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To pay for a pooch: Evergreen mom hopes garage sale will yield funds to help buy service dog for autistic son

  • Written by Laura Bollin

An Evergreen Park resident is holding a garage sale this Saturday, but she wants to do more than just get junk out of her garage.

Dawn McNamara is hoping to raise $500 for a down payment for a service dog for her 9-year-old son, Liam. The youth has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, along with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar personality disorder and anxiety.

COLOR dogkidstory 3colLiam McNamara of Evergreen Park, playing with his golden retriever, Bub. Bub died two years ago, and the family is holding fundraisers throughout the summer to purchase a service dog to help Liam, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Supplied photoThe sale will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 22 at the First United Methodist Church of Evergreen Park, 9358 S. Homan Ave. Clothing, toys, strollers and other items will be offered. Patrons will be able to fill a grocery bag with clothing for $10. Liam will be selling lemonade and his own photographs of his family dogs.

McNamara said Liam does not recognize situations that might be dangerous, and a that service dog would help protect him.

“We had a golden retriever, Bub, which acted like a service dog, but he passed away two years ago,” McNamara said. “Liam will go with anybody. If you walk up to him and say, I have a dog at home, come with me, he’ll go with you. On Halloween, he took off running. He went with our neighbors, but then he saw a family with a dog, and thought he knew them, so he went with them. It was a pretty scary 10 minutes when we couldn’t find him.”

A service dog would not allow Liam out of the house without McNamara’s permission, and would nudge the boy to remind him to look both ways before he crossed the street.

“Bub would follow Liam anywhere,” McNamara said. “Twice, when Liam swam out a little too far in Lake Michigan, Bub swam out and pushed him back to shore. When Liam couldn’t sleep at night, Bub wouldn’t let him out of the house.

One day last year, McNamara found Liam riding his bike at 2 a.m.

Liam gets anxious when he is worried about meeting new people, McNamara said.

“He can’t articulate his feelings, so he can’t tell us he is feeling anxious,” McNamara said. “He becomes violent and starts hitting people and screaming. It’s been hell. We are doing everything we can. He is a cool, wonderful, loving kid, but he can’t understand his own feelings.”

Liam’s anxiety disappears when he is around dogs. A service dog will cost the family about $20,000. They are getting a service dog through Dog Wish, a California-based organization that trains service dogs for the disabled and helps train “problem dogs.” The organization’s founder,

Bob Taylor, is a retired Los Angeles police officer and Long Beach animal control officer.

On his website, dogwish.org, Taylor states that service dogs help to balance the mental and emotional behaviors of people with Asperger’s and autism, such as helping to control “meltdowns.”

“Handlers of our service dogs who used to have meltdowns every other or every third day, which would last from one to four hours before the child could resume normal activities not had them once a week, and often the problem would last for 10 to 20 minutes, be much less severe and much more controllable,” Taylor wrote.

The change in meltdowns is because of the calming effect of the service dogs, Taylor wrote. People with Asperger’s syndrome or autism also are calmer around their dogs and sit or stay next to their dogs, Taylor wrote.

“The dog will be trained to respond to cues,” McNamara said. “When Liam meets a new person, the dog will be passive protective, and stand in between them. The dog won’t let Liam get into a car with someone he doesn’t know, or leave the house.”

Liam has a twin brother, Jeremiah, who is a typical 9-year-old boy. Both boys will attend fourth grade next school year at Southeast Elementary School in Evergreen Park. Liam has support at school, and Jeremiah is very social, which helps Liam, McNamara said.

“I don’t want to tell him he can’t do things his brother can do, like walk to the park by himself,” McNamara said. “One day, Liam was sitting in the middle of our street, drawing with chalk, because he doesn’t understand the danger that someone is going to come and run him over. Having a brother who is the same age, you can’t really say to him, ‘no, you can’t do this, but your brother can.’ I believe he should be able to do the same things as his brother, and the older he gets he doesn’t want his mom hanging around all the time.”

The garage sale fundraiser is the first of many this summer to raise money for a service dog.

“He asks me every day if he can walk home from school,” McNamara wrote on her Facebook page, “Fundraiser for Liam – Paws for a Cause.” “I would love for him to do that, but it scares me to death. Having a dog trained to help him with everything we do naturally would not only help his anxiety, but mine, too!”