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Family Aims to Promote Service Dog Cause

Oct 27, 2019 09:40PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Carrie, Tyler, and Brian Wetsch and their dog Gilmore

When Carrie and Brian Wetsch of Manhattan Beach needed a service dog for their son Tyler, friends and family rallied to help their cause. Now the family hopes to "pay it forward" by raising awareness and funds for the organization that helped train Tyler's dog.

The Wetsches are working with Monkey Tail Ranch, a service dog training organization, that asks that families raise $15,000 toward the $30,000 cost of training and supporting a service dog. Over the summer, Manhattan Beach friends joined Tyler's cause and raised more than two-thirds of the $15,000. When the family secured a grant to cover the remaining costs of the dog, they decided to harness the energy and enthusiasm of the community to keep supporting Monkey Tail Ranch.

For now, the family is asking those who wish to contribute to Monkey Tail Ranch to support the Monkey Tail Ranch Veterinary Reimbursement Fund to pay for the dogs' ongoing medical costs, or the Pay it Forward, Pay it Back campaign to support service dogs for veterans.

"We're super excited about this," said Carrie Wetsch. "It's an incredible organization and we really want to help get the word out about what they are doing."

A Dog for Tyler

Tyler, 12, is a student with special needs who struggles with managing typical day-to-day situations. Wetsch knew that her son responded well to dogs, and started researching organizations that provided services dogs for children with special needs. 

She connected with Monkey Tail Ranch, an organization that provides service dogs for adults, children, and families who face the daily challenges of autism, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety issues.

At Monkey Tail Ranch, it costs approximately $30,000 to train a therapy dog. Half of the cost is subsidized through general fundraising. Families are asked to raise the other half. 

The Wetsch family was approved for a dog in June and then began their fundraising effort. More than 50 families rallied to Tyler's cause, raising more than $11,000 to date. 

The Wetsches then turned to Aidan's Red Envelope Foundation. Aidan's Red Envelope Foundation helps families with special needs children meet expenses that are not covered by governmental support. The Wetsches were approved for a $5,000 grant, bringing them to their goal. At that point, they decided to dedicate their time to continuing to raise awareness and support for Monkey Tail Ranch.

Meanwhile, Tyler was matched with a young dog named Gilmore. Gilmore will join the family in Manhattan Beach when he finishes training in April.

What Is A Service Dog?

Monkey Tail Ranch, based in Hollister, California, trains service dogs, specializing in autism and anxiety disorder service dogs.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition, a service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.

Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.

Monkey Tail Ranch dogs qualify as SSigDOGs (sensory signal dogs or social signal dogs). These dogs are trained to assist a person with autism. For example, the dog alerts the handler to distracting repetitive movements common among those with autism, allowing the person to stop the movement (such as hand flapping).

"We're going to be a three-unit team of Tyler, Gilmore, and Brian or myself," said Wetsch. "For example, Tyler often gets overwhelmed in certain situations and a couple of things can happen. His lack of impulse control, or the triggering of fight or flight mode, can cause Tyler to run away from the upsetting situation which obviously can create a dangerous situation. With a service dog, we will have the ability to give Gilmore a command such as 'Cover' and he will immediately perform Deep Pressure Therapy. This will mitigate the 'flight response' and prevent Tyler's sympathetic nervous system from releasing epinephrine, or adrenaline."

Under the ADA, service dogs are not required to wear a vest or to have any printed documentation or certification. Many service dog handlers hope this changes in the future due to so many people breaking the law and passing off untrained pets as service dogs. However, that makes it especially noteworthy that Monkey Tail Ranch dogs do not automatically come with a vest. They have to go through a special round of Public Access testing and certification with the family in a variety of situations before they "earn" the official MTR blue vest that indicates they are an MTR-trained service dog that is protected under the ADA.

Once the dog has earned the vest, this can be an additional relief for the family, said Tim Houweling, co-founder of Monkey Tail Ranch

"A lot of people we’ve helped don’t have visible signs of disability," he said. "If a person is having trouble, and if their dog has a blue vest on, people give them a little bit of a break. They realize that something more is going on - and there's a lot more grace and patience that people grant them."

Fundraising Efforts Are Key

The fundraising that Monkey Tail Ranch asks families to do for a service dog is key to maintaining the Monkey Tail Ranch model, said Wetsch.

"They discourage writing a check straight out for $15,000," she said. "What we've managed to do with this fundraiser is get the word out to the community, which makes Monkey Tail Ranch more likely to be able to keep up what they’re doing. It would have been different if we hadn’t shared our story at all and just wrote them a check."

"Part of our mission is getting the positive message out about service dogs," said Houweling. "There are a lot of people who see Carrie and Tyler and see what their day is like, and they want to help but they don’t know how. When they understand how a service dog can help, it gets people excited to meet the dog and be part of the journey."

Houweling said that training dogs is just one facet of the services that his organization provides. For example, families that have received service dogs from Monkey Tail Ranch are invited every year to a "camp" at the ranch where kids and dogs are involved in activities and parents can bond and get a chance to relax knowing that their kids are in good hands.

"When we’re fundraising, we’re fundraising for a lot more than just service dogs," he said. "Service dogs are just kind of the entrance into this whole community."

Special Funds for Monkey Tail Ranch

Now that the goal to secure Tyler's dog has been met, the Wetsches are urging support for two dedicated funds at Monkey Tail Ranch.

The first fund is the Veterinary Reimbursement Fund. Monkey Tail Ranch covers costs for all regular and most emergency veterinary bills during the working life of their service dogs. This eases the financial burden of the families who receive the dogs, and ensures that they receive the best care possible. Knowing that their veterinary bills are covered helps give families peace of mind when their canine partner needs them most.

Veterinary bills generally average $7,500 over the working life of each service dog. The Monkey Tail Ranch's Veterinary Reimbursement fund takes contributions to help cover those costs. The group has currently raised just over $5,000 toward a $50,000 goal.

"We know that the families that we service have so much pressure on them financially for other costs such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, and all of the other services," said Houweling. "Removing that pressure really helps the families out."

The second fund is known as "Pay it Forward, Pay it Back." Monkey Tail Ranch has a goal of funding dogs for three veterans before Veterans' Day. Through this "Pay It Forward, Pay It Back" fundraising drive, one dog has already been placed with a veteran. Currently the campaign has raised $26,000 of the $45,000 needed to place the remaining two dogs.

The "pay it forward" aspect means that once a veteran has received a dog, that veteran helps lead the fundraising for a dog for another veteran. "A lot of these guys have so much pride they don’t want to do anything for themselves, but they want to help other veterans," said Houweling. "It’s amazing how they all want to help."

The Wetsch family has enthusiastically supported both efforts and are continuing to point friends and neighbors in the direction of those funds.

"The veterinary reimbursement - that's a huge help, and that's one of the main reasons we chose Monkey Tail Ranch," said Wetsch. "The veterans' program does amazing work too. That's why we just want to get out there and let the community know about Monkey Tail Ranch and keep supporting them."

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