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Pepsi, Autism Service Animals, and Shattered Dreams pt. 2

[Editorial note: I apologize for covering items mentioned in the previous post(s) but there is just so much that has happened and I do want to paint a complete picture.  There really is a wealth of information and to put it all in one post is overwhelming.]

Parents Raising Concerns Over Local Autism Group <- News Channel 20 story

Our life since withdrawing from the Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism program has been quite the roller coaster.  It was hard enough to admit to ourselves that maybe, just maybe, we had made a mistake in the organization we had chosen to provide our Autism Service Dog.  After all, the “founder” of the organization had a child on the spectrum.  She knew our trials and tribulations, at least to some extent after all, no two autistic children are identical.  Please read my previous post, if you have not already, for some more background.

We wanted to believe that it all was true, that autism service animals could be provided for a minimal cost even with the extensive training that would be required.  This organization claimed that their access to resources and volunteers would allow them to cover most of the costs associated with providing Autism Service Animals.  “The only costs associated with acquiring one of our animals are for the the training required to prepare them for a career as service animals.  In addition, our trainers have greatly reduced their normal fees to make the dream of owning an Autism Service Animal a reality for more families than ever before.”

It was a dream.  A dream shared by many a special needs family.  We dream of the freedom, of the stability, that could be provided by a well-trained autism service dog.  Many do not believe that dream is even close to a possibility due to the high costs associated with the acquisition.  The promise of only needing to pay for training costs at a highly reduced rate is very appealing.  Animals for Autism promised this.  A service dog for on average $5000.00 which could be paid over a period of one year while your dog was being carefully trained under the watchful eye of a trainer who would be in continuous communication with the family.  Then mention that this organization is planning on giving away an Autism Service Dog in honor of Autism Awareness Month.  That certainly garners attention.

The fees were kept lower by screening and testing donated AKC and UKC puppies.  By securing funding for all veterinary expenses, including spay/neutering, immunizations and microchipping, prior to placement.  Securing “foster care” for the animals’ socialization (also known as puppy raisers) prior to placement.  Providing a consistent diet of nutritionally balanced, high-quality food for the animal for the duration of the program (Lea was very specific that she utilized Purina products).  Animals for Autism would secure donated equipment – tethers, leashes, collars and harnesses as well as a crate or “den” for the animal and then provide a “working vest” and proper credentials, documentation and all health records at time of placement.

Just recently, a reporter, Mike Brooks, from an ABC affiliate in Springfield, Illinois went to try and get some information and maybe some answers.  Ms. Kaydus told Mr. Brooks that the dogs were with donor families learning the basics, and that they only come to her for training sessions.  She said that everything was on schedule and going fine.  When he asked to see the dogs she said that it would not be possible.  This was the story the news reporter was given.  An “anonymous” person called to “inquire” about a service dog and was told that they have the service dog training program on hold until Pepsi gives them the rest of the money.  Pepsi has only given them $25,000 and is holding off on the rest because people are lying about them and saying that there are no dogs.  Due to this, they can’t afford to even feed the dogs right now and so they are in emergency shelters waiting.  They have not yet begun training and they cannot get the dogs out until they get the rest of the money from Pepsi.  Are you hearing this Pepsi (and Global Giving)?  Once they get them back it will take at least 18 months to train.  Anybody is welcome to come out to visit the dogs at the shelter in the meantime.  It was so bad that they didn’t have a Christmas.  Please remember that since May they have received over $5,000 from the families participating in their program AND $25,000 from Pepsi through Global Giving.  This does not even include donations made directly to them on behalf of the families in the program since that has never been fully disclosed.  If you figure that a 40 pound bag of Purina dog food can be purchased for about $30 a bag…why is it that they could not feed the animals?  Especially, if the animals are actually out in their “foster homes” learning the basics.  I believe that the volunteer puppy raisers were donating their time and providing for the puppies during that stage.

Each family seems to be given a version of the story most suitably tailored for them.  How much of what we have been told is true and how much is false?  I cannot even begin to guess.  I do know that I would not wish this upon any family, let alone a family with a child on the autism spectrum.  A child that has been told since May that soon they would have their very own puppy, who would be able to be there for them, no matter where.  A puppy with a name and a face that was apparently a dream too good to be true.

Through this experience I have met and become friends with a group of families I would not have met otherwise.  For that I am grateful.  I am very bitter that you hurt my family.  I am upset that I was not able to stop that from happening.  I am angry that so many refuse to even see it as a problem.  How would you feel had it happened to you?

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