Service Dog Denied to Disabled Woman

[EDIT: See also this YouTube video; embedded below, and this blog post.]

A friend emailed me about this yesterday and asked that I share it [original article here]:

PHOENIX – A Valley business faces tough questions from the ABC15 Investigators about thousands in donated money after they deny a disabled woman a service dog.

Amber Steenbock has cerebral palsy. For just a couple of minutes, imagine yourself in her shoes.

EVERYDAY LIFE

“Somebody’s got to get me out of bed,” said Steenbock. “Somebody needs to dress me.”

Her boyfriend, Daniel Stasinski told us how difficult her life can be.

“If there’s no one to open the door for her, she’s stuck indoors,” said Stasinski. “And if she drops something, there’s no one there to pick it up.”

“All my life I had to ask for help,” said Steenbock.

Now, imagine this Chandler woman’s excitement about the possibility of getting help from a service dog.

“I had a feeling that the dog would be able to open up my world in ways that I didn’t know,” she said.

Four non-profit organizations turned her down because of her disability. Then one for-profit business, Arizona Goldens LLC of Mesa said, “Yes”.

RAISING THE MONEY

It would be costly. Steenbock would have to come up with $20,323.84 up front. She would have to sign a contract and raise the money herself. It became her mission.

“It’s kind of ironic that this body has such an independent spirit,” said Steenbock.

She turned to Facebook friends and family like Alaina Schumacher, her cousin in Casa Grande.

“I grew up with her, and I knew that this is something she wanted for a very long time,” Schumacher said.

A high school friend performed a benefit concert in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. They raised about $5,000.

“It was hard work, but I have a lot of good friends and a wonderful boyfriend,” Steenbock said.

Stasinski gave everything he had — $10,000 toward Steenbock’s dream.

According to the contract she signed, she had two years to raise the money. Steenbock did it in less than 6 months.

None of it went to her. Donations went directly into her Arizona Goldens LLC account.

“After they got paid in full, it got very dark,” said Stasinski.

BOOT CAMP

Even though all the money had been raised, Steenbock still did not have a dog.

She had to go through testing. There would be both written and verbal testing. She passed her written test with 83 percent.

Then Steenbock had to go to what the company called Boot Camp training. She said she had no idea what to expect.

“I thought we were going to be sitting down and learning the commands for a while,” she said.

According to Steenbock, that didn’t happen. She told us that the dog wouldn’t obey her because the trainers never left them alone.

“They weren’t listening to me because they were bonded with my teachers,” she said.

Steenbock went to Boot Camp for 5.5 days. And according to Stasinski, she came home crying almost every time.

“There was absolutely no time given for the dog to familiarize themselves with who the actual owner will be,” he said.

Steenbock was told that she failed the verbal test. Not only would she not get a dog, but Arizona Goldens LLL would keep the almost $21,000 she raised.

NO DOG, NO REFUND

Steenbock wanted answers, and so did ABC15.

We caught up with Arizona Goldens LLC after the owners twice refused an interview. We asked why they didn’t give back the donated money.

One of the owners, Brian Daugherty said Steenbock had nine opportunities to pass. He pointed to the contract which states failing the boot camp and the tests meant no dog and no refund.

But the ABC15 Investigators found Steenbock should have expected much more than the 5.5 days of Boot Camp that she said she got.

Steenbock’s paperwork states to expect training to last for six days a week for three weeks. Daugherty told us that those 18 days were for clients with Autism. But, no nowhere on the paperwork does it state only for clients with Autism.

“I care about Amber,” said Schumacher. ”I just can’t understand someone taking advantage of a disabled person.”

Schumacher told us that as a donor, she had no idea about the “no refund” policy because it was nowhere on the fundraising website. The site was set up and operated by Arizona Goldens LLC.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?

So, if the money wasn’t refunded, where is it? The contract states that it goes to “…raising, training and breeding service dogs for other clients.”

We asked the company. Daugherty said, “That’s not what it says in the contract.”

But, that is exactly what it states in the contract.

“These people that we don’t even know,” said Schumacher, “just pocketing [the donations] just feels so violating.”

Stasinski said that Arizona Goldens LLC should not have taken money from donors upfront.

“They shouldn’t be soliciting for the actual dog until they’ve evaluated whether she can even get a dog,” he said.

An attorney for Arizona Goldens LLC sent a five page letter to Steenbock. She shared it with ABC15. The company offered to give her $4,054 in total if ABC15 doesn’t air this story and if she removed statements involving Arizona Goldens from the Internet.

Steenbock refused, and she filed complaints with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau.

She has a message for the people who donated in her name. “I’m not apologizing because I failed. I’m apologizing because Arizona Goldens failed me. They failed you. And hopefully, we’ll be able to get some good out of this.

Here’s the response from Arizona Goldens, L.L.C.

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We also met up with Happy Tails Service Dogs. It’s a Valley non-profit organization that helps owners train their dogs to become service dogs. Instructor Kristi Nolde-Morrissey explains in the attached video.

[Read more…]

AD Links

To round out the end of International Assistance Dog Week I thought I’d provide some links to a few of my favorite assistance dog bloggers:

Who Invented Dark is the blog of my friend Nancy. We met way back in 1998 when I returned to GEB to finish training with my first guide dog. Her blog is a full of wonderful anecdotes of her life and is a terrific representation of the great person she is.

Kim has a somewhat eclectic roster of topics upon which she blogs about at Dog Days of Kimberfus, including book reviews and crocheting! Much of her daily life as a guide dog handler is chronicled and it says a lot that what is essentially routine to me still seems fascinating and interesting when she writes about it!

The talented Katrin has some of the most insightful posts at her blog By My Side where she highlights each of her past and present guide/service dogs that she’s been partnered with. Her artwork is nothing short of amazing, too.

Admittedly one of the most fascinating people I’ve had the privilege of randomly meeting on the internet is Rox’E who blogs at The Doghouse. Her informative posts about her life as an owner-trainer guide dog handler and a deaf-blind person are always insightful and fully of her charming dry wit. And with her houseful of dogs there’s always something interesting going on! Oh, and she and her husband also run Pawpower Creations where they custom-make guide dog equipment and a range of aromatherapy (or “smelly stuff” as Rox’E calls it) items.

And last but certainly not least is Laura who maintains Dog’s Eye View; I’ve mentioned her quite a bit this week due to her guide dog sponsorship auction, which ends tomorrow! At first glance the main draw is probably her amazing photography, but there’s more than pretty pictures here. Most notably are her excellent and thought-provoking posts on specific issues and topics relating to guide dogs and disability in general.

There are many more wonderful assistance dog related blogs out there that I could link, but I think this is a great sampling to start off with. Also, I don’t have endless amounts of time to link each and every blog I read — and there are tons more that I’m sure I don’t even know about! Not to mention I need to whip this house into some semblance of clean and organized for tomorrow so that my li’l bro can make his monster cupcakes to show off to the whole of the intarwebs!