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Does Anyone Really Read Anymore?

On Friday, January 27 2012, the following open letter was posted to the Facebook page of Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism:

Dear Lea, Global Giving and Pepsi,

We are grateful to have some form of communication from you; however,
we are sad that this came about only after many months of asking and
waiting. It is disappointing to all of us that communication was only
initiated after significant media attention. We all expect a fully
trained and suitable service dog for our children, reserving our right
to move forward and comply with investigations currently underway or
opened in the future.

Due to lack of consistent answers when posed a question, a history of
lack of communication and removal of Animals For Autisms website, we
feel there has been a major breech of trust. We are offering a chance
to re-establish some trust by once again asking a few questions.
Before we commit to any answer regarding our place in the program, we
would like to have our questions answered.

1. We would like the easily verifiable canine training credentials of
Lea Kaydus and each individual trainer who has contact with the dogs.
These dogs are possibly coming into our homes and we have a right to
know the specific verifiable credentials of those training them.

2. We would like to know if during the 5 months Lea Kaydus was “off
the grid”, did she maintain contact with Pepsi and Global Giving?

3. We would like to see the line by line budget of what exactly
Pepsi’s grant is funding. Many of us feel very deceived since we voted
for one grant (training fees) and only much later found out that it
had been switched after the voting ended.

4. We would like to know specifically if Pepsi and Global giving are
concerned with the safety and appropriateness of the service dogs
attempting to be placed with our children, as promised in the original
voted upon grant, or if they are only concerned with the “facility”?

5. Was there a service dog training expert on hand during Global
Givings inspection that took place 01/23/12? If so, who was it and
what are their credentials?

6. We would like to know the verifiable age and the sire and dam (with
AKC numbers) for each dog that began training. We would also like
immunization records from a third party veterinarian for each dog who
entered into service dog training and we would like the current
location of each dog who entered into service training including phone
numbers of any shelters utilized.

7. We would like to see a video showing all the dogs together,
introduced individually, with a demonstration sample of training
achieved in the past 9 months by each dog.

8. All the families that paid money into the program would like the
requested, but still not received, financial statements stating what
came in and from whom, with full amounts listed.

Being “off the grid” does not trump basic decency. There are many
other ways to keep in touch, none of which were exercised.

We kindly ask for your response to be in written form so all families
are told the exact same thing and for easy referral in the future.

Thank you for your your time and attention to this matter,

The Animals For Autism Families
Pooser Family, DeWitt Family, DiRedo Family, Andrade Family, Creighton
Family, Williams Family, Johnson Family, Spencer Family, Ristau
Family, Podkowka Family

In my opinion this request was very clear and very specific.  Global Giving’s response was posted 10 hours later:

Please give us a call anytime on Monday between 9 am – 5 pm Eastern. 202-232-5784. Please tell whoever answers that you are calling regarding the Animals for Autism project so that we can transfer you to the right person. Thank you!

Really??  One of the main points was that any response be in written form and you are asking for each individual family to call.  At this point I can’t imagine that you do not know who the families involved are as well as have the contact information for them.  And if Global Giving does not have that information, Ms. Kaydus most certainly does and just chooses not to utilize it.  It would seem that it is the families responsibility to initiate all communication.  I find it hard to believe that in this day and age, with her many volunteers willing to put in thousands of hours of time to complete her new breeding/training facility, that nobody would be willing to take and post pictures of the animals in training.  Instead five (5) months went by with no updates.  Families would like answers and these questions are merely the beginning.  I would recommend that you start there.

Those of you reading this post who have followed our story – please take a moment of your time and let Lea Kaydus, Global Giving and Pepsi know what you think.  The text of the families Facebook post will take you to the Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism Facebook page.  Please like the post if you agree.  Make any comments you feel appropriate and even more importantly – please – Pass this story along to your family and friends or anyone else willing to listen.

logo for Global Giving        

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How has the New Year treated YOU?

Today’s post is rather simple and will be somewhat short.

With the state of the global economy such as it is…with the glaring harshness of unemployment here in the United States.  With all that is going on socially and our access to near-instant information…how has this year been to you thus far?

I really would like to know.  Has it been good, bad or just so-so?  Just take a moment and post a comment below.  Would love to hear from you.

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It must be quite the honor for Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism Program to have one of the Grant Administrators from Global Giving take time out of her schedule to fly all the way from Washington, DC to visit and “volunteer” at the new training “facility.”

Picture of Ms. Ellis from Global Giving websiteI hope that everyone is willing to give a welcome hand to Ms. K.C. Ellis of Global Giving.  KC facilitates successful grant administration for the Pepsi Refresh Project. She is bilingual in French and English, and uses her language skills to work with grantees throughout the United States and Canada. Before coming to GlobalGiving, KC worked as a concierge for an international travel group, coordinated programs and marketing at the James River Green Building Council, and waited tables at a Cuban restaurant in Richmond, Virginia. She attended college at l’Université Jean-Monnet de Saint-Etienne and earned her Bachelor of Arts in both International Studies with a Focus on the Arts and French Language from Virginia Commonwealth University.  Please feel free to visit the rest of the Global Giving team and let them know what a fantastic job they are doing.

I am hopeful that she has managed to pick up a little more information on how a service dog training program (and especially one for autistic children) should be run, and administered.  There has been a lot of concern raised by several of the families who were lucky enough to be chosen by Siberian Snow Babies to be part of their Pepsi Pups Animals for Autism program.  Initially they were told that the issues would just need to be worked out between them and the program’s founder, Lea Kaydus.  Later on, Global Giving offered to do a mediated phone call.  I wonder whom in the Global Giving organization has had experience working with service animals.  Then again, some of the concerns are really much more basic than that.  After all, it is very easy to give families the wrong tax information.  It is very easy to represent your organization as a non-profit yet give no real way for those who have donated to your “organization” and way to take this deduction.  Ms. Kaydus claims on her Facebook page for Animals for Autism

“However, the IRS allows Form 1023 to remain unfiled as long as an organization has gross receipts in each taxable year of not more than $5,000. Since Animals for Autism’s receipts are far less than $5,000, the NFP can accept contributions without filing until the end of the grant period. It is allowable to file the form within 27 months after the end of the month in which you were legally formed.”  

Now I must ask, how is this possible since I know that my family has paid you $2250 and I know that several other families have also paid money to you – and yes, those are not donations, they are in fact payments.  A donation is not usually accompanied by a payment plan which is what I believe we were all placed on to make owning a service dog a closer reality.  And Ms. Kaydus, that does state gross receipts and not net receipts.  Oh, that’s right, you had everyone send the money to your husband through his (your) normal puppy selling account.  Was that to keep your “organization’s” gross receipts down?  I wonder who else has noticed by now?

Ms. Ellis, since Ms. Kaydus seems to have such difficulty keeping the families in her training program apprised of the current training status of their service animals I hope that you will be able to assist.  She has not yet identified a reliable way of determining which dog belongs to which family, although we had thought that a colored collar with maybe a dog tag with a name on it might be a start and would easily allow for visual identification.  Must be difficult if the trainers must constantly pull out the microchip scanner to ensure that the proper dog is receiving the proper training.  Which also brings to mind…what are the animals being trained to do.  Ms. Kaydus had mentioned constant communication between trainers and family to ensure that the proper tasks were being identified and yet I don’t believe the majority of the families have been contacted.  It seems as if maybe Ms. Kaydus has taken on more than she can really handle.  Who would really know besides possibly another dog trainer.  It might be worth enlisting some help from the PepsiCo Puppy Partnership (P3).  Their trainer(s) seem to have done some pretty awesome work just based off of their Facebook page.  P3 is a partnership between PepsiCo and Guiding Eyes for the Blind in which we support employee volunteerism by training and developing service dogs inside the workplace.  Wow, PepsiCo has a program to train and develop service dogs inside the workplace…what an amazing concept.

Click on the picture to go to the rest of the album

Sorry, I got lost on a tangent.  Once again, please say hello to Ms. Ellis and the rest of the team at Global Giving.  Let them know you appreciate all that they are doing to help Siberian Snow Babies and their Animals for Autism Program.  Maybe after this visit is complete, and Ms. Ellis has finished her “volunteering” the families involved might be able to get a few answers.

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Really?? You Took Care of What??

Today I received some very interesting news.  It came in quite a roundabout way as well.  As some of you know it has been quite a rough go for us with Siberian Snow Babies and their Animals for Autism program.  We began to have severe misgivings with their organization and overall credibility.

We had asked for assistance, information, and explanations but received only excuses from the founder, Lea Kaydus.  After much deliberation we decided that this program was not what it had initially appeared to be and withdrew from the program and requested a refund of all monies we had paid in.  We were informed by Ms. Kaydus that a refund was impossible as Bella had been too highly trained in clothing removal assistance and could not possibly be used as a service animal for another family.  For this reason Bella could only be placed in a pet home.  We filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, the Office of the Attorney General, State of Illinois and voiced our concerns to Global Giving (the Pepsi Refresh Program administrators) and Pepsi.  Since Ms. Kaydus refused to refund our money, we proceeded to ask PayPal for their help in recovering our funds.  We were told that we were outside the 45 day dispute window and had no recourse through PayPal.  We then took the next step and initiated a chargeback request with each of the banks we had used to in our PayPal payments to Ms. Kaydus.  (I should mention that all payments do not go to Animals for Autism or Lea Kaydus instead they are made to George Kaydus at the email address blueribbonwins@yahoo.com.  I wonder if this is how Animals for Autism keeps their income down – by not reporting it all.

Ms. Kaydus was not at all agreeable to the idea of returning any funds to us or any of the people who donated on our behalf.  So naturally, she contested our dispute.  We were given a chance to counter the evidence she provided and then final determination would rest with the bank.  After many months, we received notice from one of the banks that we were incorrectly (fraudulently) charged and our account was credited for the amount disputed, and the investigation closed.  We are still awaiting the outcome from the other bank and hold onto a small bit of hope that PayPal might reconsider their stance.  It is not likely though.

So back to the news from today – the grant administrators from Global Giving are headed out to Glenarm, IL to “volunteer” with Animals for Autism.

Today from Facebook:

As we continue traning and providing for the puppies who will become service animals, we’re especially looking forward to meeting the grant administrators! They’ve offered to add to the thousands of volunteer hours put in on behalf of the recipient families. =)
· 4 hours ago · 
I wish that the grant administrators had shown that same level of concern when I brought my concerns.  The ones so easily brushed aside because I was just a troublemaker.  I hope they are able to get something that resembles the truth from you.  Not that they know anything about dog training as they told one family that they could just as easily train a service dog themselves.  
I no longer wonder how a service dog trained by Siberian Snow Babies or Animals for Autism or any of their trainers will do in my house around my disabled daughter.  Lea Kaydus promised families highly-trained autism service dogs.  Something she can no longer deliver to my family.
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Passing along a blog post to support the families affected by the fiasco that has been known as the Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism Service Animal program.  It has been posted at Dogs with a Cause -> HERE

Please read it and pass it along to all that you know.

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At one point the majority of us will feel the effects of stress. Some situations amplify its effect.

I would like to thank all of you who have been following the story of our dealings with Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism since April of last year.  Your support has been very important, especially in the very beginning.

I have never thought of myself as a troublemaker, or one who likes to stir the pot just to get people riled up.  I make every effort to move through life acting with honor and integrity.  In day to day dealings it is much easier to be honest and up-front, to tell the truth to each and every person.  In this way there would not be a multitude of stories to remember because inevitably the story will change based upon who is listening to make it more believable or appealing to them.

I like to think that most people are honest the majority of the time.  I do not believe that anyone still walking this earth is honest all the time (This is my opinion and not a fact).  Those people who are chronic liars put themselves at risk for increased health problems.  You see, lying triggers the release of the same stress hormones released by the bodies fight-or-flight response.  This increase in these stress hormones causes a boost in blood sugar levels and triglycerides (body fats) to be used by the body for fuel, an increase in both heart rate and respiration, a decrease in the digestive process and hypersensitivity of muscle tissue as the body prepares itself for a hasty retreat or a standoff.  This chronic anxiety and outpouring of stress hormones can result in serious physical consequences, including:

  • suppression of the immune system
  • digestive disorders
  • muscle tension
  • short-term memory loss
  • premature coronary artery disease
  • heart attack

Excessive stress or anxiety may make a person become so irrational that they cannot focus on reality or think clearly.  At this point, they may begin to experience physical symptoms.  So why do I bring this up?  You see, it is the same reaction for both the person lying and the person on the other side who does not believe the liar but cannot convince others that the lie exists.

It has been demonstrated that a person who tells the truth consistently finds it easier to tell the truth and a person who habitually lies finds it easier to lie as time goes by.  And although it may become easier to lie over time the knowledge that they may get caught in their lie still causes the rise in the stress hormones.  As the lie builds so does the stress.  And think back to the person who has caught the liar and yet very few are willing to listen.  That person is also subject to the same stress response due to excessive worrying, and anxiety.

Putting this in the context of our situation: there are the families dealing with children diagnosed with Autism (no stress there, right), who have to daily contend with those who truly do not understand and frequently toss out judgements on their ability to parent (after all, if that were my child they wouldn’t act like that).  These families are in a constant struggle with schools, insurance companies, and some even their own families.  Now add onto this an organization that was initially viewed as a godsend that has become the albatross around their neck (How could they have possibly not known to check more closely. I know that I would have.)  It is always easy to sit on the outside and give advice.  We do already realize things that could have been done better and more effectively.  We saw some of the warning signs but in our defense they were plausibly explained to those of us with no experience with some of the processes.

I have heard multiple times “Why would you choose an organization that was not a recognized 501(c)3”?  We were told that they had applied for tax-exempt Non-Profit status from the IRS and were awaiting final determination AND their Facebook Page STILL shows them listed as a Non-Profit (Yes, Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism, I am looking at you while I say this).  I have never applied for Non-Profit status, nor formed a service organization and did not know how this process progresses.  I know a bit more now.  I knew very little of Service Animal Training and was very intimidated by the costs (expected family donation) in order to receive a service animal from many of the training organizations out there.  I now understand why the cost is so high but I hope you can see why an organization which requests approximately half of that would be so appealing.

Our stress level is very high, our health has been affected and yet we cannot just stop.  We must continue to move forward and care for our children.  We still have our responsibilities to meet despite what has happened.  It hurts to see the “LIKES” increasing on their Facebook page, but we know that we made the right decision in leaving this program.  It is far less stressful than the continuous uncertainty that was our life while we were part of it.

Please read our story and share it with all that you know.  It will help us immensely to know that people are listening and do believe.

Resources of Stress and Anxiety Reduction:

Livestrong: Tips On Reducing Stress Anxiety
WebMD: Blissing Out: 10 Relaxation Techniques To Reduce Stress On-the-Spot

Additional reading about our story:

WICS News Channel 20: Parents Raising Concerns Over Local Autism Group
Kitsap Sun: 
Kitsap County family speaks out about group that promised service dog
StinkerBabies: We Will Not Go Quietly,  Update: We Will Not Go Quietly, A White Blank Page and a Swelling Rage
Lindserella: Time To Light A Fire
Seattle Dog Spot: Kitsap County military family says group that promised service dog deceived them
I Speak of Dreams: Another Fleecing of the Autism Community, Service Dog Edition

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There have been several very nice gestures from outside organizations since the light has begun to shine on our dream turned nightmare.  For several months we felt very alone and isolated…what we saw as problems others sought to brush off as just minor inconveniences.  After all, a multi-national, multi-billion dollar company such as Pepsi wouldn’t stand for being made to look foolish.  After all, they have many teams of lawyers on staff and at the ready should anyone try.  We must be mistaken.

And yet I know we were not.

Recently, Patricia Gross (Executive Director of North Star Foundation) wrote to Donna Callejon (Chief Business Officer of Global Giving) after seeing the news stories, and reading the posts concerning Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism program.  She wrote to express her deep concern for the dangerous partnerships that may be created in an inexperienced way with a breed (Siberian Huskies) that can be aggressive to small creatures.  I would like to share with you the email sent from Patricia.

From: Patricia Gross
Sent: Thursday, January 12, 2012 6:02 PM
To: Donna Callejon

Subject: Re: North Star

Hi Donna,

Thanks for your thoughts and I welcome opening a dialog with you…

Did the person you spoke with who received a husky have a child with autism as the focus of the assistance dog placement?  Remember a dog that is good for an adult with a physical challenge is a different dog than one that is good for working in close quarters with a child with autism, who is apt to bother the dog physically by way of challenging the amount of body space as well as poking fingers into the dogs’ eyes/nose/mouth…a bite can happen lightening quick, and it is preventing this that is about 90% of the work we do at North Star in terms of proper breeding, socialization, supervision and partnership of a child with autism and an assistance dog. Also please keep in mind that every breed imaginable has its enthusiasts, and there are even those that advocate pit bulls as good assistance dog candidates. Despite the variety of opinions you can find on the web, professional service dog organizations agree that the best breed for working with a young child with autism is most certainly a golden or labrador retriever, but this service dog selection should not rest simply upon the breed, but upon finding the proper pup in a litter of well bred golden or lab pups; for Animals for Autism to claim that all 10 husky puppies from a litter are to serve ten children with autism is ignorant, as there is no way that all 10 puppies will have the proper temperament (it would also be impossible for an individual or small organization to raise, train and place 10 pups simultaneously with children with autism; at North Star it would take us at least two healthy golden litters and $100,000 to meet this demand.)

Here are some facts about the Husky breed, obtained from Wikipedia; please keep in mind as you read how inappropriate this breed truly is for any child, much less a child with autism.

Huskies are an active, energetic, and resilient breed whose ancestors came from the extremely cold and harsh environment of the Siberian Arctic. Siberian Huskies were bred by the Chukchi of Northeastern Asia to pull heavy loads long distances through difficult conditions. The dogs were imported into Alaska during the Nome Gold Rush and later spread into the United States and Canada. They were initially sent to Alaska and Canada as sled dogs but rapidly acquired the status of family pets and show dogs.

The Siberian Husky has been described as a behavioral representative of the domestic dog’s forebear, the wolf, exhibiting a wide range of its ancestors’ behavior.[11] They are known to howl rather than bark.[12] If the dog is well trained, it can make a great family pet. The frequency of kenneled Siberian Huskies, especially for racing purposes, is rather high, as attributed through the history of the breed in North America. They are affectionate with people, but independent. A fifteen-minute daily obedience training class will serve well for Siberian Huskies.[13] Siberians need consistent training and do well with a positive reinforcement training program. They rank 45th in Stanley Coren‘s The Intelligence of Dogs, being of average working/obedience intelligence. They tend to run because they were at first bred to be sled dogs. Owners are advised to exercise caution when letting their Siberian Husky off the leash, as the dog could be miles away before looking around and realizing its owner is nowhere in sight. They are excellent “escape artists” as well, and have been known to climb chain-link fences and find other ways of escaping a confined area. They also get bored easily, so playing with toys or throwing a ball at least once a day is essential. Failure to give them the attention or proper exercise they need can result in unwanted behavior, such as excessive howling, marking, chewing on furniture, or crying.[14]

Huskies are rated number four in the list of breeds most apt to bite: http://dangerousdogs.net/

In regard to the plausibility of Animals for Autism’s grant, it is not just the puppies or the facility that need to be funded in terms of creating ten assistance dog partnerships with children with autism; it is the dogs’ socialization for the first two years of life, ongoing training, introduction to the child and ongoing support for this partnership, money set aside for the requisite emergencies, money to replace one of the dogs if they wash out; dogs are nothing like products that just need to be shipped.  Children with autism need to learn how to handle their dogs, and the dog needs a careful introduction to the child, and all this takes money, time and experience to do correctly.

All of these things are clearly beyond Lea’s ability to do; I know this because I have been doing this exact work (partnering children with autism with assistance dogs) as a nonprofit for a decade, and I can only make ten placements a year via two separate golden litters, with an up and running organization that relies on volunteer and corporate help for sustained support for our work; it isn’t just obtaining ten husky dogs Animals for Autism needs to do here, but to create ten safe and effective partnerships that was promised these families, and the real problem here is actually what will happen when and if substandard dogs are paired in an inexperienced and underfunded way (for true cost of this endeavor is more than $5,000 per placement, and the grant money not enough to build and sustain a facility).  A bite to a child’s face is a very real possibility here and the way I see it, everyone is just sitting on top of a world of danger if these families are served incorrectly.

Please feel free to ask me any questions you might have for me.

Kind regards,
Patty

Patty Dobbs Gross
Executive Director
North Star Foundation
www.NorthStarDogs.com
northstarfoundation@charter.net
We help children find their way.

Here is a respected, well-established service dog organization tossing out a lifeline and yet those in need refuse to acknowledge that they might have made a mistake.  Maybe, just maybe, it was not done intentionally.  Everyone makes mistakes.  What you do after the mistake is the sign of true character and integrity.  Where will your road lead Global Giving?  Do you see yourself aligning with the Pepsi Co. Guiding Principles or instead do you choose to stray?

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The digital age has brought with it a whole new world that brings with it a host of advantages.  I have enjoyed the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with various members of the family seemingly no matter where they might be.  It is commonplace for people to be carrying a cell phone, and this also means they are usually carrying a highly portable video/still camera capable of pictures ranging from 2 – 10 MegaPixels many capable of HD video.  This means that a moment can be shared as it happens with an almost limitless audience.  From the simple communication device of old it has now grown into the modern smartphone.  Excuse me just a moment, I need to answer a quick Tweet.

From the phone a picture can be quickly posted to a Facebook album, Tweeted out, or pushed to any number of photo sharing sites to be shared with the world.  Many a phone has the ability to run Skype and provide real-time video chat.  Videos may be captured and uploaded to YouTube and yet for months families have waited for Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism to post a single picture of the dogs in their Autism Service Dog Training Class to be graduating this Spring.  You know, the dogs to be trained using the funds from the Pepsi Refresh Everything grant that was applied for and received by Lea Kaydus, the founder of the Animals for Autism program.  The only pictures of the growing “Pepsi Pups” were actually rather sad.  The picture below links to the photo album.  There is speculation as to the actual breed of the dogs.  White Shepherd has been suggested a few times.

Do these look like dogs you would feel comfortable assisting your disabled child.

It would not be fair if I didn’t once again state that Lea Kaydus applied for the grant as an individual not as her “organization” and she is required to remain and individual until the end of the grant period.  It would have been nice to have her publicly state this instead of continuing to campaign using the name Animals for Autism.  And then once the grant was announced, Animals for Autism released a press release announcing THEY had been funded.  Not really all that transparent.

But back to the original thread of this post.  Communication with Animals for Autism though any form of written medium became all but non-existent.  Lea insisted that the only reliable form of communication would be through phone…her cell phone.  Which again makes me wonder…why, with that wonder of modern technology in her possession the majority of the time she was unable to capture a video of any of the dogs in training, or heck, even a picture of a training session.  That would have given the families an opportunity to see their pups and the trainers in action.  As far as I know, none of the families involved has even spoken with their trainer(s).  All communication has been with Lea Kaydus.

I see a lot of misdirection, smoke and mirrors and many parlor tricks.

Do you see what I see?

[Paws 4 Autism has setup a dedicated fund for the ten families directly affected by the Animals for Autism / Siberian Snow Babies / Pepsi Refresh Grant Scam. To donate to this fund please follow the Paws 4 Autism link here.]

[The domain AnimalsForAutism.com has been registered by a concerned family and will be used to point to verified Autism Service Dog sources.  Any of their sites will have a labrador has its primary picture.]

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One Day at a Time: Autism Service Animal Dream Falters

Today was better than yesterday.  That is a small victory in the books.  At the moment I am happy for these small victories and am taking one day at a time.

Since April of 2011 I have watched as a small “organization” in Illinois elevated my families hopes of obtaining a autism service dog to stratospheric heights and then within just a few months sent it all crashing down.

Since officially withdrawing from their training program – I believe that we were the first family to join them in 2011 – I have sought answers to question and even to this day I have received very little.  There are several people who have stepped forward in an effort to help us get those answers and I would like to say thank you to them and those for which they work.  Without further ado…thank you for shedding some light on this story:

Mike Brooks, WICS ABC NewsChannel 20 Springfield for your segment
Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun for your story and Meegan Reid for the great photo.
Jesse Jones, KING 5 Seattle, for your hard work and the segment airing soon.
Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois
Office of the Attorney General of Illinois
Springfield Autism Resource Center
The Autism Program of Illinois

I hope that it will not end here but continue to burn bright and bring out the truth of it all.  For this to happen I believe that there will need to be a constant reminder for the families involved to have closure.  I wish I could say that I thought it stopped with the families mentioned in the various articles – I have a sinking fear that it extends beyond that even beyond the confines of our country into possibly Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.  Each person who has posted a comment on the Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism Facebook page inquiring about a possible service dog was given instructions to email for further information.  Below is our email inquiry to Lea Kaydus, founder of Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism.

Hello,

 My wife and I are searching for a service dog for our soon-to-be 8 year-old daughter, Faith.  A very quick background on her and why we are seeking a service dog.  Faith had a right-hemisphere stroke prior to birth.  She is diagnosed with Autism, mild cerebral palsy, Familial Mediterranean Fever Syndrome, Rapid Cycling Mood Disorder and several life-threatening food allergies.  The stroke also caused a disruption in her growth – the left side of her body is smaller than the right side.  Although not as extreme as some it has been systemwide to include bones and internal organs.  As a result she has had developmental delays and her fine motor skills and coordination are very poor which is only compounded by increased swelling in her extremities.  

 We are hoping to find her a dog which can help her become more independent and less fearful.  To help her mobility: provide assistance when she is having difficulty walking, retrieve items that she has dropped, possibly open doors, assist with getting dressed.  Emotionally: to interrupt self-harming behavior, stay with her during the night and alert us if she wanders, help her calm during “meltdowns” and ease both transitions and public places by providing support.  If it were possible for her dog to alert us in the event of an allergic reaction.

With all this being said; a service dog is desired over a therapy dog.  Our goal is to help make her more independent and less reliant on our constant presence.

 Would your program be able to assist with these items?  What is your wait list?  Do you have specific requirements?  What are the anticipated costs?  

 Thank you so much for your time and help.

This was answered the next morning with the following email which included an application to their program:

Thank you for your inquiry about our service animal program.  The basic requirements for our program are a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, be age 5+, and have a prescription from a physician stating the need for a service animal, none of which should be a problem for you.  I would be most honored to develop a training program for one of our animals to meet your daughter’s needs.  Some of the challenges you have presented are more time consuming than our usual requests from a training perspective, however, they are all attainable.  I will address each of your requests individually.

1 – Balance assistance with gait is a fairly common training challenge, yet unique to each individual.  Part of our application package is a request from you of a short video to help familiarize our team with your daughter’s needs.  A clip showing her walking and mobility challenges should be a part of that submission.

2 – Picking up dropped items – easily accomplished.

3 – Opening doors – easily accomplished.

4 – Assistance with dressing is a bit more challenging and depends on the specificity of the actual tasks.  Retrieving and passing on articles of clothing is quite doable, but I would like a clearer description of what it is you would expect of the animal.

5 – Interruption of self-injurious behaviors – easily accomplished through a combination of the service animal and ABA techniques, but I would like additional details about the specific behaviors we will be training to interrupt.

6 – Spending the night and wandering alert – easily accomplished.

7 – Calming meltdowns – easily accomplished through a combination of the service animal and ABA techniques.

8 – Allergic reaction alert – This concerns me the most.  There are two ways of training for this, and I will need to know what your daughter is allergic to.  At this point, I am assuming she has an anaphylactic reaction to whatever the allergen(s) may be.  The easiest (and safest) method of training for allergy alerts is to train the animal to alert in the presence or near proximity of the allergen.  Additional details will be necessary.

Training for an average autism service animal takes 12-18 months with 1000 to 1500 hours of active, hands-on time.  Most of these programs are actually completed close to the 12 month/1000 hour set-point.  With some of the advanced skills needed for your daughter, I feel the minimum hands-on time will be 1500 hours.  That is normally spread over an 18 month period, but if time is of the essence to you, the animal could be trained for longer daily periods, and still finish close to the 12 month mark. 

All of the animals in our program are generously donated by quality breeders who are our close, personal friends we have known since our “show dog days” many years ago.  All are from champion or grand champion AKC or UKC bloodlines and are of optimal health.  The average life span of the animal is 12-15 years, with most dogs ready to retire between 8 and 10 years of age.  At retirement, you can either retire him/her with you but no longer in service, or the animal can be returned to us to live out his or her retirement years.  There has been recent press regarding a gentleman whose animal was repossessed for what the agency considered just cause.  I will not comment personally, other than to say that when we transfer an animal to a family for service, we relinquish all rights to that animal and simply ask you to return it to us if it is no longer of service or you can no longer care for it. 

In addition to having donated puppies, we have also been blessed to have donated space in which to work with the animals, gracious volunteer puppy raisers, and some donations of food and other supplies.  We also have incredible trainers who work contractually for us at a rate of just $5 per hour.  They consider their discounted rates to be their gift to our families.  We even have a couple of junior trainers who are on the autism spectrum and working toward careers of their own in animal husbandry and training.  All of this takes place under the supervision of myself, and I am a Certified Master Trainer.  The actual cost to raise and train a service animal is in the $20,000+ range, but we are able to place our highly-trained service animals in the $5000 to $7500 range, and the pricing reflects the number of training hours required. 

I cannot make a final determination of cost without a completed application package, however.  There are many pointed questions in the application package, and each is extremely important for the development of the training program.  It is not a test, but the clearer and more detailed your responses are, the better we can map a course of action.  Once I have that in hand and can meet with our team, we can determine the necessary training time, and let you know the outcome.  Our general policy is that our families travel to central Illinois for the final phase of training, which is a week of intensive integration and proper handling techniques to use with your service animal.  If you case, I am thinking may be more appropriate for a trainer to come to you for that week.  Should that be decided, there will be travel fees associated in addition to the training program. 

At the present time, we do not have a waiting list, and we have puppies just entering the early “citizenship” phase of training.  However, the waiting list can and does tend to change from one day to the next.  I have attached a copy of our application package for you, and if you have any further questions, do not hesitate to ask.  You are also welcome to call me directly if you wish at 217-XXX-XXXX.  I spend much of my time with puppies and in meetings, so leave a message if necessary, and I will get back with you as soon as possible.  Thank you again for your inquiry, and I hope we can work together to enhance the quality of life for your little one.  

Sincerely,

~LM Kaydus, CMT, BSA, MAS
Founder, Animals for Autism
AKK National Rescue
Autism Mom 

And even more impressive was how quickly the organization’s board met and voted to approve our application; and how quickly we were matched with our 5-week-old pup.  And even though we had been cautioned because of the lack of trainer names listed on the web site and where they learned to train service dogs; we decided to proceed.  Hindsight is 20/20.  I can only hope that others will learn from our haste and make a more informed decision that might also include advice/counseling from a local autism resource center, discussion the organization with an autism resource center in their geographic area, advice/counseling from knowledgable dog trainers and verifying tax status, business status, and their compliance with regulations.

Consider reading a few of the following blog entries:

Autism Service Dog 101 by Shane Nurnburg of Autism Epicenter
Time to Light a Fire by living legend Lindserella
Hey Pepsi! by Katherine Stone of Stollerderby posted on Babble.com
Another Fleecing of the Autism Community by Liz Ditz of I Speak of Dreams

Just a little light reading to get your started.  Thank you for your patience.  More to follow in the near future.

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When Integrity Meant Something to Corporate America

From the official application guidelines for the Pepsi Refresh Project: The Pepsi Refresh Project is an online grant program which makes available millions of dollars to be granted to projects which are intended to improve communities through an online, democratic voting process (“Grant Program”).

This program has such amazing potential providing 60 grants totaling $1,125,000 per grant period to help individuals improve their communities.  Its funded ideas have included the replacement of equipment for high school marching bands, building community playgrounds, the shipment of care packs to deployed soldiers, and the funding of animal shelters and rescues.  So how does the magic begin?

A person, or organization (for-profit or non-profit) submits their idea via the online application.  The idea is then put up to a public vote on the Grant Program website.  The top ten ideas receiving votes then go up for final certification prior to funding.  Sounds simple enough.  There are stories that the competition for these grants, especially during the last stages of voting, can get quite cutthroat.  Sadly, I think that sometimes it can bring out the worst in people while attempting to promote good.

The “founder” of Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism, Lea Kaydus, applied for a grant during the May voting period.  She solicited support from everyone and anyone she thought might be able to help her gain the grant, including partnering with other organizations competing for grants.  In her Animals for Autism Facebook page she sought support from her Facebook fans.  Her press release dated May 1, 2011 titled Animals for Autism to Place 10 Autism Service Dogs Free of Charge? does very clearly identifies her organization as the grant requester.  The posts on the Facebook page were the same.  If you had asked the families participating in her service dog training program who would be the grant recipient I am fairly certain the response would have been Animals for Autism, and not Lea Kaydus.  So in this way we all felt very misled.  I suppose things like this happen and I should not be surprised.  So I am going to just ignore this for now.  I would like to focus on other things.

A few days ago I decided to pose a few questions to Lea Kaydus on her organization’s Facebook wall.  Here is my post:

Hello Animals for Autism. I was wondering why are you still listing your group as a NON-PROFIT organization when you are not? I know that we were not the only ones waiting as you told us the paperwork was filed. 

Why are you posting pictures on the Animals for Autism Facebook page of puppies that are clearly listed for sale on PuppyFind? I would think that it would be better to post pictures of service dog training, since that is what you do (after all, you don’t just breed puppies and sell them) 

I would love to know the thinking behind it but am sure my post will go the way of many others like it on your wall, unanswered.

And the reply coupled with a picture of yet another group of puppies playing.

 

Animals for Autism

Because I applied for a grant as an individual, I am required to remain an individual until the end of the grant period. Fortunately, this detail was discovered before the application was processed with the correct user fee. However, the IRS allows Form 1023 to remain unfiled as long as an organization has gross receipts in each taxable year of not more than $5,000. Since Animals for Autism’s receipts are far less than $5,000, the NFP can accept contributions without filing until the end of the grant period. It is allowable to file the form within 27 months after the end of the month in which you were legally formed. I did, however, overlook a $15 required state fee for accepting donations on behalf of our families, and that was rectified several months ago – along with a late fee. As far as pictures are concerned, there are thousands of beautiful puppies out there, most of whom do not qualify to enter into a service animal training program. Twila is just one example, as she’s entirely too shy. However, she is still quite adorable, and most people tell me they enjoy just seeing the pictures, so I share them here. Profits from ineligible puppies like Twila are donated to the Animals for Autism program. =)
Ms. Kaydus, there are people who enjoy seeing pictures of cute little puppies (even puppies for sale) but on your Animals for Autism Facebook page and (when it was active) your Siberian Snow Babies’ Animals for Autism web site the people who are YOUR training program – the members of your Spring ’11 Autism Service Animal Training Class – really want to see you post pictures of their dogs working in a training setting.  To see them out around town wearing their Service Dog In Training vests becoming accustomed to that which many of us still dread dealing with.  They want to see them growing and advancing.  While the puppies may be cute; they are irrelevant.  It can be likened to the realtor showing you a Barbie Dream House, pointing out all the wonderful accessories and additions when you just want to see your new house.
This is from the IRS website regarding recognition of Tax Exemption which I believe is where Ms. Kaydus has pulled the numbers in her response from.  Wish I were a tax lawyer and understood the wording a little better.  Is there anyone out there who does?  I would love to hear from you.
Some of the families have been told that the Pepsi Pups are currently in emergency shelters because you have not received the entire $50,000 grant from Pepsi.  When you modified the funding agreement, and your detailed line item budget as required by Global Giving did you not also include a line item for food and medical supplies?  The families were informed by both Dennis Dowd and Terri Maini of the Pepsi Refresh Project that their funds provided automatic feeding systems, crates, leashes, harnesses, collars (wonder why none of the dogs wear collars or name tags) as well as building upgrades.  When you consider that you normally already have all of that lined up through donations prior to offering up the service animal and are only requiring the recipient to cover training costs at roughly $5/hour I would think that should have been a priority.
Ms. Kaydus has not upheld her portion of the many verbal contracts in which she has entered.  She has repeatedly and continuously ignored requests for information from those in her service program.  She has repeatedly ignored requests for information from the Better Business Bureau, and the Attorney General of Illinois.  Ms. Kaydus told the Attorney General that the families knew funds were nonrefundable and yet her application includes a refund policy.  Where is the integrity in your organization Ms. Kaydus?  Why have those in your local area not heard of the service you offer?
One last thought: there were numerous families receiving upwards of 30 Power Vote codes each day during the month of May from Ms. Kaydus.  Where did all these codes come from?  Did you truly collect them and distribute them?  Was that where the money from the families was spent?  Or were you part of the Mister Magic fiasco as well…
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