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HeatherAnn needs a dog

The 6-year-old with multiple disabilities qualifies for a service dog
by: Jonathan House, WAITING FOR A MIRACLE — Gina Borino holds her daughter HeatherAnn in their backyard before the 6-year-old heads off to kindergarten at Alberta Rider Elementary School. The family is trying to raise $12,000 for a trained service dog to both protect and help HeatherAnn in all her activities.

TIGARD - Many families excitedly make plans to adopt a dog for their kids to play with.

The Borino family wants to get a dog, but the special one they need costs $12,000.

Gina and John Borino's daughter HeatherAnn is a 6-year-old bundle of charm and energy who was born with a host of birth defects - for starters, her stomach and intestines were not connected, and she had surgery when she was 1 day old to help correct the problem.

She also has Down syndrome, developmental delays, hearing and speech issues, and numerous medical problems, plus she is hyperactive and autistic.

'And she is a runner,' Gina Borino said. 'She is very energetic and loves to run off at anytime, anywhere. This is very dangerous for her and nerve-wracking for anyone who is caring for her. HeatherAnn has a great need for a service dog to help care for her at school, church and home.'

After much research, the family settled on 4 Paws for Ability, a non-profit service-dog training organization.

It can provide a multi-purpose service dog to keep HeatherAnn safe, according to Borino.

To keep costs down and provide families with much-needed dogs as quickly as possible, 4 Paws does not do fund-raising but requires each family to raise an amount comparable to the cost of training the dog, which is $12,000.

'We have to watch HeatherAnn every minute,' said Borino, adding that the little girl typically has appointments with three or four specialists a month and has been hospitalized frequently.

Not only does the family, which includes three older brothers, have to watch HeatherAnn, but so does her aide at Alberta Rider Elementary School, where she is a kindergartner.

'They have a great special education department, and she loves riding the mini-bus to school,' Borino said. 'But she runs away from class. Once she even got into the parking lot. They watch her - that's how quick she is. She's always getting out of car seats and seat belts.'

The need for a service dog became more critical Sept. 27, when Borino learned HeatherAnn must undergo surgery for her dislocated hip and then be kept immobile while she heals. Although the doctor wants to do the surgery right away, Borino wants to wait until the dog joins the family to make HeatherAnn's convalescence more bearable.

Most families take from three months to one year to raise the money for the 4 Paws organization, according to Borino.

'I'm not good at this,' she said. 'I hate to go to church and ask the prayer circle to pray for HeatherAnn because she's in the hospital again. I try to take care of things myself. But now I really have to reach out.

'When I sent off the application, I had a nightmare that they sent a Chihuahua, and I had the image of HeatherAnn running off and the dog flapping behind her in the breeze.'

In reality, HeatherAnn, who communicates through speech and sign language, would be tethered to her dog, which will be trained specifically for her needs.

'When I take her out now, I put a harness on her,' Borino said. 'Some people say things that aren't so nice. I thank them for being concerned. If she is tethered to a dog, and I have the dog's leash, people will accept that. It will change the whole dynamics.'

According to Borino, HeatherAnn's service dog will be trained to lie down if she acts up or runs.

'It will free me up but also give her freedom,' Borino said. 'She's 6½ - she sometimes gets a little kindergarten attitude. But the dog will allow her to be herself instead of an extension of me. If she wanders off, the dog follows her.

'If we call the dog, he will respond. Since she has trouble hearing, she doesn't always hear us when we call.'

4 Paws trains the parents to be the handlers, according to Borino.

'If we're certified trainers, we could train our other kids and even her aide at school,' she said. 'HeatherAnn can take the dog to school and all the other places that service dogs are allowed to go.'

HeatherAnn sometimes exhibits repetitive behavior, and the dog can be trained to disrupt it, according to Borino.

'When she has to go to a doctor's office or the hospital, where she sometimes get anxious, a dog can be a calming influence,' she said.

'She's had a lot of stuff happen in her little life. The dog will be a friend and be a constant in her life. If we lose her, the dog can track a scent up to three hours after it was left, even in the rain. We will have to work with the dog every week to keep up its training.'

Training will not start on the dog until most or all of the money has been raised, and then Gina and John will travel to Ohio for 10 days to become certified trainers.

4 Paws will need about six months to train the dog, so if fund-raising takes six months, HeatherAnn won't get her dog for a year.

HeatherAnn's brother Anthony, 11, offered to mow lawns for people in the complex in return for donations, and the managers gave him $5, which is in a jar on the kitchen counter. 'Now we need $11,995,' Borino said.

People interested in making a tax-deductible contribution to 4 Paws for Ability in HeatherAnn Borino's name may donate directly online at www.4pawsforability.org or mail a check to 4 Paws for Ability, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, OH 45385.