WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa. — The tornados in southwestern Pennsylvania in October flattened a kennel that housed dogs for kids with special needs. Families who have benefitted from the group are now trying to help them out.
“I realized this is bad,” said Steve Kiray. “If my dogs were running free out of the kennel, this is bad.”
As Kiray, owner of K9s for Kids, made his way further onto his property in Washington County he saw his kennels.
“(They were) mangled like a twist tie on a loaf of bread,” said Kiray.
He corralled his nine German Shepherds that were lose after the EF 2 tornado cut a path through the 100-year-old farm that he lives on.
“The next thought that went through my head was the puppies.”
Four 7-week-old puppies and their mama weren’t initially in view. Kiray found the mother and three of the pups together and heard the fourth crying a short distance away.
“The miracle four, I call them,” said Kiray. “They should not have been here. An EF 2 that destroyed everything in its path should have sucked them up and they should have been miles down the road.”
They’re barely damaged from the trauma. But its harder on Steve. Two of his female dogs that he breeds and trains for kids with special needs died. And one of them was due with a litter in a month.
“And now kids have to wait and that’s not fair,” said mom Devon Shallenberger. “I saw that and I thought how can I help?”
Schallenberger set up a GoFundMe to raise money for Steve and K9s for Kids to find and buy just the right females to breed, which he says cost $16,000 dollars each. He’s particular about them to make sure they have the right characteristics and Devon appreciates that.
Her son, Jackson, has a service dog from K9s for Kids. Once families are matched with the dogs that they buy from Kiray, they train with the dog and Kiray for a year.
Jackson’s German Shepherd named Baby is trained to track the 9-year-old’s scent if the non-verbal boy goes missing.
Mom says the dog has been a wonderful companion.
“(Jackson’s) comprehension has just improved tremendously. That is unexplainable. And I know it’s partly because of the dog,” said Shallenberger.
“The dogs have a magic. It’s good to know that we’re helping the kids. That’s what we all set out to do,” said Kiray.
He says he’s going to see a female dog in Florida on Monday to see if she’s a good fit for his program.