Disabled Salamanca Boy Needs Community’s Help For Service Dog

Ayden Armstrong is seeking the help of the community to obtain a service dog to help him with his multiple disabilities. Ayden and his mother, Danielle Wiltsie, pose with Velcro, the service dog they hope to make their own. Photo by Deb Everts

SALAMANCA — An 8-year old Salamanca boy needs the community’s help in obtaining a much-needed service dog to assist him with his multiple disabilities. Ayden Armstrong has already started to work with Velcro, a service dog, to create a bond that is crucial for his continued healthcare and well-being. The pup is from New Hope Assistance Dogs Inc. in Warren, Pa., and the total cost of the dog is $18,000.

According to Ayden’s mother, Danielle Wiltsie, her son has several disabilities including autism, epilepsy and a rare disorder, syringomyelia. She said his seizures take place most often during the night, so it’s very stressful for him and he doesn’t get a lot of sleep.

“The syringomyelia is a fluid-filled cyst in his spinal column that pushes on his nerves and can eventually paralyze him. There’s no permanent cure. He can have surgery, but it will come back,” she said. “Once the nerve endings are damaged by the swelling, it’s permanent and he already has some damage.”

Wiltsie said Ayden has to be careful how he moves, so there’s no jumping or running and he can’t ride a bicycle. He can usually walk with a walker outdoors, but he walks with family members around him inside the house.

“Physical therapists around here are afraid to touch him because they’re afraid they’ll paralyze him,” she said.

Wiltsie said Ayden’s neurologist, Jennifer McVige, M.D., M.A., at Dent Neurologic Institute in Orchard Park suggested they apply for a service dog from New Hope Assistance Dogs Inc., a non-profit organization located in Warren, Pa. The organization provides custom-trained Assistance Dogs for mobility, hearing, autism and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder related issues, along with a multitude of other disabilities for both children and adults.

She submitted an application in January and it went before a review board that decides who really needs a service dog or companion dog. She said out of all the applicants, Ayden was picked immediately to receive a service dog in March.

“We went to the New Hope facility with four other families seeking a service dog. They tested four different puppies with every family in the same room and outside the building to see which dog would bond the best with each child,” she said. “Velcro was the best choice for Ayden because he would go with him with his walker.”

Wiltsie said Velcro is a 4-month old, purebred Golden Retriever and they’ve had him since March 16. He was placed in their home for early bonding and is currently going through training.

According to Wiltsie, a service dog would not ordinarily be presented to an individual until it’s full-grown and fully-trained but, in her son’s case with his epilepsy, they wanted the puppy and Ayden to bond because of the chemical imbalance a trained dog can pick up on before someone has a seizure.

“The dog is going to be trained in epilepsy to let someone know if Ayden has a seizure or to try to pull him out of it,” she said. “With the syringomyelia part, the dog will be trained in helping him balance and walk. When he can’t bend over to pick something up, the dog will retrieve the object for him.”

Wiltsie said Velcro is a sweet dog, and he’ll be a great friend to Ayden. He already knows who Ayden is and checks on him quite frequently. If someone says, “go find Ayden” or “go see Ayden,” Velcro is there checking on him to make sure he’s all right. She said the dog knows who he’s supposed to check on at all times.

According to Wiltsie, her son currently has no personal care aid. Since October, he has been home-tutored for only one-hour a day by Christina Wade, a teacher from the Salamanca City Central School District. She said he receives educational instruction Monday through Thursday for a total of four hours a week.

“Mrs. Wade comes to our house and she’s excellent. She gets Ayden to do things he needs to do, but there is no chance he will get more hours of educational instruction,” she said. “We’ve been fighting with the school district since October and we’re lucky they are giving him home-tutoring for a hour a day. He hasn’t had speech therapy or occupational therapy since that time.”

A benefit dinner and fundraiser will be held Saturday at the Salamanca American Legion Hughes-Skiba Post No. 535 at 67 Wildwood Ave. from 1-5 p.m. For a $5 donation, guests will receive a picnic dinner. There will also be a Chinese auction and pop can candy bouquets will be offered.

If anyone wishes to donate toward Ayden’s service dog but cannot attend the fundraiser, they should call Wiltsie at 378-0854. They may also contact New Hope Assistance Dogs at 814-726-1620 and specify the donation is for Ayden Armstrong.


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