Faith Creighton of Silverdale, Washington has a lot to deal with.
The eight-year-old girl has mild Cerebral Palsy, Autism, multiple life-threatening allergies, left ventricle hardening of her heart, reduced kidney function, and Familial Mediterranean Fever Syndrome.
Faith tires easily and has difficulty navigating uneven terrain and stairs. She also gets unnerved by anything that’s out of her routine, so it’s challenging for her to make transitions from one activity to the next.
Faith’s mom and dad thought a service dog would help and her in several ways.
A dog could give her stability while trying to move around and retrieve a dropped item. The animal could provide emotional support by interrupting self-harming behavior and alerting others of wandering.
Companionship and a constant calming presence would be the greatest benefits of all. So, one year ago the Creightons started searching for a dog for Faith.
They came across the Animals for Autism program run by Siberian Snow Babies based in Illinois. The fees required by this organization were significantly less than that of many of the other larger national service dog training organizations out there.
“This seemed to be the break we needed,” says James Creighton, Faith’s father. “Their web site made a point that there would be continuous contact throughout the training process, with trainers calling regularly to learn more about the specific needs of the recipient. They claimed to work almost exclusively with Siberian Huskies from AKC championship bloodlines that were donated from contacts they had made during their show dog days.”
The Creighton’s submitted an application on April 11, 2011 and were “very happy to hear” they were accepted into the program.”
“We received our initial training plan and our payment,” says Creighton, “We made our first payment of $750 according to their payment schedule on April 19, 2011.”
The Creighton’s continued their payments, and were told to expect the typical cost of this kind of service animal adoption would run around $15,000. They asked the Animals for Autism program to send pictures and video of the service dog in training, so they could use that as part of a personal fundraiser to raise money for Faith’s dog. The organization told the family their computer was hit by a virus, and as a result they would not be able to send photos.
“Our requests for more detailed updates on training status and pictures were met with ‘we are too busy working on the Pepsi grant at the moment, maybe later,'” Creighton says.
By mid-July of last year, they finally received some high-resolution photos of their puppy “Bella.”
Creighton, who is a U.S. Navy electronics technician chief based at Bangor, noticed something wasn’t right. The electronic imprint on all three photos showed that they were taken in May of 2007. They were told the puppy was born in 2011 and was about six months old.
He contacted Lea Kaydus about the possibility of a visit to see the new facility they are constructing and meet “our” service dog in training. We were informed that our visit might be possible after the new facility is completed but not before.
His heart sank. That was one red flag too many.
He checked with the Illinois Secretary of State web site to verify the business. They were not listed.
He called the IRS to check the tax ID number. It did not belong to Animals for Autism or Siberian Snow Babies. Neither organization had applied for non-profit status, and their websites have since been taken down.
Although Animals for Autism claimed 25 years of experience in training service dogs, other parents who started to ask about the animals could only find one family in possession of a trained dog.
The Creightons had made $2,250 in payments already. Trying to cut their losses, they requested a refund. The Animals for Autism owner, Lea Kaydus, told them any refund would be up to Pepsi because their grant sponsored the program.
Creighton has done everything to try to track down his money, and more importantly, the service animal he hoped would help his daughter.
He filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General of Illinois, and with their local Better Business Bureau. Lea Kaydus has been served with a subpoena to appear and provide information, and has not returned my calls for information on this case.
GlobalGiving.org administers a $50,000 grant Kaydus received to train service animals. They admit there have been “communications problems” but they do not believe the program she is running is a “scam.”
“I do believe that they are out to defraud those who can least afford it,” Creighton says.
By Linda Thomas
Photos courtesy James Creighton