FAIRBORN — Cruz Richmond is an active three-year-old who loves books and animals, and knows no danger. He was diagnosed with autism after his mother, EllaMae Richmond, noticed delays in his speech development when he was 18 months old. Cruz’s family and friends have been raising funds for a service dog from 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia since the summer months, and have more than $7,000 of the $15,000 needed.
“It would be a lifesaver,” Richmond said. “I’m a single parent, and it’s very hard. Like when it’s him and I trying to go out in public, making sure he’s safe and stays with me — it (the dog) would be a life-changing event for both of us.”
Cruz stays busy from the time he wakes up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night. Richmond said her son is a runner, but knows no danger in relation to busy streets, strangers and water. At one point she found him in the neighbor’s house, and will sometimes find him exploring porches in the neighborhood.
She feels that the dog would help keep him out of dangerous situations, as it would be trained specifically for their needs. The dog would utilize tethering, in addition to touch, pressure and snuggling techniques. It would also be trained in search-and-rescue reuniting.
“He could run out into the street and wouldn’t know,” Megan Keller, who takes care of Cruz while his mother is working, said. “Water — it could be 50 feet deep — and he would jump right in. At least if he has the dog, he’s tethered to the dog and it can help him learn what he can and cannot do.”
Cruz has his own way of communicating, which may not include verbal wording. His facial expressions hint to his emotions, and he touches others to send messages. Richmond said lacking this ability leads to frustration and meltdowns, and she feels that the dog would alleviate those situations.
“A lot of times it may look like he’s misbehaving or not listening, but he unfortunately can’t help himself,” Richmond said. “With him [not being able to] communicate back to us is where a lot of his frustrations and meltdowns [come from.] I can’t imagine not being able to communicate what I want as an adult, but let alone being three-years-old, wanting something and we have no idea what it is.”
Upon raising the funds, the Richmonds would send 4 Paws a video of Cruz’s daily life in order for the organization to match a dog to his needs. It would then go through 15 to 18 months of training before the family would go through a two-week course with the animal before bringing it home.
“I talked to his doctors and they all thought it was a good idea,” Richmond said. “Especially with him being an escape artist.”
Richmond has offered varying food sales at her place of employment to raise money for the dog. Keller is selling Mehaffies pies with 50 percent of the proceeds benefiting the cause. She will deliver the pies Oct. 27.
Community members are also free to donate money, which is tax deductible, to the effort through 4 Paws by mailing checks made out to 4 Paws for Ability to 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, Ohio 45385. “In honor of Cruz Richmond” should be written in the memo line.
Cruz’s family will host a benefit dinner 3-6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1 at the Ridge Church, 7555 Brookville-Philipsburg Road in Brookville. Attendees have a choice of meatballs with marinara in penne pasta, chicken Parmesan or chicken tortellini in Alfredo sauce, along with salad, garlic bread and a drink, with proceeds benefiting the effort. The cost is $15 for ages 13 and up and $12 for ages 3 to 12. There will also be a raffle and silent auction. Tickets should be purchased in advance, as limited seating will be available at the door.
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532, or by following her on Twitter by searching for @wnvickers. For more content online, visit our website or like our page on Facebook.