Every day last week, Joe Duffy spoke on
about an organisation based in co. Louth called
Service Dogs Europe.
I’d heard about it before, but not in any major detail. I listened to the show last week, to all the people who called in with their experiences of this organisation , and I can’t stop thinking about it since.
Service Dogs Europe claims to train assistance dogs for people with autism, hearing difficulties and a variety of physical disabilities and medical conditions. They train dogs to alert people to seizures and for people who are diabetic. They seem to train dogs for everything except guide dogs! Unlike Irish Guide Dogs, Assistance Dogs Ireland and My Canine Companion who all train dogs for children with autism, and Dogs for the Disabled who provide dogs for people with physical disabilities in Ireland, Service Dogs Europe do not have a waiting list, so dogs are available to families much quicker. But unlike the other organisations, SDE is not a charity, so people pay up to 7000 euros for one of these dogs. People can choose a puppy from the puppy program, which lives with the family until a certain age when it is taken to SDE to be trained for a few months. Families can also choose an adult dog provided by the organisation, or give their own dog there to be trained.
Henry Fitzsimons is the CEO, head trainer, and only board member of Service Dogs Europe. He has two sons on the autistic spectrum, and wanted to train dogs to help people like them. He has 25 years experience training dogs, but I can’t seem to find a list of his exact qualifications online. As far as I can tell, his trainers come from all over the world, so I don’t know their qualifications either.
Henry Fitzsimons states that their dogs are trained to the same standards as Assistance Dog International (ADI), but they clearly aren’t. They aren’t even registered with the ADI, who inspect all service dog training organisations thoroughly. So that’s the problem. This organisation is a scam!
When parents contact Service Dogs Europe, they are promised a well-trained dog that will help change their child’s life. If they can raise the money, they won’t have to go on a waiting list of up to five years, so of course this sounds perfect. But it is far from that, according to the majority of callers to the Joe Duffy show. These dogs turn out to be no more than very expensive pets, who in many cases aren’t even housetrained. People have reported their dogs coming back from training in worse condition than they were sent, fearful, underweight, badly behaved, aggressive, and in one case actually biting the child it was apparently trained to assist. I only heard two callers who had positive experiences, but they had only owned their dogs for a number of weeks, and the dog hadn’t been sent back for it’s formal training yet. Many people who avail of these dogs come from the UK, and there were questions about whether these dogs were even brought from Ireland legally.
Parents of children with special needs will do absolutely anything to help their child. They are some of the bravest, most determined people I’ve ever met. Sometimes these parents are vulnerable, and can be easily led by promises of something that could change their family’s life, which is what Henry Fitzsimons promised them. These parents are under stress, desperate to find anything that will help, so maybe they didn’t do enough research. Henry can probably talk the talk, although funny enough he was unable to talk to Joe Duffy last week and had a colleague to do his dirtywork. His website may look professional, though I don’t think it reads professionally at all in places. When you visit his training place, you have to arrive at a specific time, and are frowned upon if you come unexpectedly or early. People talk about always only seeing the first two kennels closest to the main entrance. When you leave with your dog, you may be forced to write a testimonial about the benefits of the organisation, even though you have hardly had your dog home, and haven’t seen anything that it was trained to do yet. When you have problems with your dog after training, Henry will offer more training. When that doesn’t work or if you don’t want it, you’ll be told that the dog just wasn’t right, or that it was your fault and he’ll offer you another dog. If you ask for your money back you’ll basically be laughed at.
What these parents are unaware of is that it is impossible to train a dog so young to assist somebody in the way that Service Dogs Europe say they can. Assistance dogs are always at least 18 months before they qualify, and undergo intensive training. It is impossible to train a service dog within a couple of months. They aren’t mature enough yet.
SDE use dogs from breeders, but I bet they don’t pay much for them. They also use dogs which are donated or come from rescues, where they have no idea of their history. SDE are expecting to put these dogs, after little or no training into families with young children, to keep them safe. This is devistation waiting to happen!
Henry Fitzsimons also runs a website called
Let’s Go Fundraise
where you can set up a page for people to raise money for your service dog. But of course when it doesn’t work out, they don’t get their money back.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Henry Fitzsimons also runs a dog training facility called
Top Dog Training
where owners leave their dogs for two weeks to be trained. People spoke of how they left their dogs their at a cost of hundreds, had no updates in between, and returned to find no improvements in the dog’s behaviour. Again dogs were in poor condition, fearful and aggressive, with one client having to subsequently have her dog put to sleep. Any worthwhile dog trainer will tell you that it’s impossible to successfully train a dog without teaching the owner how best to interact with the dog too, so leaving a dog with someone for two weeks will not work at all. This is another scam!
As a guide dog owner, and someone who benefits from an assistance dog on a daily basis, I’m outraged that an organisation like Service Dogs Europe exists in Ireland, and that people have been too afraid to speak up and do nothing about it. This affects all assistance dog owners, regardless of where we were trained. It is easy to print up a certificate that looks professional, and if people don’t know any better, they think it’s real. Assistance dogs have access to all public places. If a badly trained dog from SDE comes into a restaurant and misbehaves, the owner has every right to refuse the next person who comes in with a dog. That could be me, or somebody else with a perfectly trained, well behaved dog from a reputable organisation. People often tar everybody with the same brush, so if they see a poorly behaved dog, they think they are all the same.
Henry Fitzsimons needs to be reported and stopped. His businesses need to be closed down, and he should be banned from working with animals. What he is doing is not only cruel to animals, but to parents, families, children with disabilities, and anybody who uses an assistance dog.
People need to ask questions.
People need to stop bringing their dogs to his training facility. Don’t be fooled by the lies on his website.
Make sure that breeders do not donate or sell dogs to him.
If you hear anybody mentioning this organisation, make sure they know the truth before making life even more difficult for their families.
Share this post, and please do anything you can to help spread the word about the corruption that is Service Dogs Europe in Ireland.