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Service animals can cost $25k but could give disabled SLO girl independence

Posted at 5:48 AM, Feb 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 09:41:11-05

Service animals can cost thousands of dollars and aren't typically covered by health insurance, but for one San Luis Obispo teen with a life threatening genetic disorder, the need for such a dog outweighs the expense.

Clio Nelson, 16, has Cowden Syndrome, meaning vascular malformations grow in her body, creating a high risk for both internal bleeding and cancer.

"I can't control what my body decides to do," Clio Nelson said.

On the outside, Clio looks like a typical, healthy teen.

But inside, her body is at war with itself.

"Clio's in chronic pain at a an eight to 10, and that's a good day," Angela Nelson, Clio's mother, said. "My daughter is a warrior, she's one of the bravest people I know."

Bravery means Clio refuses to let her disability control her life. But knowing she can't do battle alone, Clio began researching service animals.

That search took the Nelsons to Doggy Do Good in Arroyo Grande, where they met a black Labrador named Dylan.

"It's incredible how much service dogs can do to assist people with disabilities," Doggy Do Good CEO Sandy Sandberg.

The dogs at Doggy Do Good are trained to recognize oncoming seizures, assist with walking and mobility, and detect internal bleeding.

"Dylan has a really important job that can save a life," Sandberg said. "When Dylan smells any blood, Dylan will alert to the owner and let the owner know you're bleeding."

And by simply walking alongside Clio while wearing her service animal vest, Dylan can make people aware of Clio's invisible disability.

Training for a service animal can take over a year, costing more than $25,000.

Though service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act , insurance typically denies coverage.

Doggy Do Good's non-profit arm, called Doggy Does Good, assists with fundraising for people who cannot afford a service animal. But even still, Sandberg believes the raw cost of the animal and its training turns away people who could really benefit.

"I do believe there needs to be a change in the industry," Sandberg said. "These service dogs, they're saving lives. They can help give that person independence they would not have."

That sentiment is something Clio, who has missed school because of her disability, agrees with.

"For people with disabilities (service animals) are a last resort, we have no other options," Clio Nelson said.

The Nelsons are already depleted from years of hospital bills.

"There is no savings, right, that existed prior to condition," Angela Nelson said.

A GoFundMe account raised a few thousand dollars but not fast enough, so the Nelsons got creative and, with the help of Clio's school, put on a fundraiser softball game.

"The game netted about $13,000," Angela Nelson said.

The Nelsons still have about $4,000 left to raise before they can purchase Dylan, but with well over half the funds in hand, Dylan has gone from a dream to a reality.

"It's literally like treading water then getting your head above water," Clio Nelson said.

Clio's struggles are far from over, but with the help of a furry friend, she won't be fighting alone.

You can donate to Clio's fund by clicking here. Be sure to note in your donation that the money is for Clio and Dylan.