Family raises funds for service dog to help child with autism

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published June 3, 2015

 Olivia Anders, 6, has challenges expressing herself and loves to talk about Christmas.

Olivia Anders, 6, has challenges expressing herself and loves to talk about Christmas.

Photo provided by the Anders family

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The Anders family has been asked to leave restaurants because of the challenges that 6-year-old Olivia, who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, faces.

“My son (her twin brother) has a baseball game, we can’t take her,” said Olivia’s mother Rebecca. “We can’t go out to dinner.”

Her daughter can’t handle crowded places, has a hard time picking up social cues, is difficult to understand, gets upset if she perceives that someone does not like her or is breaking the rules, tries to run off, and has tried to get out of cars while they are moving.

She also gets stuck on things that interest her, such as Christmas, Build-A-Bear and Webkinz.

“Olivia can’t handle crowded places,” said Anders. “We don’t go out often. If she sees something she wants, she’ll run off.”

Her parents have tried various therapies and Olivia takes a number of medications. She also has other medical issues, including anemia, an open heart valve, severe difficulty swallowing, and mild cerebral palsy.

The Anders family feels that a service dog would help Olivia with staying calm, socializing, getting unstuck on her high-interest areas and finding her if she runs off.

“We have friends who’ve had really good results,” Rebecca Anders said.

Olivia attends Hill Elementary. She was on a waiting list for 2 1/2 years for a dog with another agency, but when the Anders learned that their daughter would need a hypoallergenic dog, that agency told them it could not help them.

So the Troy family sought help from 4 Paws for Ability. According to the organization’s website, 4 Paws for Ability is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is “to place quality service dogs with children with disabilities and veterans who have lost use of limbs or hearing; help with animal rescue; and educate the public regarding use of service dogs in public places.”

Kelly Camm, development director for 4 Paws, said Karen Shirk started the organization in 1998 after she tried to get a service dog from several dog agencies for several years. Shirk has myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease.

Camm said Shirk used a ventilator to breathe and a wheelchair, and the agencies told her that she was too disabled to get a service dog, Camm said.

“She was able to obtain a service dog and no longer relies on a wheelchair,” Camm said.

She said that Shirk started the organization and discovered that most agencies would not work with children, and she felt compelled to work with them.

Camm explained that the child’s parent or caregiver would be the primary handler for the service dog.

“Over 900 dogs have been placed all over the world,” Camm said.

To qualify for a dog with 4 Paws, a family agrees to raise $15,000 in support of the agency, which allows the agency to assist other children who need dogs, Camm said.

“It costs between $23,000 and $30,000 to get and train a dog,” she said.

“We’re approved and getting a goldendoodle,” Rebecca Anders said. “We just have to raise the money.”

So far, the family has raised about $1,800 for the effort and has planned a fundraiser from noon-10 p.m. June 10 at Zoyo Neighborhood Yogurt, 3067 Rochester Road, in which 20 percent of all sales will go to 4 Paws toward a dog for Olivia Anders.

Checks may be mailed to 4 Paws for Ability, 253 Dayton Avenue, Xenia, OH 45385. People may donate online at 4pawsforability. org/donate-now. Include Olivia Anders in the memo field. Also, credit card donations may be made online at firstgiving.com, under Paws 4 Olivia.

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