Lemonade stands are a quintessential symbol of childhood summers, and they often give ambitious youths their first taste of entrepreneurship. While many children only think of spending their earnings on cheap candy and toys, 6-year-old Olivia Anders ran a lemonade stand in Troy, Michigan, to meet her fundraising goal for an autism service dog.
Fundraising for a Service Dog
Across the country, families of children and adults with autism spectrum disorder are exploring the benefits of welcoming a trained service canine or therapeutic companion into their homes. Unfortunately, making a commitment is only the first step. Service dogs typically cost about $26,000, and many families must wait years to be approved and complete training with their canines. Although free service dogs are available through nonprofits such as Paws With A Cause, these organizations depend on in-house fundraising, which can limit the number of annual placements and lead to long wait lists.
Olivia’s mother, Rebecca Anders, decided to pursue a service dog when, during a tearful episode, Olivia said she wanted a new brain and was tired of living with autism. Olivia’s family was waitlisted for three years before deciding to partner with 4 Paws for Ability, an organization that provides an average turnaround time of 12 to 18 months by requiring the recipients to raise $15,000. The number seems daunting at first, but Olivia’s family felt that fundraising was a more productive use of time than an uncertain wait period. The nonprofit offers guidance on choosing fundraising methods and approves children and adults who often fall outside the criteria for other organizations.
At $3,000 away from the minimum goal, the family enlisted a local TV show, “Mojo in the Morning,” to promote a charity lemonade stand. A Kroger supermarket hosted the stand and donated the lemonade supplies, and the family also provided an online donation link to optimize their outreach efforts. With the community’s help, the family raised over $24,000 and donated the excess funds to help Oliva’s friend, Starla get her own seizure alert dog.
Benefits and Challenges of Getting a Service Dog
The demand for autism service dogs is growing as more families discover the value of having a canine that can calm disruptive behavior, offer unconditional companionship, and prevent a child from wandering.
In a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, author Gretchen Carlisle surveyed 70 families of children on the spectrum. Approximately two-thirds own dogs, and 94 percent of those owners say their children have a strong bond with their canines. Whether or not families own dogs, children on the spectrum often show positive behavioral trends after interacting with animals because these furry companions ease the transition into social situations. They provide a common point of interest when interacting with others and react soothingly to behavioral issues, giving children a controlled outlet for their frustrations.
The diversity of children on the spectrum largely contributes to the high cost of service dogs. A typical training program lasts one to three years while the dog learns how to respond to the individual child’s needs and behavioral patterns. For example, a loud, overactive canine isn’t suitable for a child who is sensitive to noise, while a child who is prone to wandering may need a dog with advanced tracking capabilities. At 4 Paws for Ability, training costs start at $22,000, and the recipient and caregivers participate to forge a bond with the canine as early as possible.
Sometimes, a promising canine is disqualified well into the training period, making it necessary to start with a new dog. Service dogs cannot be temperamental or distracted, and they must respond positively even when handled roughly by their owners. Out-of-state travel is another cost factor, as training organizations often require families to visit their headquarters at some point in the process.
Companionship has allowed many children who were once trapped in a shell of solitude to function confidently in school, sleep alone in their own beds and interact calmly in new environments. With her fundraising goal completed, Olivia is on her way to having a loyal canine companion.