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Family raises funds to adopt 6-year-old service dog | Main stories

LINCOLN, Ill. (WAND) – A Lincoln family is raising funds to give their 6-year-old daughter a service dog.

Jody Merritt’s daughter, Willow, struggled with Trichotillomania since she was a child. Trichotillomania is a disorder that involves recurrent, overwhelming urges to pull out body hair. The Merritt family believes their daughter’s disorder began as a coping mechanism for a medical condition she had as a child that caused her physical pain and sensory processing impairment.

“We learned very quickly that many children do not struggle with trichotillomania, which is very rare for people her age. It’s not uncommon for teenagers and adults, but it’s very rare for babies, toddlers, to fight someone like that.”

Merritt said her daughter has had various therapies in her life, and while she said they are helpful in some areas, none of them have reduced her hair loss. The Merritt family has worked to learn and develop skills that will help Willow with her other challenges, but they find that it causes her more stress as they try to deal with her trichotillomania.

“We found that when she was concentrating on something, you could see her hand just go up there (to her hair),” Merritt said. “Then when we’re in the car, which is a tough place, it was tough on her body.”

Merritt told WAND News that about a year ago, the family was in the crowd at a flea market. Willow noticed that someone was standing nearby with his poodle, and wanted to pet him. The poodle’s owner let Willow pet her and she fell in love. The family later learned that the poodle was a former service dog and this gave the family the idea to begin the journey of getting Willow their own service dog.

“Our goal is to be able to help her body find peace, and I think having a companion, a dog, with her and what she’s going to be trained to do will help capture that shift in her energy.”

The family launched a GoFundMe help raise funds for a service dog. Merritt said they teamed up with a local organization that specializes in service dogs for military personnel suffering from PTSD and children with autism and cerebral palsy.

“I think she totally understands the hopes of how a service dog can help her, and I think that might be the case.”


The dog the family wants to adopt is Aspen, a 13-week-old German shepherd-poodle mix. The purchase of a specialized dog will cost the family $15,000. So far, they’ve raised almost $12,000 with the help of the community.

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