Family In Need Of Service Dog

September 14, 2020

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the meltdowns have seemingly come out of nowhere for Chaise Clouser.

One minute, the 6-year-old is fine.

The next, he’s upset, inconsolable and combative as he seeks sensory input to comfort him from things that overwhelm him and may not be obvious to his parents, Justin and Ashley Clouser, of Shelocta.

Diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age 2, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown caused Chaise’s world to be “turned upside down and shaken,” Ashley said.

And now the Clousers are asking for help from the community as they fundraise to provide Chaise with a tool they believe will help him cope with the obstacles of his diagnosis: an autism assistance dog.

Chaise’s behavior “was manageable until COVID,” said Ashley, who herself is a behavior specialist. He attended kindergarten in the Indiana Area School District, as well as a variety of therapy programs and other organized activities, throughout the week. They had a routine.

Then the pandemic hit. Schools halted in-person learning. Therapy sessions moved online.

In the second week of distance learning, Ashley said Chaise “shut down.” Incidents of biting, hitting and kicking started to increase in frequency and intensity.

“COVID magnified everything,” Ashley said.

“Before COVID, Chaise could be easily redirected” with methods such as hugs, squeezes or tickles, said Justin.

But those methods were no longer enough. The couple said they were being injured as they tried to calm and restrain him during a meltdown.

So to protect themselves, Chaise and his younger brother, Conner, who will turn 2 in October, he was admitted to UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital in June, where he spent 15 days undergoing inpatient treatment.

Having Chaise admitted to the hospital was something the Clousers said they always thought was a possibility, but they didn’t think it would happen by age 6, Ashley said.

His journey to a diagnosis began when he was about 1, when the Clousers noticed he wasn’t reaching childhood milestones.

He was evaluated by Children’s Hospital at 18 months in January of 2016, receiving a diagnosis of expressive language disorder, as autism isn’t normally diagnosed before age 2. But the initial diagnosis opened the door for early intervention. Subsequently, an autism diagnosis — something they had long suspected — was confirmed later that year.

The Clousers “tried to get as much social interaction as possible” for Chaise without overwhelming him, Justin said. Through the use of a communication device, he learned to talk.

But his progress was halted by the pandemic.

When he was admitted to the hospital, it was hard on everyone, especially Chaise, who Ashley said didn’t understand all the visitation rules related to the pandemic.

Only one person from the family could visit — and it had to be the same person — and they were only allowed there three days a week.

With some help from state Sen. Joe Pittman and his wife, Gina, who had contacts at the hospital, Justin was also allowed to visit Chaise, but only separately from Ashley.

After two weeks, Chaise was discharged.

THE IDEA for the autism assistance dog came from a friend in a similar situation whose family recently finished the fundraising portion for a dog for their autistic child.

When Justin and Ashley heard about it, they thought it would be a good fit for Chaise, who loves his family’s dogs.

One of the older dogs, a German shorthair pointer named Swoop, is of special comfort and tries to help calm him during meltdowns by laying with him, on him, or licking his face as a distraction.

“I feel like a trained dog will be that much more beneficial to Chaise,” Ashley said. “I hope he can assist my son in providing him with the best quality life.”

Justin hopes the dog will be able to help with Chaise’s behavior so he can cope in school and in all the other situations he encounters.

The journey to obtaining a dog is not a fast one.

The application process alone took weeks as they gathered references, filled out paperwork and got doctors to complete health forms.

They were approved for a dog on Aug. 28.

According to 4 Paws For Ability, an autism assistance dog costs $40,000 to $60,000 to train. Because the organization is nonprofit, the cost to the family is about $17,000.

The Clousers have set a fundraising goal of $18,000 to help with fees taken by different fundraising platforms.

Other fundraisers are in the works, including a gun raffle and money raffle organized by officials at Horizon Stables in Apollo, where Chaise attends horse therapy.

Checks can also be mailed to 4 Paws for Ability in Honor of Chaise Clouser, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, Ohio 45385, but note that Chaise’s name must be on the memo line of the check.

There is a waiting list of around two years for a dog, as they are bred and trained based on demand.

The family started fundraising upon approval, and have collected nearly $2,000 so far.

Chaise’s dog will be trained in tethering, behavior disruption and sensory input.

According to 4 Paws for Ability, the dogs are trained to work with the child and an adult handler or parent.

To disrupt behavior, a dog is trained to respond to a parent’s command or to the behavior of the child and to redirect attention, for example, by placing a paw on the child, or comforting them with pressure by laying across their lap. The tethering feature helps keep children from wandering.

But Justin and Ashley believe the dog will provide another important aspect as well: companionship for at least the next decade.

“Above all, the dog will be Chaise’s companion and safe space to cope with his feelings and frustrations,” Ashley wrote in the introduction for the fundraiser page.

The Clousers said they are thankful for support they have already received and for the donations to come that will help make their dream of a service dog for Chaise a reality.

“Chaise may be different, but not less!” Ashley says on the fundraising page. “His smile is extremely infectious and his love for life is contagious! … Your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps in assisting Chaise to obtain his goal of receiving his very own service dog!”

  • Most Recent News

    Big Dogs Need Owners

    October 9, 2020

    When the shutdown orders took full effect, it became nearly impossible to find a small dog available for adoption as Southlanders sought furry companions. In many Southland shelters, only larger breeds remained available for adoption. Now Los Angeles Animal Service is touting the joys of big dogs while offering discounted adoption fees for larger breeds […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Walkathon

    October 9, 2020

    On Saturday, October 3, hundreds of walkers from across 15 states joined the path to bettering the world for children with autism and their families as part of BluePath Service Dogs’ fourth annual walkathon. The family-friendly fundraiser – this year held virtually – raised more than $120,000 to further BluePath’s mission of providing autism service […]

    Read more

    Service Dog In The Marching Band

    October 9, 2020

    In a year that is anything but normal, the Jones College Maroon Typhoon Marching Band has welcomed its first known service dog member this fall. Laurie, a 3-year-old golden retriever, is baritone saxophone player Sara-Beth McKellar’s service dog. The Vicksburg native was diagnosed with epilepsy as a sophomore in high school after her first seizure. […]

    Read more

    Church Blesses Animals

    October 9, 2020

    St. Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception in Port Jervis hosted a special outdoor service last Sunday afternoon to bless the community’s pets, animals and other living creatures. In keeping with current pandemic rules, pet owners wore masks, remained distant, and took part in praying for dogs, cats, turtles, and other pets and animals around […]

    Read more

    Police Welcomes New Canine

    October 9, 2020

    Young Kingston Police service dog Bask may look small, but his handler says his training and energy are proving that he’s up to fill the shoes of his predecessor. “I think he’s going to be a great little dog,” Const. Jeff Dickson said, looking down at his new partner. A partner that, wearing the right […]

    Read more

    Dog Park For Travelers

    October 9, 2020

    St. Petersburg is widely recognized as a dog-friendly city, and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is making sure its four-legged visitors and their humans feel welcome by rolling out the artificial turf carpet. With the completion of the airport’s parking and roadway project – part of a series of multi-million dollar improvements at the airport over the […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Helps Firefighters

    October 9, 2020

    Firefighters battling the Archie Creek and Thielsen fires have had some long, exhausting days. But for some, their troubles seemed to melt away once they got back to camp. Why? Meet Ralph Colombo. He hauls oversize loads. And joining Ralph is his service dog, Cowboy – the morale boosting, firefighting puppy. “He just keeps my […]

    Read more

    Pet Therapy Program

    October 9, 2020

    Saturday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day, which this year has a new sense of urgency for many. Covid-19 has taken a mental and emotional toll on healthcare workers across the U.S but there is a program boosting the spirits of doctors and nurses on the frontlines. At UC Irvine Medical Center in Southern […]

    Read more

    A Service Dogs Place

    October 9, 2020

    A new Pineville nonprofit that helps people with disabilities obtain service dogs has made its first match. The Saber Life Foundation was started in March by Danea Key and her husband Joel. They provide people with trained service dogs, paying 51 percent of the cost, with the client paying the other 49 percent. Service dogs […]

    Read more

    Dog Beating Cancer

    October 9, 2020

    A little over a year after a local dog was given only a few months to live after being diagnosed with bone cancer, she is still in remission and will be celebrated her twelfth birthday this month. Cocoa has been with her owner, Bucyrus resident Christie Auck, since she was nine-weeks-old. “On Aug. 18, 2019, […]

    Read more

    More Recent News