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Ultimate Goal? Free Autism Service Animals For All
Animals for Autism's founder, LM Kaydus, discusses Animals for Autism's current services and announces a vision for the future of the autism service animal program.
Founder, LM Kaydus, was recently interviewed and asked to discusses the program from it's original concept to the current programs offered, and the vision for the future of the organization. The following exerpts are from that interview:
"The foundation of our program started long before chldren ever entered the picture. We raised Siberian Huskies for show, specialty, sledding, skijoring, running, biking and just for the pure enjoyment of the breed. The adorable little Alaskan Klee Kai entered the picture later as an alternative and ease of showing after a major surgery required some weight restrictions, and we've been in love with them ever since - even without continuing weight bearing restrictions!"
See the animals and program details at http://www.siberiansnowbabies.com/
"Eventually, children entered our lives, and the dogs became fast friends and companions of our little ones. It was fascinating to watch. I'll never forget the day when our first daughter was just tiny and in the early stages of learning to walk. Our oldest and dearest Sibe, Bandit, had always kept a close eye on her. I was in the kitchen doing dishes the old-fashioned way - by hand - when I heard our daughter giggle with delight. I stepped around the corner just in time to see it. Bandit lowered his head into her lap, then she grabbed onto his face, just below his eyes. He then raised his head, and pulled her to a standing position. Bandit then began walking very slowly - BACKWARDS, while our daughter toddled forward in her first steps! So, yes, in a manner of speaking, my children were raised by wolves (close enough, anyway!)"
"Fast forward quite a few years. We were still raising our beloved animals, and our family had grown to include another daughter who was diagnosed with autism. Dogs are amazing animals, you know? They kept an even closer eye on her, and always let us know if something was up. The more time she spent with them, the more improvements we noticed, verbally, emotionally, socially and personally. It was at that time when I realized she needed a dog of her own - one that could spend more time with her than the show dogs. We really trained our first autism service animal back then, but didn't really realize it at that time."
"Lucky always let us know if something was up. We had a terrible problem with her eloping - getting out of the house without our knowledge. We locked the doors, and she unlocked them. We moved the locks up higher, and she used a chair to unlock them. We considered double-deadbolts, you know, the kind that requires a key from either side of the door, but we were concerned about a fire hazard - scrambling to find the key in an emergency."
"Although Lucky was, indeed, an autism service animal who interrupted self-injurous behaviors, enhanced our daughter's communication skills, kept her safe from wandering, provided deep pressure therapy and redirected many other undesirable behaviors, we still didn't see the big picture. That is, until we took a trip to Mexico. While visiting a very busy port, we decided to take in the sights at a large open air market with dozens of vendors. Yes! Retail therapy, here I come. We were all right together, and then, in the blink of an eye, our daughter was missing. Most parents know this feeling, even when a child is just behind a clothing rack at a store. Instant panic, nausea and helplessness combined with terror and rapid-fire mental visions...not a good place to be."
"I'll not go into the details, other than to say we were very, very blessed to find her twirling in circles beneath a vividly colored display of handmade purses. We had our little girl back, and she still has the purse! If an "ah-ha!" moment actually exists, this was it. We had never given consideration to fully training her dog to complete the testing processes, and actually become a certified autism service animal so he could accompany her everywhere. She has not been without one since."
"I have always been an inquisitive person, and one day I began researching autism, specifically the wandering element that often accompanies ASDs. It was a mixed blessing that I researched the subject. On one hand, I was shocked and horrified at the number of those with autism who wander away - many times to their death. Drowning seems to be the number one cause of death in wandering, because our kids know no fear. But other cases involved walking into traffic, falling from considerable heights and other horrors. On the other hand, I realized there was something I had to do about it."
"It takes a lot of money to fully train and prepare an animal for a career as an Autism Service Animal. By the time the animal is born, raised, fed, housed, trained, provided with medical care, tested and actually certified, the costs can be $20,000 or more! I actually took a paper and pencil to it, and it's true. But, I wanted to find a way to make owning an autism service animal affordable for more families, so I set out to find other breeders who would be willing to donate animals to our program. Yes! I looked for volunteers to help us raise and socialize the puppies. Yes! I looked for volunteers to help with administrative duties. Yes! I looked for trainers who would work free....uhm...not as easy. After all, it's how they feed their families. It costs $79 per hour at the local pet superstore for one-on-one training, and I did find trainers willing to help, but not for free. With fuel prices so high, it's understandable. I finally found skilled trainers who were willing to give us their valuable time, and accept a $5 per hour stipend to cover their expenses. Yes!
"We are left to personally cover food and medical costs for all of the animals, but it's a sacrifice we are willing to make. Our program has already improved many lives, and that makes all of the effort worth it. That's the attitude you have to keep to get up and do this kind of work every day. There's really nothing glamorous about it. I mean, yes, the puppies are cute, but you have to be willing to clean up from all ends day in and day out."
"We're trying to reach as many people as possible who could benefit from our program. While we do have to pass on the fees to cover the costs of our trainers, it is our vision to one day be able to provide our Autism Service Animals at no cost to any child, adult and/or family who can benefit from the remarkable differences service dogs can make in the life of individuals with ASDs. How are we going to do that? Tenacity, I suppose. We are operating with donated everything, and we don't even have an advertising budget. We've applied for grants, and we're hoping to find volunteers who can help us with fundraising events, benefits - whatever it takes. At this point, I'm willing to beg shamelessly if that will help someone in need."
"As a matter of fact, yes, we are fully sponsoring the placement of one of our highly-trained Autism Service Animals, James. He will be placed with a child or an adult with an ASD who is in need free of charge. It's in honor of Autism Awareness Month (April), and yes, he is named James, in honor of James Durbin, the incredible young man from American Idol who has learned to live a beautiful life despite being affected by and ASD and Tourette's Syndrome. It was a fantastic opportunity to help spread the word about the work we do, and reach as many people in need as we could. And, no, I don't think he is aware of it." (laughs)
If you are interested in volunteering or have a fund-raising idea, contact Animals for Autism.
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Animals for Autsim trains and places Autism Service Animals with both adults and children with autism spectrum disorders in the United States. Highly qualified Animal Assisted Therapy dogs are also available for use by licensed therapists in school and clinical settings.
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