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Collingwood mom seeking help to pay for son’s support dog

‘I see this dog does so much for him. It makes such a huge difference in his life and how he will be able to interact with people,’ says Mariana McElroy, whose son Levi deals with Autism, social/ separation anxiety and PTSD

Sit. Stay. Support.

A series of unexpected tragedies have led to a Collingwood single mom to ask for help from the community in an effort to help cover the cost of getting her son’s service dog properly trained.

Mariana McElroy and her 11-year-old son Levi have been dealt a lot of blows over the past two years. Levi’s father died unexpectedly due to a drug overdose in early 2020, and his uncle drowned in August of the same year near Manitoulin Island trying to save Levi and another child when the three were out swimming.

“After losing his father and his uncle so closely together, and the restraints of COVID, I wasn’t doing very well emotionally either,” said McElroy. “I felt like I wasn’t giving (Levi) what he needed when he needed me more than ever.”

Levi has also been previously diagnosed with Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as social anxiety, separation anxiety, sensory overload and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My son’s anxiety gets so high. He clings to me, or won’t get out of the car. We would try to go to places but too many people means sensory overload and he just can’t,” said McElroy.

To help her son deal with his mental health, McElroy decided to get him a service dog. She reached out to many community agencies for assistance, but was dismayed to find that most of them had extensive waiting lists and her son needed help now.

“You can’t even put your name on a waiting list. The lists are closed, that’s how long they are,” said McElroy.

The Collingwood mom took on the fees of adopting the dog and started paying for training out of her own pocket. She works at Collingwood Home Hardware, and while she says her family and close friends have helped her to raise some of the nearly $35,000 required to purchase and train a service dog, she’s still coming up short.

Jo-Jo is three parts poodle, and one part golden retriever. As McElroy has covered the costs of his adoption, feeding and vet care, she is only looking for help for the cost of the training, which is about $15,000.

McElroy started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the dog’s training. As of now, the total raised sits at $5,000.

“We still have quite a ways to go,” she said. “Because we already have the dog, that eliminates some of the cost.”

McElroy collects bottles and cans and is a regular visitor for returns at The Beer Store to help chip away at what she pays for the dog. However, she said the scrimping and saving is worth it to see the major difference Jo-Jo is making in Levi’s life.

“It’s a huge change. When he is upset or anxious, he will go lay with the dog, and the dog can sense when he is upset and will gravitate toward him,” said McElroy. “Watching him interact with the dog, he just lights up. When he was at home doing online learning, the dog would lay at his feet. When we go out, my son is now more focused on the dog than on the people around him.”

“After everything that’s happened to him, he’s still a happy and resilient child. I see this dog does so much for him. It makes such a huge difference in his life and how he will be able to interact with people,” she said.

To contribute to the GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost of Jo-Jo’s training, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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