Noah Ainslie's Service Dog Fund

$7,516 of $13,000 goal

Raised by 119 people in 46 months
Hi, I'm Shawna. I live with anxiety. I've done a lot of healing in the last several years. I've had to, because I am setting an example. My eldest son, Noah, struggles with severe anxiety. While my anxiety goes inward, his anxiety goes outward. For Noah, that means screaming and inappropriate aggression misconstrued as self-defense (he hears a firm voice as a whip and his fight or flight instincts wrongly kick into high gear), and it is dangerous for both of us and the other members of our family. If you've ever seen anxiety in a child, you know it can reach a peak where control is lost. This is frightening for anyone no matter their age, but as adults, we can usually reign ourselves back in to minimize damage. Children have to develop that skill, so it's no surprise that overwhelming anxiety in a child can result in collateral damage to those around him, especially when that anxiety stems from thinking the people nearby will do him harm. While we have an action plan and a great support system for when anxiety strikes, it is not perfect. We still need help daily.

Noah is nine now. Age three was when his anxiety manifested. With the encouragement of a teacher in his preschool who had a much greater understanding of what was happening than we did, our son started therapy. First play therapy, then occupational, then music and cognitive behavioral therapy. Also speech therapy to help with word choices and more occupational to deal with continued physical needs, and life skills counseling. Noah still uses a combination of these.

Six years, two more children and multiple diagnoses including Autism Spectrum Disorder later, we have discovered what works and what doesn't when it comes to good mental health in our home. For example, I need to do regular weight bearing exercise, go to therapy at least once every two weeks and write through my feelings. Noah needs to swim, keep up with his cello lessons, have an in-school action plan and attend his own therapy (sometimes bringing in his siblings) at least twice a month. 

But it's not enough. Noah is a child. He has a diagnosed emotional delay. This means he and his three-year-old sister process the world with similar understanding and patience or lack thereof. Except Noah is nine years old, four foot nine, and unusually strong. You might see where I'm going with this. When a three-year-old starts kicking and screaming because the world is just too much, you pick her up and hold her or move her to a safe space. Not so for my oversized, muscular, pre-pubescent, highly anxious kiddo. He's big and strong enough now that I can't move him when he's struggling most. I can't hug him or hold him or reassure him in the ways parents should, let him know this isn't his fault, he is safe, it will be okay. And then there is the world looking at him with certain expectations for his abilities and behaviors.

Noah hasn't mastered emotional recomposure while overstimulated even though he looks old enough to control himself. This is not a reason for him to be punished. He needs help. He needs this animal companion, this doggy best friend, because he needs to know it's not his fault he was born this way. Noah needs to know that the unfortunate people who approach us in public when he's struggling the most--the people that say he is "bad" and should be ashamed of himself--are the people who should be ashamed. They don't know the whole story. Noah needs support in being the best he can because he is already toying with self-harm.

I truly believe Noah can learn to fully self-regulate. He has come very far in the last two years despite multiple negative reactions to medications. He fights his anxiety every day. But he needs help getting there. 

We know dogs work for him. Noah's therapist has three dogs he interacts with for every session. He has also worked with animals at our local Humane Society chapter. This means a service animal can be that support, because trained animals can recognize high anxiety, panic attacks, ease flashbacks, sound alerts, track runners and herd to safety. One skill we would like to train in our animal is a lap command  so the dog (which will be medium or standard sized) will sit on Noah's lap when he is entering an agitated state for a literal grounding effect ("deep pressure"). Another ease will be taking the dog into the school to help our guy self-soothe and re-enter the classroom after needing to leave. 

I want to take a moment to talk about his school. It is amazing. The staff there have created a safe environment for an easily overstimulated child. This is no small task. Ask me and I will tell you they are a team of heroes; the most compassionate, driven group who genuinely care for every child's well-being. Still, our guy struggles. The classroom is noisy or quiet, there is too much motion or one small motion, there is a new smell or an old one . . . what will trigger Noah's anxiety is up for grabs. His school does the best they can, but he's not the only child there.  And he needs to be in his classes because he's brilliant and he does love learning and he's missing it with regularity. Last year Noah could barely handle Math and he's never had much success during large group projects. He also couldn't do recess because it was too stressful. Noah couldn't go outside and play with his friends and just be a kid.

It has taken us years and considerable research to fully commit to this path. We have allergies, but we have found a dog breed (the Australian Labradoodle) that even our worst allergy sufferer is comfortable with. To ensure the animal who will eventually become the sixth member of our family is compatible, we've found a breeder that loves their animals immensely, follows up for life, breeds from service animals and works closely with a trainer who has 20 years experience training service and therapy dogs. The next puppy litters are due at the beginning and middle of October, and we are on the list to receive one! (Note: We wanted to rescue, but due to personality, allergy and training needs, that was not the best option for both animal and family.)

We have repeatedly tried saving for a service animal. Our insurance will not help us. Our income level prevents us from receiving scholarships or charitable aid. This is ironic because we are about $10 short every month to meet our minimum needs (we also have significant food allergies), and we currently have approximately $10,000 outstanding in medical debt on credit cards and with physicians who do not take (legal or harassing) action when we chip away by paying $25/bill/month. It's like the hits just keep on coming, because every time we set an earmark and save that amount, a vehicle breaks or something floods and mold grows or someone in our family has a serious medical need to meet that wipes out what we've saved. Still, we are hopeful. 

After trying everything else, we decided we are just going to reach out to the world even though asking for help is hard. A full service animal will cost us $18,500. We have been told (by the trainer who you can read more about in updates) that only a full service dog can meet Noah's needs. The dog itself will cost $3,500 depending on coloring and whether it is assessed as therapy or service. We have already managed the $500 deposit. Right now, we are asking for help with the initial price of the animal and beginning training. That means $10,000 by mid-October. We will need to raise the remaining $7,500 to be paid at completion of the dog's training, which we estimate will be around April-June. If by some miracle we raise beyond that point, we will first cover associated costs with our therapy companion and then turn to paying down the debt we have amassed while meeting our child's non-negotiable needs. We are trying to get this animal as soon as possible. Because we need this. We need help in our home every day, and our home and hearts are ready to accept and love a new family member. 

If you want to head up a fundraiser, send a donation through PayPal or mail (GoFundMe and WePay take total 7.9%), put together a fundraiser where you are, or otherwise connect, you can reach me through this campaign or at shawna (dot) ainslie (at) gmail (dot) com. This is also the email address associated with my PayPal account. If you are friends and family, you can use that setting to make your donation with no fees involved.

We thank you for your help.

UPDATE: Our projected costs have gone down dramatically thanks to a new trainer! Squee!

*edited to more specifically/accurately reflect our needs and goals
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One of the ways we have cut back expenses is I am now grooming Appa myself. I'm still getting the hang of working with his thick coat, so his cut is a bit uneven, but he doesn't mind a bit. He's happy to be a mussed-up fur wall when it brings on the cuddles.

Consider this a "before" photo. I was hoping to capture him after his bath, but we woke up to rain. White poodles and mud reason to put him through the wash just yet. ⛈
"I just want you to pet me."
Last time it rained. . .
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It has been a long stretch between updates. Much has happened, and I need to explain.

We were working with two amazing trainers in Missouri through Black Wolf K-9. Their names are Kate Sidun and Ronnie Barton. Let me tell you this: if you get the opportunity to work with these amazing individuals, please take it! Our setup included extensive training for our family on dog handling and dog training so that Appa can be the very best companion for Noah for life. It was working, but we hit a hitch.

The hitch was two-fold. One of Noah's triggers is travel. Initially, we were traveling 8 hours to meet with our trainers. This was worth the haul as far as the training is concerned, but it contributed to some regression in home for Noah.

Ronnie, because he is a spectacular human being (seriously, he makes you feel like you can learn to the point you wish you were a dog so you could train with him full time), began meeting us at the halfway point. Once neither party needed to travel 8 hours, it seemed our plan was game on. But we hit snag two. The travel had already sapped our funds.

Last time I was here I shared that our family has spent well beyond what was raised to pursue Appa's training. At that time, our total out of pocket came to approximately $10,000. The funds were gone. Between travel, training, insurance and the costs of dog food and veterinary care, my savings well was also dried. We had to regroup, take a breather and think again about how we could continue training. One thing became clear: whether we had the money or not and no matter how amazing the trainers, we couldn't continue traveling. There was too much resultant friction.

So Black Wolf K-9 released us from our contract. We had paid a bit ahead, and they agreed to reimburse that amount. We are using it to cover Appa's food and care and saving what is extra in his dog fund. Because we do plan to finish his training. I have been keeping it up to the best of my ability and researching local options, of which there are few.

We have a unique situation. Appa is eager to fulfill his doggy destiny. He is anxious away from Noah and Noah away from him. Our life has improved dramatically with Appa in our home. Noah allows touch, is more playful and can be safely deescalated when he is in a full melt-down. Appa also comforts and intervenes on my behalf, interrupting my PTSD and what we have discovered is most likely autism. That's right. Working to understand Noah has made it abundantly clear that my personal struggles stem from something other than historical trauma. In fact, and I'm not going to get into this much here, my responses to and interpretation of said trauma likely have much to do with my preset neurology. This isn't an armchair diagnosis. I was observed for autism throughout childhood. Recent research has shown autism has been a consistently missed diagnosis for women as it looks different than in men.

But back to Appa, his training and fundraising. We still need help because we still plan to pursue his certification. Ideally, Appa would complete his training in the home with a trainer who comes regularly to us. A second possibility is Appa will complete his training with a local trainer so we can continue regular interaction through the process (i.e. attempt to maintain emotional progress for Noah). We have not found a trainer yet. If you know of one near Bloomington, Indiana with ICANN certification, please let us know!

In the meantime, every penny earned through this GoFundMe or through sales of the Four Paws for Noah stamps (find them here: ) has and will continue to go toward Appa-related costs.

I want to extend a special thank you to those of you who have hosted/are hosting fundraisers of your own to support our family. Thomas Ives is an inspirational writer who has created an autism awareness t-shirt and mug, and has pledged all proceeds from sales to this GoFundMe. Find those items here:


Multiple clients have hired me for projects they had in desk drawers in order to support our service dog goals. Thank you.

Shareen Mansfield of Open Thought Vortex Magazine ( created the opening for Appa in our lives by hiring me to co-create and launch her publication. She also aided in the facilitation of the Four Paws for Noah Writing Competitions, hosting one of her own until illness prevented its resolution. She then donated the promised prizes directly to this campaign. In addition, she has provided our family with multiple learning tools for dog care and training. Honestly, we would not have been able to start the dog training process without the financial support she provided. Open Thought Vortex, a magazine that is a safe space for artists and survivors to express themselves creatively, developing out of that support has been magical.

Numerous others made possible the Four Paws for Noah Writing Competitions by facilitating, judging, submitting and supporting. You are all phenomenal, seen and appreciated.

We could not have received greater love than we have because what we have received is unimaginable.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us thus far. We welcome your continued support as we travel new roads with our service companion.

Again, you have our deepest gratitude.
Noah and Appa working on the "lap."
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Important fundraiser update:

In general we've shied away from family vacations, but this year is different. I'm working which creates a small bit of ease around our flexible spending. And then there's Appa. Appa makes it possible to drive long distances because Noah stays safe and comfortable mile after mile, snuggly best friend at his side.

Instead of our usual two days at the Ainslie family homestead in Michigan, we detoured to Cedar Point. Two days away from home generally results in extreme transitional stress. This trip was five days. We are home now and all relaxed despite being overtired and done with twice-a-day PB&J or turkey sandwiches. (Gluten free dining can quickly double travel expenses so we make sure to bring our own meals, a task also eased by Appa as he is able to interrupt food frustration.)

The last time we took a family trip I was certain we'd never try it again. The stress-to-fun ratio was heavily skewed toward stress. We all got sick once we were home from coping while we weren't. The transition back to daily life was excruciating and took two full weeks of emotional detox. It wasn't worth it, then, to try again.

There is some delight to arrive home on the 4th and celebrate a personal freedom--in this case our family's increased mobility and access to public spaces.

If you would like to help us continue Appa's training, we welcome your donations. We still have $7000 to raise to cover the costs of training, travel for training and dog expenses. If we could just get $3500, we would be in a manageable place. What has been raised was already spent ($500 in training per month since October 2015 =$5000 plus $1000 in veterinary plus $500 in food, toys and necessities, plus grooming, health and life insurance, etc.). If you add that up, you can see I have been covering dog expenses out of my freelance savings for the last two months. The amount exceeds $30000 and that savings is depleted. We would love your help.

What we need most are donations. Otherwise, I am scheduling clients for September once my kids are back in school.

Thank you for everything you've done so far. I'll be back to share more soon!
Appa supporting Noah during a long drive
Appa at Lake Erie.
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We made an 800 mile round trip this weekend for Appa's training. Noah is not a fan of car rides. Appa LOVES them. The pair kept each other excellent company the entire way with Noah doing 95% of the dog handling for the entire trip.
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$7,516 of $13,000 goal

Raised by 119 people in 46 months
Created September 6, 2015
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Emily Chester
34 months ago
Pattie Chester
34 months ago
Nancy Shin
34 months ago
Melissa Hasan
34 months ago
Paul and Karen Ainslie
34 months ago (Offline Donation)
36 months ago (Monthly Donation)
Lisa MacColl
36 months ago

Warrior mama bears stick together, and even a little bit helps. Sorry it's such a little bit.

Tanya Toutz-Hager
36 months ago
37 months ago (Monthly Donation)
Fiona Marshall
38 months ago
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