COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Service dogs are trained to perform any number of specific tasks. But for the Andres’ family, just getting a service dog for their son with autism is a challenge in itself.
“It’s a long wait. Typically two years after you raise the money,” explained Abigail Andres.
Their story began on vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Matthew and Abigail Andres were staying at a condo with their three kids. Their middle child, Eli, has autism. One night on vacation he did something he’d never done before. He left the condo in the middle of the night.
“That’s every parent’s worst nightmare. I knew automatically, like, he was gone,” said Andres. Matthew recalled those moments, “I remember waking up and feeling that dread. Like I would never see him or find him. It was time we had to do something to protect him.”
A service dog can be trained specifically for Eli’s needs. “Things like tracking. So if Eli does get out through all of our security measures. We have that sense of security that we’ll be able to find him quickly. Or going to a store we can actually do something called tethering. So if we turn to do something with our one-year-old, Eli won’t just be gone,” explained his mother Abigail. “If it senses him going out to the road, it will stop him,” added Matthew.
They are raising the money for the dog from ‘4 Paws for Ability.’ The dogs are raised and trained by the organization and typically cost $40,000-$60,000 before they are able to be placed in a home, according to Development Director KaLynn Clark.
“Four Paws biggest struggle is keeping up with the growing demand for service dogs. A lot of families come to 4 Paws because they were denied from other service dog agencies,” explained Clark.
She works alongside families through the two-year process, knowing the struggles they’re facing. “That’s terrifying for a family. So they need this service dog to not only help with meltdowns, help with behavior disruptions, but also go and find that child if they do run away,” she said. “We train autism assistance dogs, seizure alert, diabetic alert, hearing ear, mobility assistance, Veteran’s assistance, and multi-purpose,” she added about their services.
As a non-profit, 4 Paws relies on volunteers to raise many of their dogs. Kirsten Myers is in her second year at Ohio State. She knew after what she called “a rough first year” that she wanted to help raise a dog. “I didn’t realize just how much it changed someone’s life. Just knowing I can be a part of that makes me really happy,” she said.
Kirsten now takes ‘Ethyl’ everywhere she goes on campus. Helping to socialize her for her future job as a service dog. With Myers’ help, Ethyl is exposed to “classrooms, lots of loud noises, people whizzing by them with scooters.”
4 Paws for Ability places about 120 dogs every year, based out of Xenia. Around 50 of those dogs are being raised and socialized on campus at Ohio State University. For more information, you can visit their website.