By Meghan Schiller

WASHINGTON COUNTY (KDKA) — A tornado sliced through Washington County a little more than two weeks ago, churning a path of destruction in its wake.

Farmers are still cleaning up, but one family now worries about the future of a nonprofit for kids with medical conditions.

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“We started out with two dogs and one kennel. And we’ve just built it up since then and within 30 seconds, it’s all wiped out,” said Steve Kiray.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Kiray will forever see the devastating path of the tornado that tore through his land.

“Over there through the trees, you see a gap in the trees where the tornado came through,” Kiray said. “Twisted, turned and it was all laying down flat.”

Ripping roofs, flipping buildings and bending metal, the storm showed no mercy.

“How you can take an inch and a half steel pipe and twist it like a twist tie on a loaf of bread is beyond me,” Kiray said.

The pile of scrap is what remains of his family’s biggest loss: the dog kennels.

“The kennels were 10 by 60 with an industrial-strength carport over top of them,” Kiray said.

But they didn’t stand a chance that night.

“And two of the dogs ended up dying. The females, which is the biggest loss,” said Kiray. “There’s no way to count the number of kids that they won’t be able to help.”

Kids like Jackson. He’s nonverbal, autistic and making huge strides thanks to the program K9s for Kids.

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“He has graduated outpatient therapy, he has been giving more eye contact, and he’s now sitting for extended periods of time,” said his mother, Devon Shallenberger.

Shallenberger said it’s all because of his companion dog “Baby,” born and raised on the farm for one purpose.

“I always see on the news about autistic kids that are found in water,” Shallenberger said. “So I always envisioned my son because he runs, and he runs towards water.”

The dog is trained to track Jackson when he bolts away. He alerts mom that he’s left the “safe circle” and is then trained to locate him immediately.

For moms like Shallenberger, the second set of eyes means a moment of peace, and it’s why she’s leading the fundraising efforts, already finding $3,000 for K9s for Kids.

“I tell all my friends. I tell everybody that has a child with special needs. It doesn’t matter if they’re verbal, nonverbal, they can benefit in some area to help their child,” said Shallenberger.

That’s why she’s devastated to see all the damage and hear about Kiray’s two dogs.

“One of which was due to have pups next month. So out of a typical litter, we might be able to help four to five children with those puppies. That’s not going to happen,” said Kiray.

The silver lining is the four puppies that did survive. Three met their “kids” this past weekend.

“If the buildings are gone, where are those puppies? They should have been miles down the road or who knows where. But somehow, someway, I call them the miracle four, they were in the kennels with their mom,” said Kiray.

Of the dogs that did survive, Kiray said the females can’t breed for more than a year. That means he needs to fundraise to either purchase another female service dog or puppies to pair with children in our area.

That’s why the community’s now raising money for K9s for Kids. Small donations are already pouring in.

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“It’s good,” said Kiray. “It lets us know that what we’re doing really has an effect. You can see how the kids and how they are and their parents too and some grandparents say how much it means to them.”

Meghan Schiller