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Pepsi, Autism Service Animals, and Shattered Dreams

{Editorial note: I initially planned to link to the various pages of the Animals for Autism website but it has been pulled from the web for some unknown reason. Instead I will post screenshots of their website.]

In April of 2011 my wife and I decided it was time to take the plunge and actively seek a service dog for our daughter.  We had actually been searching for a service dog trainer/training organization for a while on and off for several months.  Most of the organizations we came across required a substantial (we are talking $15,000 – $20,000) amount of fundraising prior to being placed onto a waiting list to be matched with an animal.  That amount just seemed so daunting.  And then we stumbled upon what appeared to be a godsend.  There was this organization in Tallula, Illinois that was placing, free of charge, a highly-trained Autism Service Dog with a child or adult in need in recognition of Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day.  We were informed that they were completing certification as a 501c nonprofit and that all donations made during the year would be tax deductible for our donors.  When we went to the website for Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism (http://siberiansnowbabies.com) we were surprised by how much less their final costs were compared to the others.  Their website stated “By privately funding all of the medical care, various incidentals, foster care and all of the animal’s other expenses, we are able to provide our Autism Service Dogs for as little as $5000.” (See following picture)
Training Fees and Funding pageThis was nothing short of a miracle for us – we knew we could do this!  We decided to skip applying for the free service dog, and begin their normal program.  Our application was submitted and much to our delight was accepted.  We were informed that since we were asking for our pup to also be trained to alert upon detection of peanut that we would need to pay a bit more than the normal $5000 but that we would be given a 10% military discount.  We were ecstatic.  Two weeks later our daughter was “matched” with a beautiful Isabella White Siberian Husky.  A week after we were matched their computer was invaded by a computer virus and they were required to purchase all new computer systems and reinstall all their photo and media programs.  They were unable to provide any updates or photos.

Beginning May 1, 2011 Animals for Autism began a campaign for a Pepsi Refresh Everything Grant in the amount of $50,000.  This grant would allow them to place TEN service dogs free of charge.  How amazing would that be.  Now this was definitely something we would/could and did support.  Our family, like many of the other “fan families” recruited friends, family members and anyone else we could wrangle into our corral.  We received daily contact with Lea Kaydus, founder of Animals for Autism, with Pepsi Power Vote codes to vote on their behalf.  And we did it, we accomplished our goal and Animals for Autism made it into the top 10 and became one of the funded programs.  We (those who began a training program despite not being selected for their Go Blue pup) were offered the opportunity to be part of the Pepsi Refresh Everything grant award, and accepted this opportunity – at this point almost $3000 had been paid to Animals for Autism on our behalf.  The miracle continues.  And yet, there still have not been any updates on our pup’s training progress, no contact with our trainer, no new pictures and our requests for assistance with our own fundraising was met with “we are too busy working on the Pepsi grant at the moment, maybe later.”

While working with the pictures we had received of our pup we noticed that they had been taken back in May of 2007.  All of our pictures had date stamps from 2007 – a red flag pops up and begins to wave.  So I became curious and began to check the other pictures on the site.  All were taken with the same camera and so many of them were two years old or older.  Now one could assume that the camera was just set wrong, since we knew that our pup was born on March 7, 2011 and not May, 2007 but the dates of the pictures on the site ranged from 2007 to 2011.  The 2011 pictures were of the brand new litter with pups up for sale.

Did I mention that 11 pups from two consecutive litters were placed into the training program for 11 families.  I should mention at this point that the reason service dogs are so expensive is the washout rate.  Here is a basic breakdown – one out of forty dogs has the proper temperament to become a service dog and half of those that begin training are unable to successfully complete the training.  And yet all 11 of these were all but guaranteed to be successful as service dogs – another red flag begins to wave.

We wanted to reassure ourselves that we had made the right decision with this company and so we contacted the Springfield Autism Resource Center (SPARC) which is just down the road from Tallula.  After all, Lea Kaydus had listed herself as active in the autism community and as Acting Director of Finance at SPARC.  Surely they would be able to calm our fears.

LinkedIn profileUnfortunately, none of the people we spoke with knew of Lea Kaydus or Animals for Autism.  They were unaware that there was an organization in their local area training and providing autism service animals – red flag.  How could this be??  They suggested that we contact the Autism Program of Illinois (TAP-IL).  We did this and received the same answer – this really was not helping calm our fears – yet another red flag.  We were finding ads online at various sites (PuppyFind.com and this one in Pakistan for one of the named Pepsi Pups)  Do I even need to say that this was a red flag?  At this point nothing felt right and the people we hoped would be able to alleviate our worries only caused more.  I would also like to have it noted that none of their animals are registered in the county in which they are currently residing, nor the one they previously resided.  They are not licensed by the State of Illinois as a business entity, nor a kennel.  They have never applied for 501c status with the Internal Revenue Service and the tax ID number that they gave to us did not belong to them.

I have spoken to many people.  I have made contact with the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department of Illinois, the Illinois Attorney General, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois, Springfield Autism Resource Center, The Autism Program of Illinois, Members of Sangamon and Menard Country Animal Control, my Naval Legal Services Office (AFA ignored their letter for information), program managers for the Pepsi Refresh Everything Project and all with very little to show for it.

To this date, Animals for Autism ignores the requests for information, updates from those in its program.  They respond to those inquiring as to how to get their own service animal with a simple – email for info.  I am flabbergasted.  I do not know how to respond but I feel that I must do something, say something, to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

Pepsi, I am sad.  You have lent credibility to this organization by your association.  I realize that the $50,000 you gave to them through Global Giving means very little to you but it did to us.  And the people you have in charge of your Refresh Everything Project have brushed our concerns aside, treating us as mere annoyances.  I wish I could get your attention, and truly get your help but I have to say that I doubt it will ever happen.  I had faith in the good of Refresh Everything but am beginning to think that it is nothing more than a tax write-off for you and a popularity contest for others.  While it has the potential to bring out good in people, and improve the world it seems to have also brought out an awful lot of deceit.  If you would like to know the people I have spoken with a simple email to me will evoke that response unless I receive that email from either Terri or Dennis.  In which case, I really am tired.  Global Giving has told one of the other families involved that my family (really that means my wife and I) are just troublemakers and that we should not be associated with.  Really??  Please walk through along the path I took to reach this point and tell me that you would be free of questions.  A bad case of Pepsi Autism Service Animals can really change your perspective of things.

What I really meant to do here was to introduce a very well-written post by another member of the Pepsi Pup fiasco and ask you to read her post but I got long-winded.  Please read the post by Ashley.  Pass it along to your friends to read.  Tweet about it.  Please don’t let this happen to anyone you know.


{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Linda Sutto January 4, 2012, 3:14 AM

    Curious, was this grant one this past November?

  • J. Creighton January 4, 2012, 6:28 AM

    Linda, as Allison has already beaten me to the punch – this organization won during the month of May, 2011.

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