Sick boy suffers setback in search for furry companion
Family defrauded by service dog provider By Becca Whitnall firstname.lastname@example.org
CANINE CONUNDRUM—Ben Hillard bonds with Goldie, who was slated to become a service dog to help alert Ben’s family before his seizures occur. The organization training Goldie has since filed for bankruptcy. Courtesy of the Hillard family When Acorn readers first met 9-year-old Ben Hillard in November 2013, his family was raising funds to buy the sick boy a service dog.
He’s still waiting.
Between donations, fundraisers and their own savings, the Hillards raised not only the $12,400 they needed to cover the cost of the specially trained canine, but community members were so generous that an extra $6,000 had been donated.
That money, the full $18,400, was left with Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions, the organization the Hillard family was working with to get a companion for Ben, who suffers from epileptic seizures, a side effect of a type 1 brain tumor he’s now had removed three times.
The Newbury Park family hoped the additional cash would be used to help train a service dog for another individual.
But now the organization—along with the money—appears to be gone.
Though his latest MRI scan in May showed no signs of a tumor, Ben is still suffering from seizures. A service dog can detect when the child is having an attack and alert his parents, Lynne and Ron, or other adults. Ben’s dog was to be a yellow Labrador retriever named Goldie.
“We started getting pictures of her. She was a beautiful yellow Lab and Ben was really excited about that,” Lynne Hillard said.
Around the same time they started receiving the photos, Lynne noticed some rumblings about a lawsuit against Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions. But since their experience with the group had been totally positive, Lynne dismissed the case as coming from a solitary disgruntled person.
It looks like she was wrong.
Problems started in April, when the family received notice that Goldie was going through temperament testing before her advanced training and would be ready for home training, a week-long intensive session with the family, beginning April 22. But on April 21, someone from Pawsitive called and said Goldie wouldn’t be ready on time.
“I broke it to Ben and he wasn’t very pleased,” Lynne said. “He had prepared to take a week off school for the training, so I suggested we go up (to Northern California) to visit her.”
During the trip, Ben got to bond with the animal. Although Goldie was a good dog, she was easily distracted and it was clear she wasn’t ready to serve, according to Lynne.
“Ben loved her right away, but I thought he’d never be able to take her to school,” she said.
The organization didn’t give the family a time frame for when to expect Goldie to be ready. Hillard said she wasn’t worried too much because they were grateful to be getting a dog at all.
But in June everything changed.
The family had taken a trip out of state and while driving back down the coast, they’d planned to stop to visit Goldie again, having received permission before they left, Hillard said. When they called from Portland to let them know they’d be arriving the next day, however, they found their contact at the organization was no longer working there. When Lynne called the phone number the contact gave her, she got a recording saying Pawsitive was no longer accepting applications and was in the process of closing.
When the family got home, she spoke with an attorney, because the organization had all the money for the service dog. Online, she discovered there were other families in the same predicament—24 that she knows of. She also learned the organization’s website and Facebook page were taken down.
With no way to contact Pawsitive, it would appear all would be lost. But Ben’s story will have a happy ending.
After the family returned from the trip, Lynne wrote notes to the donors she knew of to thank them and let them know what happened. She was worried people would be angry at the family, but felt they had a right to know.
“I was very embarrassed. I felt like I should have known,” she said.
Among the recipients of the letters was a neighbor with ties to a dog rescue organization, Rescue Me, Inc.
The woman got the ball rolling on finding Ben a replacement dog. A sister organization to Rescue Me, it turned out, helps provide service dogs to returning military men and women suffering from PTSD and other ailments. The organizations are teaming up to provide a dog for Ben.
Rescue Me co-founder Joy Nadel said they are currently seeking a suitable dog. Once they find one, one of Rescue Me’s board members, a 35- year trainer who’s worked with military service dogs as well as therapy dogs, will train him or her.
Nadel said the organization is accepting donations (visit www.rescuemeinc.org to make a donation and note it is for Ben) but the family won’t be charged for the dog directly. “This family has been duped for something like $18,000. There is absolutely, positively not a single penny coming from the family. We’ll be raising it all and taking donations,” Nadel said.
In the meantime, Pawsitive Service Dogs Solutions is filing for bankruptcy, according to its attorney, Douglas Jacobs of Jacobs, Anderson, Potter & Chaplin, based in Chico.
Once bankruptcy is filed, clients can file for claims and the courts will decide who gets what money, though there’s a catch.
“There’s an interesting problem with some of those claims that the clients might not be aware of. In many cases, donations were made directly to Pawsitive Service Dogs on behalf of the clients, which means the clients aren’t entitled to that money,” Jacobs said.
What likely would happen instead is the donated money would be given to another nonprofit organization, which could be another service dog training organization, though that is up to the court-designated trustee, Jacobs said.
If it is, it’s possible the money could then be applied again toward a service dog for the families who have put their faith in Pawsitive and then lost funding in their quest for a partner for their children with disabilities.