Ashland teen seeks community support to get service dog

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ASHLAND - Service dogs may provide immeasurable support to their owners, but for one Ashland family, a canine friend comes with a large cost.

17-year-old Sara Tompkins found out she had spina bifida just a few years ago.

"She used to walk down to her grandparent's house," Robin Tompkins said. "Now I don't even want her to do that because I don't trust she will get there and back without falling." 

Sara Tompkins plans to adopt a service dog to help her with stability when she attends college next fall, but the high cost is not covered by insurance.

"Many organizations do charge and then the fees can run between 15,000 to 30,000 dollars," said Dr. TerriAnn Tucker-Warhover, who is the director of Puppies with Purpose, a CHAMP Assistance Dogs Inc. Program.

She said service dogs are expensive because they are trained for specific skills to help an individual that has a disability live more independently.

The training time for a typical service dog can be anywhere between one to three years. As a result, many potential owners also end up on a long waiting list. Tucker-Warhover said she's disappointed insurance does not cover the costs, but she's not surprised.

"These are medical conditions, and to me a service dog, depending upon the condition, can actually help individuals both mentally and physically," she said.

Sara Tompkins said her family is currently on a 18-month wait list for a service dog from a larger breed, like a Bernese Mountain dog or a Newfoundland. 

"These particular dogs are very stout, so if she starts to fall over, they'll be able to support her physically and get her help," Robin Tompkins said. 

For the past few months, the family has sold homemade dog blankets and other crafts to raise money to buy the service dog. Robin Tompkins said she was surprised by the community support they received.

"It's really special to just see people pull up in Ashland and say 'here, let me help,'" she said. 

Sara Tompkins said, "With spina bifida, I ended up getting all my independence taken away, not being able to walk, and this should allow me to walk again and be on my own for once."

Her mother said, "She's really exited. The only thing she's bummed about is she can't name the dog."

The Tompkins family is hosting a raffle and benefit craft show July 11 at the Ashland Senior Center to fund the purchase of the service dog.