There have been several very nice gestures from outside organizations since the light has begun to shine on our dream turned nightmare. For several months we felt very alone and isolated…what we saw as problems others sought to brush off as just minor inconveniences. After all, a multi-national, multi-billion dollar company such as Pepsi wouldn’t stand for being made to look foolish. After all, they have many teams of lawyers on staff and at the ready should anyone try. We must be mistaken.
And yet I know we were not.
Recently, Patricia Gross (Executive Director of North Star Foundation) wrote to Donna Callejon (Chief Business Officer of Global Giving) after seeing the news stories, and reading the posts concerning Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism program. She wrote to express her deep concern for the dangerous partnerships that may be created in an inexperienced way with a breed (Siberian Huskies) that can be aggressive to small creatures. I would like to share with you the email sent from Patricia.
Subject: Re: North Star
Thanks for your thoughts and I welcome opening a dialog with you…
Did the person you spoke with who received a husky have a child with autism as the focus of the assistance dog placement? Remember a dog that is good for an adult with a physical challenge is a different dog than one that is good for working in close quarters with a child with autism, who is apt to bother the dog physically by way of challenging the amount of body space as well as poking fingers into the dogs’ eyes/nose/mouth…a bite can happen lightening quick, and it is preventing this that is about 90% of the work we do at North Star in terms of proper breeding, socialization, supervision and partnership of a child with autism and an assistance dog. Also please keep in mind that every breed imaginable has its enthusiasts, and there are even those that advocate pit bulls as good assistance dog candidates. Despite the variety of opinions you can find on the web, professional service dog organizations agree that the best breed for working with a young child with autism is most certainly a golden or labrador retriever, but this service dog selection should not rest simply upon the breed, but upon finding the proper pup in a litter of well bred golden or lab pups; for Animals for Autism to claim that all 10 husky puppies from a litter are to serve ten children with autism is ignorant, as there is no way that all 10 puppies will have the proper temperament (it would also be impossible for an individual or small organization to raise, train and place 10 pups simultaneously with children with autism; at North Star it would take us at least two healthy golden litters and $100,000 to meet this demand.)
Here are some facts about the Husky breed, obtained from Wikipedia; please keep in mind as you read how inappropriate this breed truly is for any child, much less a child with autism.
Huskies are an active, energetic, and resilient breed whose ancestors came from the extremely cold and harsh environment of the Siberian Arctic. Siberian Huskies were bred by the Chukchi of Northeastern Asia to pull heavy loads long distances through difficult conditions. The dogs were imported into Alaska during the Nome Gold Rush and later spread into the United States and Canada. They were initially sent to Alaska and Canada as sled dogs but rapidly acquired the status of family pets and show dogs.
The Siberian Husky has been described as a behavioral representative of the domestic dog’s forebear, the wolf, exhibiting a wide range of its ancestors’ behavior. They are known to howl rather than bark. If the dog is well trained, it can make a great family pet. The frequency of kenneled Siberian Huskies, especially for racing purposes, is rather high, as attributed through the history of the breed in North America. They are affectionate with people, but independent. A fifteen-minute daily obedience training class will serve well for Siberian Huskies. Siberians need consistent training and do well with a positive reinforcement training program. They rank 45th in Stanley Coren‘s The Intelligence of Dogs, being of average working/obedience intelligence. They tend to run because they were at first bred to be sled dogs. Owners are advised to exercise caution when letting their Siberian Husky off the leash, as the dog could be miles away before looking around and realizing its owner is nowhere in sight. They are excellent “escape artists” as well, and have been known to climb chain-link fences and find other ways of escaping a confined area. They also get bored easily, so playing with toys or throwing a ball at least once a day is essential. Failure to give them the attention or proper exercise they need can result in unwanted behavior, such as excessive howling, marking, chewing on furniture, or crying.
Huskies are rated number four in the list of breeds most apt to bite: http://dangerousdogs.net/
In regard to the plausibility of Animals for Autism’s grant, it is not just the puppies or the facility that need to be funded in terms of creating ten assistance dog partnerships with children with autism; it is the dogs’ socialization for the first two years of life, ongoing training, introduction to the child and ongoing support for this partnership, money set aside for the requisite emergencies, money to replace one of the dogs if they wash out; dogs are nothing like products that just need to be shipped. Children with autism need to learn how to handle their dogs, and the dog needs a careful introduction to the child, and all this takes money, time and experience to do correctly.
All of these things are clearly beyond Lea’s ability to do; I know this because I have been doing this exact work (partnering children with autism with assistance dogs) as a nonprofit for a decade, and I can only make ten placements a year via two separate golden litters, with an up and running organization that relies on volunteer and corporate help for sustained support for our work; it isn’t just obtaining ten husky dogs Animals for Autism needs to do here, but to create ten safe and effective partnerships that was promised these families, and the real problem here is actually what will happen when and if substandard dogs are paired in an inexperienced and underfunded way (for true cost of this endeavor is more than $5,000 per placement, and the grant money not enough to build and sustain a facility). A bite to a child’s face is a very real possibility here and the way I see it, everyone is just sitting on top of a world of danger if these families are served incorrectly.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you might have for me.
Here is a respected, well-established service dog organization tossing out a lifeline and yet those in need refuse to acknowledge that they might have made a mistake. Maybe, just maybe, it was not done intentionally. Everyone makes mistakes. What you do after the mistake is the sign of true character and integrity. Where will your road lead Global Giving? Do you see yourself aligning with the Pepsi Co. Guiding Principles or instead do you choose to stray?