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Disability Action Center NW

Supporting furry friends

Tapped hosts fundraiser for service dogs Thursday, February 21st, 2019.

Sipping pints at Tapped Taphouse and Kitchen Thursday evening will benefit two non-profits, Autism Anchoring Dogs and Disability Action Center NW.

From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the Puppies and Pints fundraiser is set to donate $2 per drink to the organizations.

Kirsten Becker, executive director of Autism Anchoring Dogs, created the non-profit out of Portland, Oregon, in October 2015. As a service dog provider, she said their mission is to keep autistic children safe.

“I know that we have saved lives by doing this,” Becker said.

Becker said she lost her 8-year-old son, who had autism, and was never able to locate him.

Becker said giant breed service dogs, exclusively Newfoundland and Leonbergers, are trained to stop elopement — running away and not coming back — in children. The dogs weigh a minimum of 100 pounds to provide a direct counterweight to the child that is trying to bolt off, she said.

The fundraiser will help fund the non-profit in hopes of eventually breaking even, she said. Whenever large sums of money are donated, Becker said she directly applies them to invoices for people who have indicated they are in need.

All money goes into the donation account and will be dispersed to somebody who is waiting for a service dog. Becker said it is rare to have people who are able to immediately pay.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate families with a child with autism will spend between $16,000 and $17,000 or more in medical expenses every year, she said.

“The child is attached to the harness of the dog. So, whenever the dog feels a tug in its harness, it is trained to turn toward the tug, sit and brace itself to stop the child and keep them within six feet of their parent(s),” she said.

She said one in eight children with autism die following an elopement, with about 12 percent running into traffic and 91 percent drowning.

“It is a life-threatening behavior that is inadvertent self-harm, but they do not know better than to do this,” Becker said. “It is a direct correlation to being overwhelmed by their environment, whether it is sensory overload, too many people around and it is crowded or it is a strange place.” 

When the children are overwhelmed, Becker said they are known to bolt away from a place of safety, often ending in injury or death.

Dogs offer social interaction and therapeutic compression, curling up as much as they can next to their humans, she said. 

Esther Louie, Autism Anchoring Dogs Puppy Raiser coordinator, said Leonbergers and Newfoundlands are known for their sweetness of temperament and affinity for children — commonly known as gentle giants.  

Louie is currently raising a 1-year-old Newfoundland puppy-in-training, Mercy, before she will be placed with a family in about another year. 

Mercy, who weighs 100 pounds, will visit Tapped for socialization, Louie said. 

“I told the directors, ‘You are going to have to come get her, because I am not bringing her to you in May for her to continue her training before she is placed with a family,’” Louie said. “We just want to keep this little girl — she is so sweet.” 

Louie said by the time her first puppy, Abe, was eight months old, she had to start telling herself every day she signed a contract to give him up. 

While there is a strong community of puppy raisers in the area, she said giving up dogs at any point is really hard for someone. 

“I always asked other puppy raisers if it gets easier with the second and third dogs, but of course they said, ‘no,’” Louie said. “(But) it is rewarding to see the full circle of raising a puppy and then seeing them go help a family in need.” 

Vicki Leeper, Disability Action Center NW marketing specialist, said their non-profit does not directly train dogs but is able to put people in contact with service dog providers and offer resources for training their own dogs. 

“Historically, people with disabilities are often considered separate from the rest of society, but our whole philosophy is that communities exist to serve people, no matter what,” Leeper said. “Our mission is to promote equality — including civil rights and human rights — for people with disabilities, and provide them with tools like service dogs.” 

There are currently three dogs being trained in Moscow — Cory, Nelly and Mercy, Leeper said. Each dog will be at Thursday’s event for socialization — getting used to different environments with noise and commotion — before they are trained for another year and paired with a child.

“Families are now able to go out and do things without fears — and to us, that is removing a barrier — exactly what we work towards,” Leeper said. “If someone has a disability and they’re facing a barrier, they come to us to talk about it.”

Leeper said there will be giveaways at the event — most likely with dog-related items.

“We want to encourage everybody to come out and meet the puppies by grabbing a drink and some food” Leeper said.

Allison Spain can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu