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Dreams for Service Dog for Autistic Montville Resident Become Reality

Joey Stanley, without his helmet, mimics service dog Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Courtesy of Faith Stanley
Faith Stanley, Joey's mom, and dog trainer Janice Wolfe watch Joey and service dog, Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Gail Bottone
Joey Stanley, without his helmet, plays with service dog Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Courtesy of Faith Stanley
Joey Stanley, without his helmet, holds the leash of service dog Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Courtesy of Faith Stanley
Faith Stanley and Joey with service dog, Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Gail Bottone
Joey Stanley, without his helmet, mimics service dog Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Courtesy of Faith Stanley
Joey Stanley, without his helmet, mimics service dog Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Courtesy of Faith Stanley
Faith Stanley, Joey's mom, and dog trainer Janice Wolfe watch Joey and service dog, Savannah in the Montville Township Library. Credits: Gail Bottone
Joey Stanley, without his helmet, plays with service dog, Savannah, as dog trainer, Janice Wolfe looks on at the Montville Township Library. Credits: Gail Bottone
Joey Stanley, wearing helmet, plays with Savannah, a service dog. Credits: Gail Bottone

MONTVILLE, NJ - Faith Stanley, a Towaco resident and a single mother of four boys, sought help for her youngest son, Joey, who is almost three years old and diagnosed with autism. Amazingly enough, Faith found the help she needed!

Due to the generosity and help of so many people, Faith has managed to reach her goal of raising $17,000 to obtain a service dog for her son.

Faith said, “I want to thank each and every person equally, whether they donated $5,000 or $5.” She is amazed by the outpouring of support and generosity from complete strangers. “There are so many amazing and good people,” she said.

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Faith heard how service dogs can greatly help children with autism, and since Joey’s doctor recommended one for him, Faith wanted this for her son.

But this single mom cleans houses for a living because it not only allows flexibility around Joey’s schedule, but allows Joey to be with her. Her income only covers her basic needs. There was no extra money for a service dog.

She explained that Joey has to wear a helmet because when he is upset or overstimulated, he bangs his head. This behavior is very common in children diagnosed with autism. A service dog can help stop this harmful behavior.

Children with autism have brain chemistry that impairs their ability to process sensory information, and the brain can feel overwhelmed. This sensory processing impairment causes pain. Joey’s world is full of background noises that are overwhelming, and to drown out the information being picked up by his senses, he bangs his head as a survival mechanism. Without the ability to process all the stimulation, head banging can help Joey get some relief. But this is very dangerous and brings on self-inflicted wounds to his head and chin. 

Faith said that she knew at a young age that Joey was not developing like her other sons. As a concerned mother, she sought help from her doctors. She went to a neurologist, and Joey was diagnosed with autism at age 18 months. He received early intervention and received occupational and speech therapy, developmental intervention and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.

After Joey turns three in March, in the first week of April, he will be going to Cedar Hill School. He was accepted into the ABA full time program, and his service dog will be allowed to go with him. This will allow his mom to take on more cleaning jobs that will help the family financially.

In the fall, Faith set up a GoFundMe account and sent it out to family and friends. She even posted it on Facebook, Montville Mom’s and a site in Wayne Township. She did receive $1,000 of the $17,000, but it was not even close to what she needed.

“By a miracle, or by fate, or by what anyone wants to call it, things began to happen,” explained Faith. She continued to say that a news reporter, Lisa Rozner from CBS news, who was born and raised in Wayne, heard of Faith’s need and asked her if she could do a story on her and Joey for CBS news.

At first, Faith thought it was a hoax, but she found out it was real.

Rozner did the story on the night of Jan. 29, and that is when things really began to go right for Faith. Within 24 hours, $15,000 was raised.

After the story aired, Janice Wolfe from Merlin’s Kids entered the picture. She called the news asking about Faith and Joey.

“Merlin’s Kids is a non-profit organization that rescues, rehabilitates and trains shelter dogs to be service dogs for children with autism and other special needs,” explained Wolfe. They also train post-traumatic stress disorder and mobility dogs for veterans and disease detection dogs for firefighters and first responders. The organization relies solely on charitable donations to achieve this goal.

Faith said, “Some people may call it God, magic, luck, science, and others may call it chance, but everything just kept falling into place.” She said that she and Janice just clicked from the beginning. They “felt connected to each other,” and a friendship was born. 

Wolfe said, “It was one of the quickest placements,” and she explained that it takes well over a year to train a dog, and the timing of this was perfect because they have the perfect size dog in mind for Joey.

But Wolfe also pointed out that Faith, who owns a Chevy Cobalt, will need a bigger car to transport five people and a dog. She is trying to help Faith overcome this obstacle and is asking for anyone’s help.

Wolfe is not only the founder of Merlin’s Kids but is the founder and CEO of United K9 Professionals. It is said that for more than 30 years she has been known for her ability to connect in a gentle way with dogs that other trainers and veterinarians could not rehabilitate. Wolfe has personally rehabilitated more than 30,000 dogs with behavioral issues.

According to her website, Wolfe is an author of several canine behavioral books and is currently writing two books with world-renowned animal behaviorist and autism authority, her close friend, Dr. Temple Grandin. 
Wolfe graduated from Columbia University in three years with two bachelor of arts degrees, one in biological sciences, including a concentration in animal behavior and one in economic sciences, with minor areas of concentration in English, Spanish, political science, genetics, and philosophy.

When watching Wolfe interact with Joey and Savannah, a Rhodesian Ridgeback service dog, it was obvious that Wolfe knew exactly how to redirect Joey from an unacceptable behavior to an acceptable one using the service dog. This redirecting skill and many other techniques would have to be taught to Faith, so she would be able to use the service dog to the maximum while making Joey feel better and meeting his needs.

During the course of the two hour interview, Joey was calm and well-behaved as he took off his helmet and placed his head on top of Savannah. Throughout the meeting Joey imitated the postures of the dog; if the dog was on her side, Joey rested on his side, if the dog was on her stomach, Joey was on his stomach and if Joey got too rough with Savannah, the dog stood up letting Joey know that it was not acceptable behavior. When Joey started an unacceptable behavior, Wolfe was able to let Joey take the leash and walk the dog, completely distracting him from banging his head and his fists. 

The service dog, in the long run, will not only help Joey and his mom but his brothers Brendan, 15, Danny, 13, and Matthew, 12. Faith will be able to spend more time with her older children, and their family life in general will be less stressful.

Faith explained that other organizations offer service dogs, but they do not offer training to the parents. Merlin’s Kids will do this for Faith and Joey. 

Faith also explained that GoFundMe takes a percentage of the money raised. Even though she raised $17,000, the company takes at least 5 percent. And there are other charges as well. If one donates to Faith through Merlin’s Kids, Faith gets all of the money.

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