After a Mt. Pleasant Township business that supplies assistance dogs to children was hit hard by a tornado last month, a family launched an online fundraiser to help business owners rebuild .
Steve and Bethany Kiray, owners of K9s for Kids, breed German Shepherds to act as assistance dogs. Steve Kiray said the company primarily serves children with autism, but also trains dogs to help those with seizure disorders and anxiety.
While the Kirays were participating in a volleyball game at Fort Cherry High School on October 21, a tornado ravaged their Dairy Road property and flattened their kennels, killing two of their bitches used for breeding.
“One of them was killed that night. I found her under the rubble. I found another one under the deck of the kennel when I was looking for one of the puppies, ”said Steve Kiray. “The second dog was under the bridge, staring into space. After a visit to the vet, she had to be shot.
There were also four puppies who all survived the storm, and two of them have since been placed as service animals.
“I call them miracle puppies,” Kiray said.
K9s for Kids, they have helped nearly 100 families since the company opened in 2008, Kiray said.
Jackson, the son of Washington resident Devon Shallenberger, is 9 years old and received a service dog through K9s for Kids. She said she set up a GoFundMe page when she heard about the tornado damage to the business.
“I immediately went into fundraising mode for (K9s for Kids),” Shallenberger said.
As of Monday night, Shallenberger’s page had raised $ 8,106. She also raised over $ 2,000 by selling lottery tickets.
Shallenberger’s son was paired with his dog, Baby, in 2018.
“My son is non-verbal and he loves to run. If there are any triggers, or environmental triggers, he’ll just run. He is not aware of his surroundings or his safety. We have to watch it very closely, ”Shallenberger said.
Baby knows Jackson’s scent and is trained to follow her.
“Wherever we are, he could go into search and rescue mode and he could find his boy,” Shallenberger said.
After his experience with K9s for Kids, it was an easy choice for Shallenberger to get involved in their rebuilding efforts.
“I am still a defender of his program. Any child with special needs can benefit from a service dog, ”Shallenberger said.
Reconstruction will be a long and expensive road, according to Kiray.
K9s for Kids has already rebuilt the kennels, an expense of $ 10,000, and replacing the dogs will be even more expensive.
The cheapest option, according to Kiray, is to buy puppies, but it would take two years to be able to breed them. Even then, there is no guarantee that dogs have the right traits.
The more expensive option would be to buy mature German Shepherds ready to breed.
“The cost of replacing adult females ranges from $ 13,000 to $ 22,000 per dog,” Kiray said.
While the money raised so far is only a fraction of what is needed to bring K9s for Kids back to where it was, Kiray said the fundraising effort had been a great relief.
“We are grateful to all who have contributed or are even considering doing so. We are far from where we need to be, ”Kiray said.