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Unity couple receive $8K in donations to buy service dog for their son

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:08 a.m.
Colin Kerrigan, 18, who has been dealing with health problems including cerebral palsy, seizures and brain bleeds for his entire life, at his home in Unity Township with his service dog Engel on November 5, 2012. Generous donations from strangers have made it possible for Kerrigan's family to purchase and care for the dog. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Engel, a service dog, keeps a close eye on his assignment Colin Kerrigan, 18, at his home in Unity Township on November 5, 2012. Generous donations from strangers have made it possible for Kerrigan's family to purchase and care for the dog. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

When the phone call came, Theresa Kerrigan couldn't believe it.

The caller — a woman Theresa and her husband, Joel, had never met — was offering to pay the $4,900 the couple needed to purchase and train a service dog for their son, Colin.

“I said, ‘What are you talking about?'” Theresa Kerrigan recalled. “‘Nobody does something like that.'”

But that day, after reading a story in the Tribune-Review about 18-year-old Colin Kerrigan's need for a service dog, the woman drove to Citizens Bank and deposited all the money the family needed.

Dozens of other readers sent money, too — about $8,000, in total — that has helped the family pay for veterinarian bills, food and other supplies for the dog.

“We never thought in a million years that that dog would be sitting here right now,” Theresa Kerrigan said as she watched Colin playing with the German shepherd in their Unity home last week.

The family wanted a service dog for Colin because of his many medical issues, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, brain bleeds and autism. The dog will be trained to find Colin if he gets lost and to help steady him when he walks.

But they did not have the money to pay for it.

Joel Kerrigan, who has multiple sclerosis, lost his job more than a year ago. He said he has been denied disability benefits. The family's only source of income is Theresa Kerrigan's part-time, minimum-wage job.

Then, the public stepped in to help.

The woman who donated all the money the Kerrigans asked for is recently widowed and asked to remain anonymous. She said her dog has filled many lonely hours since her husband's death.

“I wanted this young man to experience the unconditional love of a dog — a warm, furry friend,” she said. “And I wanted his parents, who have so lovingly cared for him, to know that there are others who do care.”

When Colin found out his family had enough money for the dog, he was excited, Theresa Kerrigan said.

“He wanted to go that night. For two weeks, he went on and on about it,” Theresa Kerrigan said.

Now, he's responsible for the black and tan ball of fur the family named Engel, which is German for angel.

“It kind of sums up everybody that helped us,” Theresa Kerrigan said.

Engel and Colin are spending time together to bond. Only Colin puts food in Engel's bowl to help form that relationship. When he's home from school, Colin takes the dog out for walks and to relieve himself.

“We're trying to teach Colin this is not just a pet. It's a working dog,” Joel Kerrigan said. “He's here for a purpose.”

In a few weeks, Engel, Colin and the rest of the family will start working with the trainer from K9s for Kids, the Washington County-based organization that provided the dog.

They'll send thank-you notes to a number of people who helped them, some giving more than money.

Children sent pictures. One girl drew a picture of her, Colin and the dog playing together. A man sent Colin a wooden kite-string winder, saying he hoped Colin and his dog would enjoy it.

“The heart of people — they're amazing,” Joel Kerrigan said.

“Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I can't thank them enough,” Theresa Kerrigan said.

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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