Man’s best friend often starts as boy’s best friend. It’s something 13-year-old Liam Klein understands more than most kids his age. His dog Einstein goes everywhere with him.
“He is literally the reason that I’m actually alive right now,” said Klein.
About four years ago, Klein was diagnosed with PTSD. After the diagnosis he was hospitalized. The medical team recommended a service dog, and that’s when Einstein became part of the family.
“The dog is literally a lifeline,” said Klein, who is the founder and CEO of Chaotic Spyder Foundation. “I couldn’t really go anywhere or really do anything without having panic attacks and hallucinations.”
He says after his diagnosis he was frustrated with the lack of resources for kids battling PTSD, which is why he decided to launch the Chaotic Spyder Foundation to raise funds to train dogs to become service dogs for kids like him. The nonprofit works with Compass Key — a company that offers service dog training for clients with various disabilities.
There are four different phases of the dog training process. Phase one is basic obedience, like sit and stay. Then, the dogs move on to phase two, or advanced obedience. That’s where they learn to master the skills they’ve already been taught, but in all sorts of different settings with lots of distractions, like noise and other dogs. Then, they learn skills that are specific to the client’s disability.
“A cue that we offer sometimes is ‘calm’ and the dog knows to cuddle up next to the client, and the client can focus on the dog. And just petting the dog, you can imagine what that does. It reduces cortisol levels, and just helps the person relax,” said Compass Key Managing Director David Burry.
During the final phase of training, the handler and dog team learns to work together in public places like restaurants and malls. Klein is determined to expand his nonprofit. He recently wrote to Oprah Winfrey, a few times, until one day he says the phone rang.
“She said how proud of me she was for what I did going from having PTSD to wanting to help other kids and starting a foundation,” Klein said. “And she said that she was going to send a $20,000 check to sponsor a dog.”
That’s how much it costs the nonprofit to cover the training, medical expenses, transportation and more. Klein says he plans to only use dogs from high-kill shelters. They’ll be paired with foster families during the training, which can take anywhere from six months to two years. Klein says it’s all worth it.
“It makes it so you can actually say go to the library, or go to school, or do the things that you should actually be doing as a kid,” Klein said.
“I’m just thrilled that he wants to give back and I want him to be successful,” Klein’s mom, Lisabeth, said. “If every kid that has this doesn’t have a problem because they can be a kid, then he’s successful.”