiden.
She showed Channel 9 a picture of a dog named Charlie that she said was trained for Mikey but one that he never got.
“She called us and said Charlie had died, that there was no dog coming. Charlie died. We were devastated. Mikey was devastated,” she said.
Veschi showed Channel 9 the contract for the dog and the $6,500 price tag. She said 10 more months passed of phone calls and frustration, ending with her getting a dog named Lucy.
“We put the dog in the room with Mikey and kept the other kids out so they were bonding, and the dog was barking to get out, peed in the room, wouldn’t sleep in the bed,” Veschi said.
Jennifer Silva is the program coordinator at Allen’s Place. She said she started training dogs because of how a service dog changed her son’s life.
“I have four special-needs children of my own, ranging from mild to severe. I don't make a dollar off of this. I have never taken one dollar from Allen's Place,” Silva said.
Silva said training dogs can take more than a year and some families either don’t have the patience or can’t provide the funding.
She said the paperwork shows that Veschi’s partner acknowledged that Lucy wasn’t fully trained before she gave them the dog.
"I know without a shadow of a doubt that as I sit in front of Dave Faherty I haven't done anything wrong. The only thing we did wrong was try to help people who were unrealistic," Silva said.
Mickey Carter disagrees. Carter is the president of the Biker’s for Bikers Foundation and showed Channel 9 an email he said Allen’s Place sent him about raising money for a service dog for a 9-year-old boy with autism.
Carter said he sent the nonprofit a $1,500 check, but the child never got a dog. He is suing Allen’s Place.
“The child is without the dog. We have T-shirts printed up that has the child and the dog on the front of it and so every time I wear the shirt I think about the child,” Carter said.
Carter won his case but still hasn't been refunded any money.
Silva said she was unaware of the court date and plans to appeal.
She showed Channel 9 what she called one of her success stories -- Abigail, who has autism, and her mother, Jessica White, who talked about their service dog.
“It has been really great. He helps Abby a lot. He sleeps in the bed with her and before that she wouldn’t stay in the bed,” White said.
There are no regulations regarding the training of service dogs.
Silva said in the future she may train dogs only for close friends.
She said police have interviewed her, but she doesn't believe there is a case against her. Because it is an ongoing investigation, sheriff’s deputies are not talking about the case.
"It's very unfair, but you know in this world innocent people get attacked all the time, and we'll stand firm and stand our ground and fight and we will do what we have to do," Silva said.
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