Local family feels scammed by autism organization

5-year-old waits for his dog

MT. ORAB, Ohio - After nine months of waiting and fundraising and dreaming of a dog, 5-year-old Samuel DeWitt may have to give up his hope of getting a best friend, who could help him deal with autism.

"He was carrying around a picture that we had and we would walk around 'My Shadow, my Shadow'... We've had to put that away, so he no longer sees it," said Samuel's dad, David DeWitt.

"It's hard to tell your child, even if he didn't fully understand, we made a promise to him. We told him this was going to be his dog. We talked about it. Part of having a child with autism you can't just throw something on them. We've been talking with Samuel for months in preparation," said Elizabeth DeWitt, Samuel's mom.

Samuel's family and community raised money for Shadow, a service dog.  

"Every day is a different struggle and the service dog would ease those daily struggles," said David.

But now it seems the Illinois organization given the money for the dog has disappeared.

"What was suppose to be a hope-filled thing has become an absolute nightmare," said David.

Shadow's arrival should be this spring, but they haven't heard from Lea Kaydus—owner of Animals for Autism since September.

She hasn't returned their emails or phone calls.

"I'm just outraged over this whole thing. This is not about me. This is not about my wife. This is about our son and they have taken from a 5-year-old autistic boy. And that's just absolutely despicable," said David.

They initially contacted Kaydus in April during Autism Awareness month. They applied to receive one of the free dogs she was ‘giving' away. They didn't make the cut, but they still wanted a dog because her organization, they said, was much less expensive than others at $5,000.

After sending a $500 down payment, they received the only photo of Shadow they have.

With fundraisers, more than $1,200 was sent to Animals for Autism, not including donations that were submitted to Animals for Autism's PayPal on their website.

"We've repeatedly asked for financial statements to tell us who's donating... we've never received [one]," said David.

In June, Kaydus was awarded a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant, with the help of the DeWitts' voting daily. They did so, with the intention that they might receive one of 10 free service dogs as a result.

"The original agreement with Pepsi with the Pepsi Refresh that everybody voted for was to train 10 service dogs. After the voting was completed, Pepsi then authorized for the building of a facility, a kennel, that was not part of the Pepsi Refresh that everybody voted for," said David.

But a spokeswoman with Pepsi said Kaydus has done nothing wrong.

"She has complied with her agreement to date and her idea is still active. Kaydus is within her timeline and plan."

Eleven families nationwide are now complaining to the Illinois Attorney General, who issued this statement to 9 News: "Our office is looking into several consumer complaints and/or inquiries received about non-delivery of service dogs."

The DeWitts said it's hard to trust, but they're still hoping.

"We're still planning on pursuing a service dog for Samuel. He needs it."

9 News made several attempts to contact Kaydus with Animals for Autism.

No phone calls or emails have been returned—and the Animals for Autism website has been removed.

"I'm not going to rest until somebody is held accountable for this because it is just disgusting," said David.

"[It's] our goal to give him the best possible life we can."

(Below is a map showing all 11 families who are without the service dog they were paying on through Animals for Autism.)

View Kids scammed out of autism service dogs in a larger map

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