Teen hopes to get service dog

NORWALK James Griggs, 16, can't help but smile when someone mentions dogs. Griggs has
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



James Griggs, 16, can't help but smile when someone mentions dogs.

Griggs has already picked out a name for when he gets a furry friend.


Griggs, who is diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, will soon get a service dog. His family is raising money for it.

The non-profit agency 4 Paws for Ability specializes in the training and placement of certified service dogs for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

4 Paws for Abilities requires families to raise the money needed to train the service dogs. The cost to train each dog ranges from $9,800 to $14,000. James' dog will cost $12,000.

A fundraiser on James' behalf will be May 12 at the Norwalk Eagles Club.

James' family decided to get a service dog after his neurologist informed the family that his conditions were getting worse.

"The neurologist said that it was a combination of the autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy, which affects his motor skills," said James' mother, Becky Griggs. "Nobody thinks about walking because it's something we learn as we grow. As he grows, there's more planning to be done by the brain when it comes to movement. His brain is having difficulty doing it."

Aside from his motors skills, James is cognitively the equivalent of a 6 year old.

James, who was adopted by the Griggs when he was 3 years old, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy at 9 months. When he was 6, he was diagnosed with autism, mental retardation and ADHD.

The Griggs family received an transitional waiver last year to aid them in James' care. A state-tested nurse aide and two other nurses work 13 hours throughout the week to assist James when he is not at school.

Despite his developmental disabilities, James' parents don't limit.

"People hear those 'labels' and automatically it's the worst thing thought. That's not who he is. He's so much more than that," his mother said. "We have always tried to give him opportunities to be everything he can be."

James attends the Christie Lane MRDD School full time and enjoys hiking, camping and board games. He is also a first-class Scout, two degrees shy of the Eagle Scout award, in the local Boy Scouts Troop.

James' dog and other service dogs come from shelters and are picked based on their temperament and personality, said Karen Shirk, executive director of 4 Paws for Ability, based in Xenia, Ohio.

Most of the dogs chosen are 8 to 16 weeks old. Golden retrievers, golden mixes and Labradors are the most popular breeds.

"We can train the dog to do about anything," Shirk said. "Probably the greatest thing is the companionship. The most important part for the child is that emotional bond that forms between the child and the dog. It's incredible."

Dogs are particularly adept at calming children who have autism and suffer from sensory overload leading to meltdowns.

"It's amazing what a dog can do. Dogs always seem to know what to do to diffuse a situation," Shirk said.

James' dog will be specially trained in mobility, autism assistance and search and rescue.

The dogs receive advanced training for one year and then receive six months of skills training for a selected child. The family must also go through two weeks of training to know how to give the dogs commands and read the dog's behavior.

Help raise money for James' dog

A fundraiser on James Griggs' behalf will be May 12 at the Norwalk Eagles Club, which will feature trivia night and a silent auction. The family is requesting gift cards and certificates along with merchandise that will be raffled and used in the auction.