Fundraisers aim to replace Vandergrift service dog

Liz Hayes
| Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 10:16 a.m.

VANDERGRIFT — Janelle and Rick Shetron hope a dog named Oscar can help them overcome a summer of canine misfortune.

On Aug. 17, hours after picking up the ashes of their recently euthanized dog, the Shetrons and their 15-year-old son, Jacob, were walking in their hometown of Vandergrift with Jacob's service dog, a 3-year-old Yorkshire terrier-poodle mix named Mickey.

Janelle Shetron said a pit bull jumped from the cab of a nearby pickup truck and attacked 11-pound Mickey.

All three Shetrons suffered minor dog bites trying to keep the Yorkiepoo from the other dog.

Mickey survived the attack, but needed surgery and still isn't walking normally because of an injured rear leg.

Janelle Shetron said she now is more concerned about the personality ramifications the attack will have for Mickey.

But also for Jacob, who is diagnosed with autism, an anxiety disorder and atypical cystic fibrosis.

“My son was completely horrified,” Shetron said. “He was on the ground rocking back and forth, hands over his ears, screaming and crying.”

And Mickey has become skittish and fearful; the Shetrons don't believe he still is suitable for use as a service dog.

“We can't trust him. His personality changed,” Janelle Shetron said. “We would never get rid of Mickey, but he can't work. I need a dog that can.”

Autism service dogs

Mickey initially was adopted as a pet, but then the Shetrons learned how autistic children can benefit from specially trained service dogs.

With the assistance of a trainer, Shetron said she taught Mickey to help Jacob.

“A dog is a good social tool for kids with autism because they have a hard time relating to people and their surroundings,” Shetron said. “A dog calms them, helps facilitate social interactions.”

The dogs often are trained to stay with or retrieve autistic kids, who have a tendency to wander off.

Shetron said Mickey also was trained to distract Jacob from bad habits like putting his hands in his mouth.

However, between getting Jacob to therapy for several hours each day and caring for another relative, Janelle Shetron said she isn't able to train another dog.

She contacted Perfect Fit Canines of Wexford, a nonprofit organization that trains dogs specifically to help autistic people.

Shetron and Perfect Fit co-owner Susan Wagner said Jacob instantly bonded with Oscar, a nearly 2-year-old black English Labrador retriever.

“He was listening to my son right off the bat. They connected,” said Shetron, who was worried about how Jacob would react to a new, relatively large dog.

“My son said, ‘I love Oscar,' ” added Shetron of her usually undemonstrative son. “It was a big deal.”

“This particular dog has the soul of grace,” Wagner said. “He's very Zen-like. He's so calm.

“Most of our clients talk about the difference the dog has made in the (child's) ability to concentrate,” Wagner said. “They reduce or eliminate disruptive behaviors. The (children) gain competence, even sleep better.”

Each dog is trained with the specific needs of the client in mind. Wagner said they'll work with the Shetrons to ensure Oscar learns Jacob's needs.

“There are so many different things you can teach a dog to do,” Wagner said.

Service dogs costly

However, the Shetrons will have to come up with about $10,000 to adopt Oscar to cover the dog's extensive training costs.

Wagner said Perfect Fit's service dogs spend the first year or more with a “puppy raiser” who begins their training, getting them accustomed to all types of public spaces and situations. Then the Wagners work extensively with the dog and its new family.

Wagner said most families need assistance in paying the large price tag, so they get help from fundraisers and bank accounts set up for donations.

Any money raised beyond the final adoption cost of the dog is set toward the yearly cost of owning the dog, Wagner said.

Shetron said they've already paid about $3,000 in veterinary bills to care for Mickey, although they're hopeful the owner of the attacking pit bull will cover those costs.

They held their first fundraiser, a car wash in Allegheny Township, over the weekend and have a spaghetti dinner planned for Oct. 25 in Pleasant View Brethren Church in the Kepple Hill section of Parks.

“We want them to get going and have this dog as fast as we can,” Wagner said. “I can't imagine going through what they've been through.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or

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