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More than just a boy and his dog

By Mo Cranker [4]

BELLEVILLE – A Belleville family is inching closer to getting a service dog [5] to help their eight-year-old autistic son.

Anthony Sakellis is currently non-verbal. He is also, according to his father, George, incredibly curious about the world around him. That curiosity leads to him bolting [6] toward anything that catches his eye – which can be very dangerous.

A service dog would help keep Anthony safe, but a fully trained dog costs $25,000. The Corbyville family has been raising money for over a month through the crowdsourcing site gofundme.com [7].

The dog would be more than just a friend for Anthony, said his mother, Maria. Its most important role would be to keep her son calm and safe when need be. It would also help control his bolting – which, as his father explains, can put the boy in danger that he does not understand:

Bolting is not always just impulsive curiosity, Maria Sakellis explained:

Maria Sakellis said it was her hairdresser who suggested a fundraiser for a service dog, but she originally shrugged off the idea. But then one day when dropping off her daughter, Vivian, at soccer practice, she happened to see a young woman bolting through traffic and toward train tracks. She decided she needed to act for her son before it was too late.

“I realized it was time to say, ‘You know what? It’s time for some fundraising to happen.’ ”

Just over a month into the fundraising campaign, the family has received more than $20,000 in donations. Maria Sakellis said she is blown away by the support that has come from all over the globe, including from complete strangers:

Maria Sakellis, an elementary-school teacher, said some of her students have donated the little money they could.

“I’ve had students who are six years old donate parts of their allowance,” she said. “It takes a village to raise a child, and this has been one huge community feeling I’ve gotten.”

Maria and George have four children, three boys and a girl; Anthony is the youngest. Their son Kosta, who is nine now, also has autism. After treatments that cost the family a great deal of money, he is very high-functioning. But when Anthony too was diagnosed as autistic, it was a big challenge for the family, Maria Sakellis said.

“We had almost fully recovered our son. When we ended up having a second diagnosis of autism in the family, it hit us while we were down.”

She explained one of the many hardships of having a child with autism:

One source of support for the family has been the London Knights [8] of the Ontario Hockey League [9]. Anthony’s story was brought to the Knights’ attention by team member Max Jones [10], a superstar winger who received an Instagram message about the campaign from Anthony’s 14-year-old sister, Vivian. She had sent messages to several OHL players, and Jones was the first to reply.

The Knights have posted multiple messages about Anthony on Facebook [11] and Twitter [12] in an effort to spread his story and raise some money.

They also hosted the Sakellis family at a game in London last weekend, to celebrate Anthony’s eighth birthday. The family watched the Knights beat the Owen Sound Attack  [13] by a score of 5-0. The team named Anthony the first star of the game.

In an interview from London, Jones told QNet News that helping Anthony’s cause was an easy choice for him.

“Not everyone has it so good,” he said. “It just kind of makes you sad that a family has to go through that, yet they’re so happy and loving. I just wanted to do something to help them out.”

More information about the fundraising campaign can be found at Anthony’s GoFundMe page [14], or by searching “Sakellis” on gofundme.com.