Aubrey Porter’s face lights up when she attends a training session with a series of canine therapy dogs.
Such a simple reaction might be mundane to most, yet it represents a monumental achievement for Aubrey’s mother, Tara Porter.
That sense of joy stems from the litany of ailments that have gripped the 3-year-old Mesa resident, who was diagnosed with sensory deprivation disorder at 6 months of age, followed by the discovery of autism a few years later.
Tara, who works at the East Valley YMCA, was tipped off to service dogs by a friend and soon jumped at the opportunity to get one for her daughter.
That idea came to an end, however, once Porter realized that the animal costs between $32,000 and $35,000—not to mention the $3,000 in application fees.
Adding an autism service dog is crucial, as Porter is a single mother who is stretched thin trying to care for Aubrey on her own.
“She wouldn’t wear clothes or shoes for the longest time. She doesn’t eat. We struggle with eating even to this day. She does have some health issues, she throws up a lot, she has reflux and sleep apnea,” Tara said.
“So, right now, she sleeps with me, because frequently she wakes up, has trouble breathing and she throws up in her sleep.”
Tara hopes that the service dog can help alert her to such health issues, so Aubrey can go back to sleeping in her own bed and Tara won’t have to worry that her daughter might choke.
She also believes a dog would enable Aubrey to go outside and interact with other kids without feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
“She does not make friends at all, she does not like children,” Tara says. “So, we were told that the service dog would help her be able to make friends and learn to be able to socialize with kids.”
“When we go to the park or anywhere, she doesn’t play, she just sits there and watches them. And if a kid comes up to her, she’ll either latch onto me or go hide somewhere…. I just know that as she gets older that it’s going to be one of the biggest struggles that she goes through, with not having friends and not knowing how to make friends.”
Tara said she can tell Aubrey wants to play and interact “but she struggles with it.”
She also hopes a service dog would cut down on Aubrey’s meltdowns, which can run from 20 minutes to several hours long.
She’s seen the dogs’ impact when one has accompanied her daughter to the mall.
“She circled the entire mall, just walking and looking at things. You couldn’t even tell that she had anxiety, she was so calm with this dog,” Tara says. “And it was really the first time where she wasn’t having meltdowns or she wasn’t holding on to me or having to spin. It was really nice, because you could tell that she really had no idea what a mall looks like. We were able to stop at the windows and look at things.
“I see what a big difference it makes when we are training with a service dog.”
Aubrey does get a little picky when it comes to a dog’s personality, her mother said.
“She likes a very calm, tame dog. She gets very nervous if there’s one that comes up and licks or that jumps all over her,” Tara said.
“She struggles on how some dogs feel. So, she has to be around a very soft, tame dog. When we do a couple of the trainings with the service dogs, they always give her the calm dogs that don’t lick and she connects with them really well.”
Above all, she wants the world to see what a beautiful and caring girl Aubrey is and that her diagnosis doesn’t override those qualities.
Tara and her mother have set up various fundraising mediums, from a website – pawsforaubrey.com – to a GoFundMe page.
Their efforts have largely been for naught, with the GoFundMe raising $260 of a $5,000 goal.
But they hope seemingly against hope their plea will be heard, for Aubrey’s sake.
“She’s actually a really sweet child if you can look past all of the stuff that she’s going through,” Tara said. “She’s really sweet, she has the biggest heart.”
“We’re hoping once she can get this dog, that it will be able to go to school with her, to be able to help with all her needs that she needs,” Tara said. “And basically, this dog will basically be her best friend, and the only friend that she’ll really have.”