Unity parents turn to public to help son gain independence

| Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Colin Kerrigan loves people.

The 18-year-old will walk up to anyone, anywhere and strike up a conversation.

But his outgoing nature and his tendency to wander concern his parents, Theresa and Joel.

The Unity man was born with numerous medical issues, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, brain bleeds and autism. His parents would like to give him more independence but fear for him as well.

So the couple is trying to raise enough money to purchase a service dog for Colin that will be trained to find him if he gets lost and help steady him when he walks.

“The service dog will be really good to him,” said Theresa Kerrigan. “I want to do something for him that will help him.”

But the Kerrigans don't have the $4,900 needed to purchase and train the dog through K9s for Kids, a Washington County-based organization that provides service dogs to young people with special needs.

The Kerrigans need at least the $2,500 down payment required for the dog by Oct. 23 to get a puppy from the current litter. They then will have to make $200 payments each month during the year that the dog is in training.

Joel Kerrigan lost his job more than a year ago, and has multiple sclerosis. He said he's been denied disability benefits. The family is living off Theresa Kerrigan's wages from a part-time, minimum-wage job.

“The money we have coming in, we're paying our bills because that has to be done, so we don't have the extra to get him the help,” Joel Kerrigan said. “If not, we have to wait until the next litter, which may not be for six months or so.”

K9s for Kids owner Stephanie Feehan, who has placed about 30 dogs in the past three years, said the company trains the families to train the dogs.

The children who receive dogs are required to care for the puppy themselves to build a bond with the animal.

“This is something that's theirs, and they take such pride in it,” Feehan said.

The dogs are trained to track a child who goes missing and to interfere with any nervous behaviors brought on by autism.

“The parents say a lot of their children don't sleep through the night, and when they get that puppy, it provides comfort for the kids and the parents,” Feehan said. “It's kind of like an extra set of eyes for the parents as well.”

The dogs can tell if a seizure is about to occur and will alert others to it.

“Colin, hopefully, will be able to hold onto the dog and give him more stability while walking,” Feehan said.

The Kerrigans hope that, with the public's help, they'll be able to get a dog for Colin.

“That's my baby. I love him to death,” Theresa Kerrigan said. “I'm tired of him missing out on the advantages that other people have.”

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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