Little Ehlena Fry was born with cerebral palsy, so when she was 5, her doctor recommended that her family get a service dog.
Due to her condition, she has significantly limited motor skills so having a service dog would help Ehlena be more independent. Family and friends decided to throw a fundraiser for Ehlena to raise the $13,000 she needed for a service dog, and in 2009, Ehlena and her family took a train to Ohio to pick up her new golden doodle.
They named the white cuddly dog Wonder, but when The Fry’s spoke to Ehlena’s school about the dog, they said he wasn’t allowed. School officials refused to talk about the case, and because the district was already paying for an aide to help Ehlena physically in school, they thought the dog wasn’t necessary. The school continued to say that having a service for a blind student is justified, but it’s not necessary for Ehlena to navigate the school.
Wonder was trained to open and close doors for Ehlena, to hit handicap buttons, and even to pick up items that she dropped. He was also responsible for stabilizing her so that she could make transfers from a chair to walker or from a walker to a toilet seat.
“One of our whole goals in getting Wonder for her was that eventually, the more she was able to use Wonder and navigate her environment, that she would need the aide less and less,” Ehlena’s mother, Stacy Fry, told npr.org.
The school allowed for a 30-day trial where Wonder would be in the school but he was not permitted to sit with Ehlena in class or go with her to the lunchroom. During the trial Fry says that “there was so much animosity,” and Ehlena and Wonder were even required to demonstrate a toilet transfer with adults from the school watching, which was traumatizing for Ehlena.
Even worse, after the 30 days, the school reverted back to a no-dog policy. The school complained that two children were allergic to dogs and one had a dog phobia, even though Wonder is a hypoallergenic breed. The Frys wound up home-schooling Ehlena and then transferred her to another school district where Wonder was welcomed with open arms. “It was amazing, and they were so accepting,” Fry observes. “It was such a teaching tool, for the other kids.”
The family wound up suing the old district under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws, and Fry says the suit isn’t about money, but instead to forge a path for other children with service animals, “so that they don’t have to have what happened to my daughter happen to their child,” she told npr.org.
While they’ve lost the case in the lower courts, they are currently trying with the Supreme Court. They hope that after years of hard work, their persistence will soon be recognized, and justice will be served for Ehlena and Wonder, and all others like them.
Can you believe this school wouldn’t allow this little girl’s service dog to accompany her?
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[Featured Image Credit: aclu via npr.com]