Ascension Parish family raising money to provide service dog for their Autistic son

ST. AMANT – Cortnie and Chris Leodler exemplify the profound significance of family bonds. Their family expanded during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic with the arrival of their sixth member, baby Cooper.

“We had him on the day of the shutdown during the pandemic,” Cortnie said. “(Cooper) was born six weeks early. He’s been our baby that we got to spend the most time with because of being home during Covid.”

“I had to get them to repeat it a couple times”

Throughout the lockdown, Cooper’s presence brought vitality to their home. Yet, these shared moments also unveiled a concern that warranted attention-a concern the family couldn’t ignore.

“(We noticed) that he wouldn’t respond to his name. We would scream at him, we would try to say it funny. We tried all kinds of different ways to get his attention. So, initially, we thought he was (hearing impaired),” Cortnie explained. 

Medical evaluations revealed significant ear blockages in Cooper, which required surgery. However, despite addressing this, concerns remained and led the Leodlers to a neurologist, which delivered an unexpected revelation.

“It was during one of these appointments that we were informed about Cooper’s autism,” Cortnie said through tears. “I had to get them to repeat it a couple times because it was so shocking.”

“It’s a long, hard process to get help for kids with autism”

With this life-altering diagnosis, Cortnie and Chris embarked on a mission to provide their son the necessary support to get their baby boy the help he needed as he adapted to a world not designed for him.

“He went from being what we thought was a little bit lower on the autism spectrum to now he’s considered a level three, which is the highest and needs the most significant support. It’s a very long, hard process to get help for kids with autism, unfortunately.”

Among the avenues for Cooper’s support is the integration of a service animal into his life. Witnessing the transformative impact a service dog had on a family friend with a similar neurological and developmental condition propelled the Leodlers to explore this possibility.

After applying for assistance, the Leodlers were accepted into the 4 Paws for Ability program-a organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with disabilities through the placement of highly trained service dogs.

“The costs associated with these service dogs are substantial, often reaching tens of thousands of dollars,” Cortnie acknowledged. “In fact, some dogs can cost upwards of $80,000.”

“This dog may be my child’s only chance at having a best friend”

Fortunately, through the combined efforts of 4 Paws, dedicated volunteers, and generous donors, the financial burden for the Leodler family has been significantly reduced. However, a remaining cost of $20,000 remains a considerable challenge.

“We’re very thankful for the donors that took a huge (financial) portion away from us to where we weren’t responsible for that. And so now, we just try our hardest to get the rest of it through a lot of fundraising and a lot of word of mouth.”

The family’s fundraising endeavors have united them in a shared mission. The Leodlers emphasize that they are not seeking a handout, but rather a “paw up” in their pursuit of assistance.

“It would be huge for Cooper. His life would be so different. The dog basically works as a live, weighted blanket. Just a lot bigger and fluffier. It would just be absolutely life changing for all of us to be able to feel competent again and to be able to take (Cooper) places and not be scared that he’s going to run away from us.”

For those interested in contributing to Cooper’s journey by assisting with service dog fees, donations can be made through 4 Paws’ online platform.

Cortnie concludes, “This dog may be my child’s only chance at having a best friend, and what more can we ask than for our Coop to have a shot of a furever best friend.”

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