Sorry. That seems like such a simple word. It is only 5 letters, but those letters put together have the power to heal, to change lives, to mend relationships. A word full of power and yet so often, a word left unsaid.
Once upon a time there were families struggling with autism. Their children needed help and they turned to an organization called Animals for Autism. They were promised service dogs. Dogs that would help their children and be a friend to them. It gave the families hope. The dogs were to be placed with the children in Spring 2012.
Fast forward to today. Not one. Not even ONE of the families ever received a dog. It was a scam. When the families found out, they were hurt, confused, and angry. Sadly, it turns out there were many characters involved in this story. Each one had the opportunity to do the right thing, but chose to protect themselves instead. They quietly slipped away, no explanations, no apologies.
There is the main character…. The founder of Animals for Autism, Lea Kaydus. She took our money and our hopes and then disappeared. She moved to a location that we only found thanks to a google search and a reporter willing to look for the truth. She stopped responding to phone calls and emails. No apology.
There was her husband whose Paypal account accepted the money. That seems like a fairly large role to play. We certainly haven’t heard from him. No apology.
Then there were the other “supporting” but very vital characters such as Pepsi. Afterall, they gave $50,000 to the founder of AFA. Oh but wait, it seems dispite what was publicly put out on their website, the grant agreement was changed to fund a kennel and supplies, not actual service dogs or training. There is the important role they played however in assuring the families that AFA was legitimate when we began to have concerns. They even said they were “honored” to work with the founder of AFA. I do believe the Attorney General of IL is quoted as calling her “a heartless scam,” but Pepsi is honored to work with her? No apology.
Then there is Global Giving. Can’t leave them out. Pepsi put us in contact with them when we wouldn’t stop complaining. It seems Global Giving is who was actually overseeing the grant. They were the ones responsible for making sure everything was legitimate and the money was spent properly. They sent employees out for an on site visit to AFA and came back still saying everything was fine. Something about seeing 20 dogs in training and lots of volunteers? Well, Global Giving, the gag is up. They say the grant is closed and have no comment. No apology.
I don’t want to leave out the characters in our story who ignorantly spoke out against the families scammed simply because of a few statements put out by GG that all was fine. We were criticized for being ungrateful and impatient and one individual even had a blog writing on just such a subject that actually praised GG when they didn’t have all the facts. No aplology.
It was turned over to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. A full year after the first complaint was filed, there was finally action. A deal was struck. Our money will be returned over the course of the next several months. Money back, but no apology.
Since it seems clear that the families scammed in this mess will never receive an apology from any of the characters involved here in our story, let me offer one instead.
To all those who donated directly to Animals for Autism on my son’s behalf, I am truly sorry. I may never even know about some of you since it turns out that we were not being told about all the donations that came in. Our family, friends, and community truly stepped up… we just didn’t know it at the time.
To those who joined me in voting for AFA in the Pepsi Refresh Project in the hopes that it would benefit my son and others like him, I am sorry. I regret that I asked you to help us by spending your time, energy, and money (on Pepsi products) to vote for AFA. I wish instead that we all would have bought a Coke and called it a day.
To those who learned about AFA through the publicity generated by the Pepsi Refresh Everything Project and AFA giving away 10 “free” (yeah, right) service dogs and perhaps took interest in receiving your own service dog through them…. I am especially sorry that my son’s name was used to promote any such scam. I truly did not ever give my permission for that info to be used (by Pepsi or AFA) that way and had no idea at the time that it was such a scam.
To all who were taken advantage of by Animals for Autism and Pepsi simply because you wanted to help my family… I am sorry.
Now that I got the ball rolling with apologies, perhaps someone else would like to join in…. anyone?
(SILENCE…. very awkward silence)
That is what I thought.
Thankfully,our story has a happy ending. Our son will be getting an autism assistance dog from 4 Paws for Ability this October. Thank you to all who have made that possible. If you would like to read more about that story… feel free to check out my past blogs.
Sadly the happy ending is not for all the families. For some of the families, they are in the midst of crisis… perhaps a service dog would not have prevented their crisis, but the stress of the past year and half has certainly not helped. They are waiting for their happy endings….. to be continued.