A Virginia family says they were swindled out of $17,000 they spent to buy a service dog for their daughter, who has autism.
Juliana Lukens was 2 years old when her family decided in 2017 to invest in a service dog. About three years later, they don’t have the dog and haven’t heard from the couple they paid to train her. Police investigated the couple’s nonprofit and charged them with a felony count of theft by swindle.
Juliana’s mother, Tina Lukens, said she’s still haunted by when she realized they wouldn’t get the dog, named Bella.
“I just had that final just gut-wrenching feeling where I had to come to my husband and tell him that our suspicions were correct,” she said.
Bella was in training and the Lukens kids talked about her all the time. Juliana and her older brother, Jax, got a stuffed animal that looks just like her.
The Minnesota nonprofit Argos K9 was set to train the dog. But the 18 months of training came and went.
“When it kept just getting pushed off to December, then the new year, we knew that this wasn't happening,” Tina Lukens said.
The nonprofit stopped answering calls and emails. Still, the Lukens held out hope.
“They had been to our house. They brought Bella here and spent the day with us,” Juliana’s dad, Andrew Lukens, said.
Argos K9 introduced Bella to the kids, collected their fee and vanished.
News4 reached out to the company for comment but did not receive a response.
The family was heartbroken, as they initially told the Prince William Times.
"it was much more than the money,” Tina Lukens said. “It was the fact that we built this up to our children. We told our children about this for two years."
Police in Minnesota investigated the nonprofit and charged the husband and wife.
Tina and Andrew Lukens still felt like they had a promise to uphold to their kids. Tina drove halfway across the country to find a German shepherd that looked like Bella.
"There was rain, sleet, snow, hail and fog going to and from. But Jax knew that when mama came home, a dog was coming home,” she recalled.
The Lukens’ dog Autumn is now part of the family. She’s not a service dog but she’s full of love.
The Lukens said their goal was to turn a sad story into a happy story, in the hope that no one else will be fooled by the couple who they say stole their money and their trust.