A 6-year-old autistic boy’s dream of getting a service dog almost was crushed after an Illinois woman scammed his family last year.
But on Tuesday, Samuel DeWitt met a donated service dog at 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia. Lugnut, a golden retriever, was given to the DeWitt family after $23,000 combined was donated by an anonymous donor from Cincinnati ($13,000) and Wrestle Against Autism ($10,000). The average cost to train a service dog is about $23,000.
Last year, Samuel’s parents, David and Elizabeth DeWitt, raised about $1,200 and sent it to Animals for Autism in Glenarm, Ill. David said the family was under the impression that Animals for Autism also was raising money for Samuel’s service dog.
Attempts to get photos and updates of their service dog were unsuccessful, which David said “threw up red flags.”
Families in California and Washington also were scammed, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office found. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit in August and settled with Animals for Autism and its owner Lea Kaydus, who collected at least $5,190 from families in her scheme.
Kaydus has been ordered to pay back the affected families, although DeWitt said the family hasn’t received a refund. Additionally, the Better Business Bureau in Central Illinois gives Animals for Autism an F.
“They were a scam,” DeWitt said. “So after the long road that we’ve been through, to say that this is an amazing day would be the understatement of the century.”
4 Paws for Ability heard about Samuel’s story and wanted to assist the family.
Since February, Lugnut has been trained to be Samuel’s service dog, and the DeWitt family even sent three hours of video of Samuel so the staff could train Lugnut to meet his specific needs.
Jessica Noll, community media relations director for 4 Paws for Ability, said Lugnut will provide Samuel companionship and tethering so he won’t wander off. Lugnut also has the skills to alert his family of any dangers.
“They’re an extraordinary family and he’s an extraordinary boy, and we’re excited to help them out,” Noll said. “It’s going to help them the rest of their lives. To see him (Tuesday) morning was literally priceless — just the joy and excitement. It was amazing.”
Lugnut, who is 1 year old, will go home with Samuel following graduation Nov. 2. The DeWitt family lives in Mount Orab, which is east of Cincinnati in Brown County.
“If they hadn’t stepped out in faith and not stepped up, we would not be where we are right now,” said Samuel’s father, David. “Samuel has very limited verbal ability, but he kept saying ‘fun’ (Monday) night. He didn’t go to sleep until after midnight.”