MESA, AZ — Aubrey Peters loves toys and her family. She looks happy and healthy, but inside, she's fighting to get through every day.
Aubrey was diagnosed with autism and sensory processing disorder at 9 months old. Aubrey's mom, Tara, a single mom of four, struggles to meet her daughter's specific needs, while also providing for the rest of her family.
"Simple things like brushing your hair, brushing teeth is a fight and causes lots of meltdowns in our home," said Tara.
"She doesn’t leave my side for anything, so I would love to see her be more independent and be able to just walk for the first time into school on her own," Tara added.
Tara has been trying to save up and work with local organizations that raise and train service dogs since Aubrey was a toddler. She has yet to come up with the more than $30,000 she'd need to secure a companion that could change her daughter's life.
"I see her playing, showing toys and actually interacting and trying to get Oakley’s attention which is really big," she said.
Oakley is a Goldendoodle currently in training to become a full-fledged service dog. Right now, both Oakley and Aubrey are working together to learn to be comfortable around one another, but the pup has already been designated to another child in need.
Aubrey's needs are specific. She needs support both day and night to sleep, eat, and control her constant anxiety.
"That’s the one thing I struggle with as a mom," added Tara. "Not being able to see her do things that other children do...it’s hard.“
Aubrey's life revolves around a routine. Tara says when that routine changes, or her schedule is shifted, it sparks a meltdown.
"[They] can last anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours," she said. Service dogs are specifically trained to see signs of a meltdown and respond to both physical and emotional cues to interrupt that behavior.
“He’s able to help her and work together to mitigate that meltdown and get her actually calm," said Brian Daugherty, a trainer with Arizona Goldens, LLC.
His company is hoping to help Aubrey's family find the perfect service dog for her needs, but says the amount of time and work it takes to train each dog to a specific client can cost between $32,000 to $35,000.
"We found that a lot of times [Aubrey] needs a dog that can be a little bit goofy, a little bit energetic and engaging, but also a little bit of calm to bring her down a little bit.”
Tara says there's no way she can afford the one companion her daughter needs right now, but the longer she waits, the more her daughter struggles in her everyday life.
Tara has set up a website for anyone able and willing to help donate to help secure a service dog.