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GlobalGiving, Pepsi and Autism Service Dogs: Trust Undermined

Merriam-Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Last year my wife and I placed a great deal of trust in Lea Kaydus and her organization, Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism.  Lea Kaydus claimed to share a common bond with our family – a child on the Autism Spectrum.  She claimed her desire to train Autism Service Dogs was born when her own daughter wandered away from the family while in a port in Mexico.  She wanted to help other families avoid the same.  The story tugs at a very tender string in a parent’s heart – one with an amplifier for a Special Needs parent.  This story invoked a feeling of a shared fate; a common bond.  She must be here to help.  She knows what we are going through.  We try to look for as much good as we can – we hear and see enough of the negative side.  Yes, we know that you feel sorry for us at times; or even worse, believe that we just don’t know how to parent; after all, if it were your child they would not act like that.  We know; and we believed that Lea Kaydus knew as well.

It was that belief in a shared fate, and a perception of a common underlying value system that made us want to believe in Lea Kaydus and her Animals for Autism program.  We knew that she was not one of the big service dog providers.  She was listed in the Autism Society of America’s service provider database and various other Autism Resource databases.  She claimed to be a non-profit and have strong network of supporters and volunteers that allowed her to keep costs to a minimum.  And she was willing to reach out and lend a hand to help out less fortunate families.  Her organization was donating an Autism Service Dog to a deserving family in honor of World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month.  Many families applied. One was chosen.  It was not us. We did however enter the Animals for Autism program – matched with a beautiful Isabella White Siberian Husky pup we named Bella.  Bella was one of 11 pups in the Spring ’11 Autism Service Animal Training Class.  This “class” had been identified in March, 2011.  That would mean that Lea Kaydus had already identified and secured both funding and resources for each of these pups.  This is how she kept the costs down for the families involved.

Then came the news of the Pepsi Refresh Grant application.

The Animals for Autism Facebook page was all abuzz with the news.  Animals for Autism had applied for a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant.  Many families were recruited to provide votes via Pepsi Power Vote codes.  Some families were voting as many as 50 Power Vote codes daily (sent by Lea Kaydus) – we all had TRUST in the organization and its founder.  We believed we all held a common goal – to make our children’s lives better.

All through the month of May the reminders to vote were there, the pleas to get Power Votes and recruit additional voters.  We were encouraged, entreated to get as much support as possible for this campaign.  Families rallied and support for the program grew remarkably.  And when the end of the voting period came, what began as a dream was now a reality.

During the voting period there was essentially no information coming from Lea Kaydus or anyone else associated with Animals for Autism concerning the status of training for the pups already in training for families.  Yes, there were families with pups already in training. Families making payments as scheduled; hoping that the Pepsi grant might ease a bit of the tension on an already stretched budget.

And with that the honeymoon period ended.  Lea Kaydus had won her $50,000 grant from Pepsi and the families who helped get her to this point were tossed aside.  It might have had something to do with the fact that Lea Kaydus was not ready or able to answer the questions posed by the families.  Of course, it could also be that there was never any intention to carry this program through to completion.  She claimed to have many volunteers as well as a regular staff.  Where are they?

The scenario that is playing out over and over goes something like this.  The lucky recipient family arrives in the Springfield, IL area to complete their last week of training after 12 – 18 months of waiting.  The service dog does not “respond well with the family” and it is determined that this match should not happen.  The family leaves, empty-handed with the promise of a different dog to be delivered upon completion of training.  Repeat for each family that is expecting a service dog from this organization.

Lea Kaydus (Animals for Autism) – you have lied about so many things and yet you want families to TRUST you with the well-being and safety of our children.  You have violated that trust that parents of Special Needs place in each other for what appears to be outright GREED.  You of all people should know how much all those little details meant – especially to an AUTISTIC child.  Our daughter was to the point she had all but memorized the markings of “her” Bella.  And it was nothing more than a SHAM.  May you reap what you have sown.  May I remind you that the “Bait and Switch” tactic is ILLEGAL in every sense of the word.  Please see the GUIDELINES posted here.  I sure hope you aren’t doing the same with the pups you are placing on PuppyFind.com or any other place online.

GlobalGiving.org – you have publicly said what an honor it is to work with Lea Kaydus.  You have been to her new “facility” during your recent “site visit” and yet not a single picture of a highly-trained service dog in training has come.  You “encouraged” the grantee to be in more regular communication with the families going forward and yet she has not.  How about someone just own up to the mess that this has become and admit that a mistake was made.  Her organization DOES NOT legally exist.  She IS NOT capable of the task at hand.  If she had considered attempting to make it right by hiring someone capable of bringing the task to fruition it was handicapped by your insistance that the grant pay for equipment and other tangible goods rather than trainer’s salaries.  You gave her $50,000 and she has improved her kennel and her backyard breeding program has been invigorated.  Yet, she CAN NOT produce the end product that was the spirit of the grant.  The idea was good – the execution SERIOUSLY FLAWED.

Pepsi – Your name will be forever associated with this grantee, her BROKEN process, and ILL-TRAINED service animals.  You TRUSTED GlobalGiving to leverage its grantmaking experience and proprietary workflow systems to validate each Pepsi Refresh grantee, work with each winner on milestones and budgets, and to disburse and monitor the use of funds under the grant.  They FAILED you on this project and in refusing to ACKNOWLEDGE their mistake they not only make themselves look bad, they are DRAGGING your NAME and REPUTATION through the mud.  Wait until the headline reads that service animals trained by PEPSI mauled, maimed or killed the young, disabled children they were to help.

Enough is enough.  Instead of saying

We are listening to the concerns raised and remain open to one-on-one discussion with any of the families who are still involved in the project. – GobalGiving.org response to question posed on Facebook Wall

Do what is right.  Uphold your commitment to Pepsi’s Guiding Principles.

1.  Care for our customers, our consumers and the world we live in. 
We are driven by the intense, competitive spirit of the marketplace, but we direct this spirit toward solutions that benefit both our company and our constituents. Our success depends on a thorough understanding of our customers, consumers and communities. To foster this spirit of generosity, we go the extra mile to show we care.


Help make our voice heard: sign the petition at Change.org asking Pepsi to Stop funding this DANGEROUS service dog placement/Puppy Mill

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