The connection between a child and the family dog is often palpable. The connection 9-year-old Kelley Rodeffer will likely have with her new puppy could be life-changing.
That’s the basis behind “Passport to Fun,” a dog-friendly fundraising carnival-style event aimed to help fund a service dog for Kelley, an autistic Chandler girl. Complete with carnival rides, sting ray petting, a silent auction and a visit from three Arizona Cardinals players — as well as the team’s mascot, Big Red — the event is scheduled for Saturday, March 17, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Mesa’s Power Square Mall, 2055 S. Power Road.
The event came together in a rather fast and fortunate way.
In late December, Karey Rodeffer, Kelley’s mother, searched “autism dogs” on Facebook and discovered the North Star Foundation, which specializes in placing service dogs with children, while emphasizing pairing with the autistic. Though Rodeffer was halfway through the complicated and lengthy process of getting a dog free of charge from another organization, she read a book - The Golden Bridge - by Patty Dobbs Gross, the creater of the 501(c)3 nonprofit North Star Foundation. Rodeffer was hooked. She contacted Gross, who gave her the application for a 14-week old golden retriever puppy; she was informed, however, that fundraising would be involved.
“I was like, ‘Not my thing,’” Rodeffer said.
That was before Kelly had a seizure while the Rodeffers were attending a canine agility show in the beginning of January. Though not seisure trained, Google, one of Kama Rueschenberg’s dogs, responded to the incident.
Rueschenberg, who lives in Queen Creek, co-owns Club Doggie — a facility at Power Square Mall that offers a variety of dog training classes, clinics, and camps — with her sister Jubie. Rueschenberg mentioned in passing that she was planing a fundraiser and was looking for a way for it to benefit children and dogs.
Rodeffer had further talks with Gross, and Gross made it known that she wanted Kelley to be one of a few children she would work with for the year.
Fundraising was now a reality.
Rueschenberg then called out of the blue and told Rodeffer that she wanted Kelley to be a central part of the fundraiser she was putting on in March.
In that conversation, it came up that Rueschenberg had experience training service dogs to be placed with someone with Autism. It was decided that Rueschenberg would be training Kelley’s new dog; Kelley’s already chosen the name “Sucy.”
Sucy has the potential to improve the lives of both Kelley and Karey in ways that many wouldn’t imagine. Before Kelley was introduced to dogs, she exhibited the antisocial and skittish behavior that is common among the autistic. When it became apparent that Kelley had an affinity for dogs, it was discovered that they could be used as a motivator for Kelley. After being introduced to the Kyrene dog park by Kelley’s first-grade tutor and her dog, the Rodeffers soon became locals. At first, Kelley was off-put by the barking and playful nature of the dogs, but she soon learned to love it, and started memorizing names and breeds.
“How well I can put together this event will determine if we can raise the funds for Kelley or not,” Rueschenberg says. “I feel confident that Kelley’s story is compelling and people will want to come out and they’ll want to be a part of this to help us help Kelley.”