Special Dog Could Change the Life of Winnsboro Boy Battling Rare Disease

Nehemiah Jacoby Dandy (center) sits with his grandmother Betsy Shields (left), great-grandmother Mary Tindal and uncle David Tindal next to the family Christmas tree. Nehemiah needs a dog for Christmas; but not just any dog – a specially trained service dog.

Nehemiah Dandy is only 6 years old, but he’s already endured a world of problems. And he will for the rest of his life, due to severe developmental delays and extensive medical problems.

There is one thing, though, that would help make this Winnsboro boy’s Christmas much brighter and his family’s daily lives better – a dog. Not just any dog, but a special type of therapy dog known as a ‘tether dog,’ trained specifically to help children like Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome when he was just 2. It’s a rare genetic disease that causes a myriad of development problems, intellectual disability, speech impairment, poor muscle coordination and behavioral issues. While his life expectancy is normal, he will always be a child mentally, probably not progressing beyond the age of 8 or so.

While children with Angelman’s Syndrome sometimes have behavioral issues, Nehemiah does not. He is as sweet as sweet can be. Recently, when introduced to one of his great grandmother’s friends, he took her hand, turned it over and kissed the back of it, then smiled sweetly at the woman.

While Nehemiah’s prognosis is grim, his days are made happy by two women who are devoted to him and love him dearly. They are his grandmother, Betsy Shields – his primary care giver – and his great grandmother, Mary Tindal.

They all lived in Winnsboro until last summer when Nehemiah’s geneticist, Dr. Steven Skinner of Greenwood, suggested Nehemiah might benefit from a special school program in the upstate. With that, Shields packed up her grandson and off they moved to Abbeville where Nehemiah attends day school. Shields is happy with Nehemiah’s adjustment there, but is alone with no one to help her care for him. She said she and Nehemiah miss Tindal and Shield’s brother, David, who lives across the street from Tindal. Shields and Nehemiah make the more than two-hour trip back to Winnsboro to visit as often as they can.

Shields and Tindal are remarkable women and everything they do, they do for Nehemiah. He is the center of their universe. But he is not spoiled. He is well-mannered and thoughtful in his own way. Perhaps that’s a reflection of his grandmothers’ devotion to his care and keeping. They are the epitome of the Bible’s description of love. Their patience is unending and they appear to enjoy their every waking moment with Nehemiah.

For Shields, however, faced with the challenges of being Nehemiah’s lone caregiver, those waking moments are far too many. Children with Angelman Syndrome function on very little sleep, often needing medications to sleep just four hours each night. That means Shields also gets little sleep. On disability herself after undergoing multiple back surgeries, Shields admits she has trouble keeping up with her grandson whose malady causes him not only to be awake all hours of the night and day, but to wander aimlessly and dangerously about the house. Shields says she can rarely sit down and rest, much less spend time concentrating on anything.

“And away from the house, it’s even scarier,” Shields said. “He darts off this way and that and is gone in an instant. I live in fear of him wandering off and not finding him.”

A tether dog could change all that for Shields and would afford a new dimension in Nehemiah’s life as well. Tethered to Nehemiah’s waist, the dog is trained to keep the boy near Shields in crowded places such as a grocery store and will be trained to his scent so that, should Nehemiah ever become lost, the dog could help locate him.

At home, the dog would be trained to look after his tethered charge, giving Nehemiah some freedom from being held constantly and his grandmother some time to relax while watching after him.

Shields believes the dog would bring comfort and a measure of calm to Nehemiah. She also thinks Nehemiah’s sweet, loving nature would benefit the dog.

Tethering dogs are expensive, however, costing as much as $30,000. The family can’t afford that. After much research, however, Shields did find a tether dog through Service Dogs for Independence, located in Tucson, Ariz., that provides these dogs for much less in cases of financial need.

A trained tether Labradoodle named Zeus is available for $8,000 and is waiting for the call. The price includes delivery and three days training for Nehemiah and his family on how to communicate with Zeus.

Shields has saved $500 but needs the balance. She and Tindal have made a number of contacts, but so far have not had any success raising the money.

“Zeus is out there in Arizona and he would mean a lot to Nehemiah,” said his grandmother. “We aren’t giving up, though. It’s important for Nehemiah that we get that dog for him,” she said.

Her hope is alive and well. “They told us last week that the dog could still be delivered by Christmas.”

To help with the cost of Nehemiah’s dog, donations can be made directly to Service Dogs for Independence, 15900 North Chapulin Way, Tucson, Ariz., 85739. To donate by credit card, call 520-991-0682 and ask for Elizabeth Morris. Be sure to tell her that your donation is for Nehemiah Dandy. PayPal is also accepted.

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