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Tag: autism

Despicable Santa: A Santa in Mission Viejo turns away autistic girl and service dog

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A Southern California shopping mall has apologized to the family of a young girl with autism after she and her service dog were turned away by a Santa who was either allergic to the dog, afraid of the dog, or just a most unjolly sort.

The Santa on duty during the incident at The Shops at Mission Viejo was fired, as was at least one elf, and the mall has invited both the girl and her dog back to visit with a more compassionate Santa.

The girl, Abcde (pronounced Ab-Suh-Dee) Santos, had waited in line for half an hour with her service dog Pup-Cake.  But before Abcde could take a seat on Santa’s lap,  she was turned away, apparently because the man playing Saint Nick was not a fan of Pup-Cake, a pit bull, ABC7 reported.

pupcakeFamily friend Julie Miller says Pup-Cake is a specially trained service animal that accompanies Abcde everywhere she goes.

“The dog is not a breed when it is a service animal,” Miller told ABC. “A service animal is a highly trained companion to an individual and the breed is secondary. The Americans with Disabilities Act gives an individual with a disability the right to have their companion and service animal with them to do the job that they’re trained to do.”

Friend say Abcde, rather than wanting to tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas, had hoped to ask him what he was wishing for this year.

Miller said even though Abcde was turned away by Santa and associates, the fact that she patiently waited 30 minutes to see him was something to celebrate.

“Any person who has a child on the spectrum would look at that and think ‘Wow,’” she said

Abcde’s mother wrote about the incident in a Facebook post. She said after Santa refused to meet with the girl and dog, the family offered to take Pup-Cake outside. They were told the visit would still not be allowed because Santa had dog allergies.

Miller said the shopping center responded quickly once they were told what happened.

“We do not condone the behavior displayed by Santa and have worked with our partners at Noerr, the company that hires our Santas, to replace this Santa with one that is more compassionate to our guests’ needs,” The Shops at Mission Viejo wrote on its Facebook page. “We look forward to welcoming back the Santos family and Pup-Cake for a special Santa experience.”

Noerr’s CEO also posted a statement to the mall’s Facebook page:

“For 26 years, The Noerr Programs has devoted itself to sharing the heart of Santa through the creation of magical Christmas experiences for all children and their families. The entire team at The Noerr Programs sincerely apologizes for any distress caused by this situation, and truly regrets the incident. We have reached out to the girl’s family, in an effort to extend a private Santa visit with complimentary photos of both the child and her service dog.”

Whether that happier ending will come to pass is questionable.

Abcde is still upset by what happened. ”Right now Abcde does not want anything to do with anything Christmas,” the family said in a statement.

“The family is working on reigniting that hope she had; if and when it happens she will visit Santa at The Shops. She will have her 30 seconds with Santa so she can ask him what he wants for Christmas. If she wants to. Not until then.”

(Photos: Facebook)

School district settles lawsuit over banning autistic student’s service dog

The fight between a Florida school district and a student with autism who wanted to bring his service dog to class is over — with no real resolution.

The Collier County School Board approved a settlement last week that will pay William and Brenda Hughes $125,000 to settle a lawsuit brought forward on behalf of their son, Derek.

The suit alleged that the district violated the Individuals With Disabilities Act, the American Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

In return for the Hughes dropping the complaint, and agreeing not to enroll their son in Collier County’s schools again, the district forked over the money and admitted no wrongdoing.

Hughes and his wife pulled their autistic son, Derek, from Collier public schools several years ago. He now attends school in Chester County, Pennsylvania, according to NaplesNews.com

The family had argued that the school district was negligent by not allowing the Pine Ridge Middle School student to bring his service dog to school.

Autistic student’s right to service dog upheld

An autistic student’s right to bring his service dog to school was upheld by an Illinois appeals court last week.

The appeals court upheld a Monroe County court ruling that permitted Carter Kalbfleisch to bring his autism service dog, Corbin, to school. The Columbia School District had appealed the lower court decision.

Instead of following the lower court’s ruling, the district decided it could not meet Carter’s educational needs and sent him to the Illinois Center for Autism, agreeing to pay for his education there, but refusing to pay the cost of trasnporting Carter and the dog to school, according to the Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois.

 ”We’re happy that it went our way,” said Chris Kalbfleisch, Carter’s father. “Hopefully the school will change their direction with this. … Hopefully we can move forward and get our son back in school.”

“We hope they come to the realization that the law is the law and they have to follow it,” said Kalbfleisch’s attorney, Clay St. Clair. “Just because you don’t like a law doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow the law. We hope they do what they are supposed to do.”

School and district officials argued the dog would be disruptive, and possibly cause allergic reactions in other students.

The school district has the option of accepting the appellate court’s decision, or appealing the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Boy with autism finds, returns missing dog

mindyWhen a Maltese-poodle mix named Mindy was found after being lost for 100 days in the woods of northwest Massachusetts, she was infested with fleas, her weight had dropped to three pounds, and her fur was so matted over her face that she couldn’t see, which explained why she was running around in circles.

She was “effectively blind,” said Martha King-Devine, of the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. “She was just skin and bones when they brought her into the shelter.”

Mindy was lost during a family trip in August, surviving more than three months among the owls, foxes, coyotes and bears who dwell in the woods, the Mansfield News Journal reports.

Mindy had disappeared when Kathy and John Dunbar stopped at a rest area on their way to Maine to visit a terminally ill relative. “I thought he put her in and he thought I put her in,” Dunbar said.

Back on the road, they realized Mindy was missing, and retraced their route, spending six hours trying to find her. They also dropped off business cards at shops and police stations, and filed a report with the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society — all, it seemed, to no avail.

On Nov. 13, though, Mindy was found by Tye Carlson, a boy with autism, about 30 miles from the rest area. Tye and his father took her to a local veterinarian, then took her home, where Tye — normally fearful of dogs, according to his mother – became fast friends with Mindy.

The Carlsons were more than happy to keep Mindy, but when they learned — through the humane society — that she had been reported missing three months earlier, Carlson and her son knew that they had to give Mindy back to her owners.

Mindy is back home with the Dunbars now.

Mrs. Carlson, meanwhile, said she is “definitely thinking” about getting a dog for her son now.

Here’s hoping he gets a great one.

Autistic first grader can keep his dog in class

Chewey can stay in first grade.

A judge in Douglas County, Illinois ruled Tuesday that first grader Kaleb Drew, who has autism, can attend class with Chewey, his service dog.

The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog’s presence, arguing he wasn’t a true service animal, and that other students might be fearful or have allergic reactions to him.

Judge Chris Freese sided with the Kaleb’s family, which argued that the yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under Illinois law, according to an Associated Press report. The family said the dog is similar to a seeing-eye dog for the blind and is trained to help Kaleb deal with his disabilities.

Chewey has accompanied Kaleb to school since August under court order, pending the judge’s final ruling on the family’s lawsuit against the school district.

Similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of autistic children in other states, including California and Pennsylvania, and another case is pending in Illinois involving 5-year-old Carter Kalbfleisch and the service dog that accompanies him to pre-kindergarten.

“I’m very pleased and happy that Kaleb and Chewey are going to get to continue their work together and continue to grow as a team and learn from each other,” Nichelle Drew, Kaleb’s mother, said after the ruling.

She says the dog keeps Kaleb from running in front of cars in the school parking lot, helps him feel calm and allows him to more easily transition from one activity to another.

Illinois schools seek to ban autistic kids’ dogs

Over the objections of school officials, Kaleb Drew went to first grade on Tuesday with his Labrador retriever, Chewey, and his family says they’re optimistic they’ll win a court battle to keep the dog in class.

Chewey, trained to help the autistic boy deal with his disabilities, did “just as he’s supposed to” in keeping Kaleb safe and calm during his first full day back at school, said the boy’s mother, Nichelle Drew.

A Douglas County judge allowed the dog to accompany Kaleb until the family’s lawsuit against Villa Grove Elementary School in east-central Illinois goes to trial in November, according to the Associated Press.

Kaleb’s case is one of two challenging an Illinois law allowing service animals in schools.

“I hope as time goes by that maybe they’ll see that it’s not causing a problem, and they’ll let the fight go,” Nichelle Drew said. Regardless, she added, “We’re in it for the long haul.”

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This little piggy can’t go home — yet

An 80-pound pot-bellied pig is helping bring an 8-year-old with autism out of his shell in Fayetteville, North Carolina — or at least it was until a city inspector spotted it.

The special connection between boy and pig was interrupted last month when city inspectors — though no one had complained about the pig — left the family a notice that they were violating a city code barring hogs from the corporate limits.

As a result, the family had to return the pig, named Loopey, to where they bought it, at a ranch a half-hour away, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

Now Lisa Pia is fighting to get the law changed on behalf of her son, Anthony.

“Soon as he saw her, it was love at first sight,” Lisa Pia told WRAL News, recalling Anthony’s first meeting with the female pig they named Loopey. Anthony doted on Loopey and, as the pig grew, they comforted each other through thunderstorms and played in the family’s backyard. At night, the pig slept in Anthony’s room. Each day, Anthony raced home from school to be with his pet pig.

“We were just excited for him that finally, he’s coming out and he’s not in his shell anymore, and he’s doing things, and playing and interacting,” Pia said.

Then came an unexpected letter from city inspectors, informing the Pias of the Fayetteville ordinance that makes it “unlawful to keep hogs within the corporate limits.” A city inspector had spied Loopey in the Pias’ backyard while in the neighborhood on an unrelated matter. The Pias returned Loopey to the ranch where they had bought her. But they hope to get permission so he can return.

The Pias — wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Loopey and Anthony — appealed to the Fayetteville City Council to review the ban on swine, or make an exception for Loopey as a therapy animal for Anthony.

The city council members voted 6-2  to authorize staff members to research what would be entailed in revising the ordinance. The issue is likely to be discussed again at the city council’s next work session on September 8.

An online petition for “Friends for Loopey” has gathered nearly 5,000 signatures.

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