August 25, 2012 Update: Lea Kaydus has agreed to pay restitution
January 16 2012 Update: Read this blog post on the families affected by this scam...adorable photographs and updates on each family's search for a qualified service dog.
Remember the Pepsi Refresh campaign? In May, 2011 one of the projects funded was this one: LM Kaydus's Animals for Autism project:
First, L.M. Kaydus (Lea M. Kaydus), through her kennel Alaskan Snow Babies, was going to award one family a service dog to observe Autism Awareness Month in April. She sent out a press release, and evidently on her now-yanked web page, extolled the virtues of the particular breed(s) she was raising. At the Australian blog Can-Do-Ability:
The organisation that I stumbled across is called Siberian Snow Babies. The program began many years ago, when a family, who bred and trained dogs, learnt of the impact that the dogs had on their daughter who was born with an ASD. They decided to train one of their dogs, to specifically suit her individual requirements. After doing so, her progress skyrocketed, and an organisation was born.
Siberian Snow Babies, trains Siberian Husky’s and Alaskan Klee Kai’s. Using these two types of dogs has many benefits. They are free of any types of dog odour, which can turn some people off. They have a unique metabolism, which means they are more cost effective, when it comes to feeding them. They require less exercise than other small to medium sized dog breeds. They are highly intelligent.
Dogs have been linked to sniffing out cancer and other undetectable scents, with their super sensitive noses. The Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Klee Kai who undertake training with Siberian Snow Babies, are trained to recognise a hormone in humans, called cortisol, which is released when someone is experiencing stress....
Siberian Snow Babies also offers a unique payment option, so families are able to pay off the cost of the dog over the duration of the training period, which can take one year or longer. This gives the family time to organise funds if required, through a charity for example.
(aside: these claims, which may or may not be from Siberian Snow Babies, sets off alarm bells for me. I know a bit about service dogs and dog temperament; spitz-type dogs generally aren't selected as service dogs. The Klee Kai is a breed developed in the 1980s by a single breeder, who was selecting for size and temperament, not suitability as a service dog.)
Then, Kaydus, as Animals for Autism signed up to be in the May Pepsi Refresh Challenge, to raise $50,000 and award service dogs to 10 families. Kaydus recruited prospective autism service-dog families to vote for her project:
Animals for Autism emailed us 20 codes a day, sometimes more for us to use on our own computers. This went on for the entire month of May. Although I was a bit baffled by how they were coming up with so many codes, I was more than happy to help.
Many families voted enthusiastically (and made donations to Animals for Autism). Their enthusiasm was redoubled when on May 16 Kaydus announced the winner of the free dog offered as part of Autism Awareness Month:
Hal and Amy Johnson of Brockport, New York, that their son, Rex, had been chosen as the recipient of a free Autism Service Animal! James, the service-dog-in-training, will spend the next 12 months in an intensive program designed to meet their son's specific needs.
On June 6, Kaydus announced:
LM Kaydus, founder of Animals for Autism is pleased to announce finalist-status for a $50k grant in the Pepsi Refresh Everything Program. All finalists will be notified by June 23 whether or not they have achieved "winner" status. Should that come to fruition, up to ten (10) FREE autism service animals will be placed with children and adults in need in the United States.
Families were even more excited. Some families made down payments in the hopes that they would be selected to receive a free dog. Donations were made to Animals for Autism on behalf of the families.
On June 30, 2011, a press release from L.M. Kaydus announced the 10 families that would receive the dogs, and said that the dogs would be placed "in the summer of 2012". Kaydus emailed photographs of the selected puppies
One of the families wrote
When the recipients were announced in July along with a picture of their matched puppies, each family was overwhelmingly honored and grateful for what this meant to their family. A lifeline had been thrown in the form of a tether to a Siberian Husky.
Later in the summer, Kaydus informed the families that the terms of the grant had been changed, to allow Kaydus to build a better facility, but that the families would still receive dogs. This is said to be the text of the email from Pepsi Refresh to families enquiring:
The original application approved in moderation was a one line budget requesting $50,000 to train autism service dogs. Because this was such a broad application and one that Global Giving (the company that runs the Pepsi Grant) could not approve for her project, they thought it would make more sense for her to use the grant funds for tangible items related to her project, including vests and collars, a physical training facility, grooming stations, and more. Her grant agreement that was signed and approved by Global Giving shows these 20+ line items. She moved her budget towards the tangible, per our request, to avoid issuing an individual a check for $25,000 to pay for less material costs, such as staff. All of these expenses for her project went both directly and indirectly towards the dog training costs.
From Global Giving and Pepsi's point of view, that grantee was in compliance with her grant agreement and her original application. The story that you sent was around the original project describes exactly what GlobalGiving and Pepsi approved in our due diligence process.
The Pepsi Refresh funds were disbursed to all awardees through Global Giving:
GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising web site that gives social entrepreneurs and non-profits from anywhere in the world a chance to raise the money that they need to improve their communities. Since 2002, GlobalGiving has raised $57,691,748 from 248,097 donors who have supported 5,202 projects.
Over the summer of 2011, one of the families awarded a dog began to question the whole program. The breed provided by Animals for Autism was not well-known to be a good service dog, the dog provided was going to be quite young, the puppies selected were promised to families before they were old enough to be evaluated for suitability as service dogs...other things just sounded hinckty. So that familywithdrew from the program.
Others in the program also began to question. By the fall, the wheels had come off:
At the same time, Animals for Autism’s website disappeared and they seemed to disappear entirely. Although they were supposed to move to a new location, nobody seemed to know where that was. We checked with the post office… no forwarding address. We checked with the animal control for the county they lived in and the county they were supposed to move to… no dogs were registered to them. We called autism agencies in the area… nobody ever heard of them. So, we contacted the IL Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. They sent complaints on our behalf. The deadlines came and went with no response.
The family which withdrew in August began to dig:
I have made contact with the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department of Illinois, the Illinois Attorney General, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois, Springfield Autism Resource Center, The Autism Program of Illinois, Members of Sangamon and Menard Country Animal Control, my Naval Legal Services Office (AFA ignored their letter for information), program managers for the Pepsi Refresh Everything Project
The outcome? Nada. Zip. Nothing. Pepsi Refresh doesn't appear to care that they may have given out $50,000 under false premises to an individual. Global Giving doesn't seem to care that the funds they disbursed didn't go for the project advertised.
But the real bad ending is for those 10 families, who so wanted a service dog for their children with autism. As one of the fathers wrote in a comment:
As one of the 10 families involved I can not put in the words how saddened we are about this. When several months went by without updates I started having doubts, that something so good could actually be true. It saddens me how an organization could use 10 families with autistic children to benefit only themselves and how Pepsi could just turn a cheek and not care.
The families awarded a service dog:
- The W. family of Springfield, Missouri
- The S. family of Cedarburg, Wisconsin
- The P. of Lee Center, New York
- The S. of Williamsburg, Ohio
- The P. family of of Tallahassee, Florida
- The d. family of Mt. Orab, Ohio
- The C. family of Silverdale, Washington (this is the family that withdrew in August)
- The A. family of Clovis, California
- The B. family of LaVergne, Tennessee
- The R family of Howard, Ohio
Sources (I will be updating this list silently as I find more resources):
- March 27, 2011 Press Release from Animals for Autism Animals for Autism to Place Service Dog Free of Charge
- April 1, 2011 Jodie at Can-do-Ablity World Autism Awareness Day Puppies
- April 1, 2011 Press Release from Animals for Autism Animals for Autism to Place 10 Autism Service Dogs Free of Charge?
- April 2, 2011 Press Release from Animals for Autism Autism Service Dog To Be Placed Free Of Charge - In Recognition of Autism Awareness Month
- April 14, 2011 Press Release from Animals for Autism Affordable Service Dogs Now Available
- April 24, 2011 Press Release from LM Kaydus, Ultimate Goal? Free Autism Service Animals For All
- May How to Power Vote
- May 17, 2011 Press Release from LM Kaydus and Animals for Autism Recipient of FREE Autism Service Animal Announced
- June 6, 2011 Press Release from Animals for Autism LM Kaydus Declared Finalists In Pepsi's Refresh Everything Program
- June 30, 2011 Press Release from Animals for Autism Breaking News Autism Service dogs to be Placed Free of Charge
- July 2, 2011 Ashley at Stinker Babies We're Expecting (a service dog)
- July 5, 2011 Press Release from Animals for Autism 16 Year-Old Wants To Open No-Kill Shelter
- July 10, 2011 at RaisetheWoof4Faith: Have a PEPSI and a smile!
- July 11, 2011 Alan Hoye at the Kitsap Sun Silverdale girl to get constant companion
- July 11, 2011 at the Brown County Papers Local children to get free service dogs
- August 12, 2011 Allison C at RaisetheWoof4Faith (family #5 above): Changing Paths
- December 9, 2011 TommyK at Adventures in Aspieland Unreal
- January 2, 2012 Allison C at Mommy Rambles We Drink Coke Now: A "Bella" Update
- January 2, 2012 Ashley at Stinker Babies (family #5 above): We Will Not Go Quietly
- January 2, 2012 TommyK at Adventures in AspieLand Please Read
- January 3, 2012 Jim Creighton at Making Waves (family #7 above) Pepsi, Autism Service Animals, and Shattered Dreams
- January 3, 2012 Autism's Ruff at Facebook (family #6 above) Speaking for Samuel
- January 4, 2012 Allison C at Mommy Rambles Even More Pepsi Mess, Now With News Clip
- January 5, 2012 Katherine Stone at Stroller Derby Hey Pepsi! Why Aren’t You Stepping In To Help The Autism Families?
- January 6, 2012 News Channel 20: Illinois Attorney General looks into local autism organization
- January 7, 2012 Jim Creighton at Making Waves (family #7 above) Autism Service Animals for All
- January 16, 2012 via Jim Creighton at Dogs With a Cause Families Affected by Siberian Snow Babies' "Animals for Autism" Scam
The website, now gone: http://www.siberiansnowbabies.com/animals_for_autism.
The twitter account, now inactive: https://twitter.com/#!/Animals4Autism