Parents hope dog becomes daughter’s best friend

Isabelle and Harley

By Julia McKay, Kingston Whig-Standard – Sunday, June 29, 2014

Canada Day celebrations got started a bit early in Amherstview on Saturday with a fundraiser to help a local girl get a service dog.

Through red and white carnival style games, food, music and a silent auction, the Marois family is hoping to help get just a bit closer to adding a new member to their family. Their six-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Isabelle, is a quiet, shy girl who is trying to live in an overstimulated world.

“With Isabelle, you have to understand a little bit about sensory processing and anxiety in order to understand how the dog will help,” said Meaghan Gauthier-Marois, Isabelle’s mother. “When her sensory processing disorder and anxiety act up, she feels really uncomfortable and in pain, with loud noises and overwhelming bright lights and that type of thing. She often doesn’t have the confidence to speak up and let people know. The dog will not only be able to provide some of the deep pressure that she needs in those situation, but the dog can also act as a distraction for her in the tactile sense.”

Her parents, Gauthier-Marois and Paul Marois, believe that a service dog would help improve the life of their middle child.

“The dog will also act as a barrier to keep other people from bumping into Isabelle,” said Gauthier-Marois. “One of her greatest fears is that someone is going to accidently bump into her because for her, a lot of her senses are overstimulated so that’s painful to her which then creates anxiety. Going to school, for her, is one of the greatest challenges.”

Gauthier-Marois has found it hard to explain what Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety Disorder are to the general public. “A lot of people don’t know about them and it’s not a simple quick explanation so we’re trying because we don’t want her to feel like someone with a disability,” said Gauthier-Marois. “It was such a joy for us getting to this point (on a waiting list for a service dog) because we felt like this was never going to happen for Isabelle.”

They created Puppy Pals as a way to help fundraise but not put too much pressure on their daughter.

“We’re trying to keep it a light and fun thing that we can do all together as a family,” said Gauthier-Marois. “I know that it’s a long process and they like to see the dogs and the child bond. We just are thrilled to be in the process. We’re trying to use this to strengthen our family unit and the support that we have seen from friends and family has been absolutely incredible.”

Their slogan is “some angels have wings, others have paws.”

Isabelle is just one of the children in the Trenton to Kingston to Ottawa area on the waiting list with Kingston 4 Paws Academy looking to be paired with a service dog. Elizabeth Bailey and Samantha Knapp created Kingston 4 Paws Academy in 2012. It is a not-for-profit organization trying to fill a need. “We’re a service dog company that provides fully-trained service dogs to people with a variety of different medical disorders,” said Knapp. “Some wait lists at other schools can be more than five years.”

Currently, the closest service dog school is in the Toronto area and requires approved applicants to come and stay at their facility for a number of weeks to get paired with a dog and fully trained.

“As the service dog organization it provides us with the ability to provide a lot of in home time with the families because we are local,” said Bailey. Bailey and Knapp are also trainers at Kingston 4 Paws Academy and have more than 32 years of dog training experience between them. They train service dogs to help both children and adults living with autism, PTSD, seizures, anxiety disorders, mobility issues and more.

Currently, it cost costs between $15,000 and $18,000 to train an individual service dog.

“We ask the families to help offset the cost of these dogs,” said Knapp. Most of the families do that through different fundraiser events. “There have been some amazing fundraising ideas,” said Knapp. “A lot of them are family and kid based,” said Bailey. “Most of the events are geared toward people having a good time and raising money at the same time.” One of the families held a bachelor/bachelorette party, while another held a softball tournament and a wine tasting. Barbecues and bottle drives are the more popular events.

Along with the fundraising efforts, the trainers are looking for volunteers to be foster families and help raise and socialize the dogs. “We hold weekly training sessions with the foster families so that we’re in a position to see how the puppy is progressing and we interact with the foster family on a regular basis to make sure that they’re not having any issues or concerns,” said Bailey. “We help train them and they then help train the dogs,” said Knapp. “It’s a win-win all the way around.”

Kingston 4 Paws Academy has been able to place two dogs so far and looking to have eight more placed by the end of next year. “It takes almost 18 months from the time that the dog is received at eight weeks old to being trained and placed,” said Bailey.

For more information about the service dog academy or to volunteer or donate, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Kingston-4-Paws-Academy

To donate to Isabelle’s fundraiser, visit www.facebook.com/puppypals4isabelle

julia.mckay@sunmedia.ca