About Paws 4 Autism...
April 2010: It all started with a goal: to help our own daughter be safe and learn ways to connect socially with others. Adi (Ay-dee) has PDD-NOS and is considered high-functioning. Through many MANY hours of research online, I found animal therapy -- whether it be horses or a dog -- to be a beacon of hope to bring Adi out of her shell and help her learn how to cope with her autism and become more independent in life. While hippotherapy is still a possibility, I know that the constant therapy that only a service dog can provide is the best choice for our daughter.
Our next step was to choose a service provider. There are several out there and they all have good references. We chose Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA) primarily because of how they handle the training of the family with the dog. Adi does NOT do well when her schedule is changed or she is in a new environment. With ASDA, I go to their location (in Oregon) for a week to be trained as the primary caregiver (and a MUCH needed break). I then bring the dog home to start working on the bond with Adriana (no training or commands yet). After 2-3 weeks, ASDA sends their trainer to US for about a week. Adriana gets training in HER environment, along with the rest of the family & teachers. I felt that this was the best choice for Adriana and her needs at this time.
June 2010: Once we were approved, it was time to raise the funds. For many this is what makes or breaks them in the process. Begging for money is NOT easy -- especially given the current economy. Our reserves have been used to pay for various therapies and treatments for Adi. Our friends have been hit hard by the recession and don't have the cash flow either. Luckily, we got our first $2,000 within 3 days. Then, the word started to really spread. Friends were working out options with their employers, family members and their employers and friends of friends. Quickly, we realized that our efforts needed to go beyond our own daughter. We began dreaming of starting a foundation to help other families fund their dogs AND raise awareness for both autism and possible treatments.
July 2010: Then my best friend steps in. She is in sales....and is GOOD at what she does. She knows just about everyone...or knows how to get the connections made. Her son is also coping with Asperger's Syndrome - which is very similar to high functioning PDD-NOS. She has the passion and the love not only for my daughter and family, but for the cause. She began making calls, and more calls. Within a week, she received verbal commitments from several national and international corporations to assist with our cause with one caveat -- we needed to become our own 501c3 charity.
On July 15, 2010 Paws For Autism was founded. We had our application to be certified by the IRS complete and mailed off in just five days. Initially our goal was to help other families raise money for their autism service dogs. Because both of our children are adopted (one private and one through foster care) we wanted to give adoptive families preference. I was glad to have the opportunity to help out other families.
August 2010: Through meeting with family and supporters, our dreams quickly grew bigger. MUCH bigger. It was decided that we had a perfect "triad" for a charity--kids + dogs + autism. This began the underlying theme and guidelines for the charity. If it is of benefit to the triad of kids + dogs + autism then it was worth exploring as a program to see if it could be funded by grants or donors/sponsors. As we live in the Heartland, we quickly found that most people in this region had never heard of an autism service dog nor had a clue about what they can do. Thus our Community Outreach and Education program was born. I began speaking at various business group meetings and also parent support groups.
October 2010: Our trainer from Autism Service Dogs of America called to float an idea by me. She had a trained dog (Franklyn) that would make an awesome facility dog, but wasn't passing the grade for full certification as an individual service dog due to his exuberance when out of pack (no vest). She thought he would be an awesome ambassador for our charity as he was perfect when "on duty". We agreed, and immediately doubled our fund raising efforts to fund TWO autism service dogs instead of one.
November 2010: The triad of kids + dogs + autism kicks into high gear. Those dreams...they just keep GROWING!! This month we added Canine Assisted Social Skills In Education (CASSIE). Through this program we will be able to work with children who have spectrum behaviors on their communication and social skills. Look like I am finally putting my teaching degree back to use! I sent a proposal to the local school district. I'm hopeful that they will be as accommodating to our programs as they were in accepting that Adi would be having an autism service dog.
February 2011: We finally got a letter from the IRS on our 501(c)(3) certification!!! No, we are not certified yet, but they only wanted a few minor clarifications!!
March 2011: It's a good new/bad news kind of month. FINALLY!!!! We were certified as a 501(c)(3) by the IRS on March 14th, 2011. Bad news is that the school district turned down our proposal for the social skills classes. I continue to fight the bad reputation about autism needs in our district because of the actions of a few radical parents who feel their children's needs are not being met. I understand the frustrations and passions of both sides of the issue. I just need to find a way around it.
April 2011: We are almost there for Adi's dog!! Between the fund raiser we have done and the generosity of some special donor pledges Adi's dog & travel is covered! Now on to paying for Franklyn!
May 2011: So much for that. We had a large pledge back in February from a regional manager of an insurance company. He & I have been playing phone tag for about a month. I just found out through a common friend that his position has been eliminated. Not only that, but the company has put an indefinite hold on all charitable giving. We are back to being only half funded.
August 2011: Wow...a busy summer indeed!!! Several more fund raisers, lots of social media, and a ton of grant applications later.....we are totally funded!!! Two of the grants will only be paid out AFTER we get the dogs, but they are paid for!!! Now on to raise the monies needed for travel & training for US!!!
September 2011: FRANKLYN IS COMING! Yes, we have a date for me to go to Portland for training with Franklyn. After the stress of the last year I am SOOOO looking forward to the alone time away from here! Adi is having such a hard time with everything and not understanding much of it except she knows life will never be the same for her. I can't help but be nervous and pray that all will work out as it should.
November 2011: I love Portland!!! Yes, I got a break away from my everyday life, but it was by no means a vacation. Kati is amazing. Training was intense. at first I wondered how I would remember everything, but by the end of the week I had full confidence and I feel ready to take on the world!
December 2011: Franklyn is a rockstar. Kati was right---when he is on duty he is perfect. When the pack comes off----h is a energetic huge puff ball of energy! We also found out that Adi will be getting her service dog Haley in....JANUARY. I'm really not worried about the training...I am concerned about working with two service dogs at once. After talking with Kati, I will now be bringing Ken & Franklyn with me so he can go thru the full training with Franklyn. Of course I'm thrilled to go back to Portland :)
January 2012: Haley is adorable and beautiful and such a princess. Not sure how that will work out as both Adi & I are tomboys at heart. It is an adjustment to work with both service dogs but it is fabulous boom to our outreach program. Franklyn naturally attracts attention with his unique looks and charming personality. Adding Haley to the mix demands attention from everyone. New pics are posted at www.facebook.com/paws4autism ADORABLE!!!
February 2012: Golf anyone??? We will be having a tournament in September.
March 2012: Trouble in paradise. Something is not right with Haley. I am getting called up to school several times a week because Haley is refusing to obey commands. I've had calls with Kati & I am working with her on some retraining both in home and at school. LOTS of praying going on.
April 28, 2012: Our hearts are heavy today as we say goodbye to our sweet Haley. ♥
Haley is going back to ASDA in Portland, OR today for more training and evaluations. Unfortunately, Haley was not a good match to be our daughter's autism service dog. As a result, she went into shutdown/burnout mode and could no longer work with Adriana. Only time and re-training will tell whether or not Haley will be placed with another child or as a loving family pet. We pray that all our friends at ASDA are able to help Haley be the best dog she can be.
We have no idea when ASDA will have another service dog ready for Adriana. It is a difficult case as Adi is the primary handler instead of an adult. Adi has already shown that she can not only handle the job, but she excels at it. We will be forever grateful and always love Haley for what she has taught our daughter: patience, empathy & determination.
While we wait, Franklyn (the ASD for Paws4Autism) will be stepping in to help keep Adi's skills sharp. He's pulling double duty as Paws4Autism already has several presentations scheduled for their Community Outreach and Education Programs as well as volunteer commitments. During his off duty time he is sure to be SPOILED. ♥
June 2012: Summertime. School is out. None of the summer day camps are willing to take both Adi & Franklyn, so the kids are home with me. Going to be tough to work full time, pull a golf tournament together, promote our Paws for Autism programs AND be a full time mom. I know I can do it....just not sure how much sanity will remain come August.
August 2012: Almost there...just two weeks until school starts!
Had our first successful vacation :) 3 day weekend in St Louis & not a single meltdown! Trains/busses/crowds/long drives....all were a breeze. Anytime Adi got overwhelmed she would stop and focus on Franklyn and get some of his "strength" (aka strong hugs). We are really starting to see an elemental shift in Adriana & her abilities. I'm soo looking forward to watching her bloom!
Something had to give though. I'm not sure if we are going to pull off this golf tournament or not. I had some volunteers who said they were going to assist, but real life caught up with them and the ball was dropped. Now it is up to yours truly.
I am thrilled to be making such wonderful progress and it is our honor to help other families help their children connect to the world....4 paws at a time.
Terri (Adi's Mom)
Kids still in need: