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Hey Pepsi! Why Aren't You Stepping In To Help The Autism Families?

By Katherine Stone |

Pepsi Refresh Project

Does Pepsi owe it to ten families to make sure they receive their autism service dogs?

An organization called Animals for Autism is competing to win the Pepsi Refresh Project.  They want to give ten families free service dogs for their children with autism.  In order to win $50,000 from Pepsi Refresh, they need votes. Lots of them.

It sounds amazing, right?  Many families hear about this and immediately jump on the bandwagon.  Since Pepsi Refresh is a voting contest, they vote nonstop, ask everyone they know to vote nonstop and do whatever is within the rule to help AFA win.   They know what an amazing gift a free service dog would be.

In the end, the AFA wins the big prize. It notifies ten families they will receive a service dog, and these mothers and fathers are beyond thrilled that their children will have access to such amazing help.  Most families can’t afford the $10 grand plus it costs to have a highly trained assistance dog that will protect and assist their kids.  All is not as it seems, though.

In June, the AFA sends each family a picture of a beautiful Siberian Husky pup that will be trained on their behalf.  In August, the AFA says things might take a bit longer because they need to build a new training facility.  In September, the AFA sends pictures of that facility to the families, but no pictures of the dogs.  In October, the families begin to wonder: When will we see our dogs? When will we find out when we will get them?  They reach out to the AFA in multiple ways, but hear nothing back.  Same with November.

Finally, they obtain a phone number and call.  They are reassured, but the families sense something is very wrong. They do some digging. They find that the only pictures they were ever sent of their Siberian Husky pups were actually taken in 2007.   They learn that this particular breed of dog is rarely used as a service dog.  They learn a lot more things that make their hearts sink further and further.

They reach out to the organizers of the Pepsi Refresh Project, Pepsi and Global Giving.  These organizations simply point fingers at each other.

December comes and goes.  Now it’s a new year.  Six months after the fact, these families who believed their lives would be changed forever when they were promised such an amazing gift are left with nothing. No answers.

The only responsible organization here, if you ask me, is Pepsi. Having worked for Pepsi’s chief rival Coca-Cola for many years, I understand how these companies work.  It’s Pepsi’s brand name on the project, and thus Pepsi holds the chief responsibility in the end for making sure its valuable dollars go to legitimate organizations and are used in the manner that was intended.  No it’s not their fault that everyone may have been scammed by AFA — and let’s hope in the end that the people behind this pay some sort of price if they are indeed scammers — but it is Pepsi’s job or the job of their designated project management, to complete the due diligence required.

It’s nothing but a thing for Pepsi to pay for these ten families to have service dogs.  I know that if Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, was aware of this situation, and if the facts of the situation are correct as described by the blogger at Stinker Babies, she’d fix it in an instant.


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About Katherine Stone


Katherine Stone

Katherine Stone is the founder of the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression, Postpartum Progress. She writes about parenting and maternal child health on Babble Voices and Babble Cares, as well as at Huffington Post Parents. Katherine is a mom of two and lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter at @postpartumprog. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katherine's latest posts →

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13 thoughts on “Hey Pepsi! Why Aren't You Stepping In To Help The Autism Families?

  1. Manjari says:

    Yes, Pepsi really needs to set this right. And I hope the scammers get what they deserve.

  2. BlackOrchid says:

    I’m sorry, but having Sibes as service dogs is akin to having Chow Chows do it. Actually, no, Chows might be slightly better. They’d at least just walk away, not run away, from their charges (Chows don’t like to run).

    Sibes are cute tho! that’s why they were chosen. cute cute puppies

  3. Theresa says:

    I think it’s ridiculous to make Pepsi out to be the bad guy here. The Refresh project has been a great thing. Hopefully they can and will help make it right, but there is no reason to paint Pepsi as a villain. For crying out loud, the title makes is sound like Pepsi is intentionally harming autistic kids.

  4. Ashley @ says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing our story and helping to bring awareness. Unfortunately ours is not the only service dog scam story out there so we are really hoping more national attention will be given to this issue. We do not want to see another heartbroken family!

  5. Candice says:

    As one of the families affected I want to say thank you!!!

  6. Allison C says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! We are one of the families involved in this mess and it is heartbreaking.

  7. Linda, t.o.o. says:

    As a dog person, the initial idea of huskies being used as service dogs was enough to set my scam radar all a tingle. Just… no.

  8. mama b says:

    Yeah I read about this yesterday and if I were involved in this and I had been sent a picture of a Siberian Husky that was to be the service dog for my child that would have put up a huge red flag for me. Siberian Huskies are bred to literally run until they collapse, eat, sleep and do it again. As a dog person there are many breeds that would be fitting. Labs, golden retrievers but a husky no way. I understand these people are broken-hearted and that someone took advantage of their hope-despicable.

  9. Dave says:

    We are not making Pepsi out to doing anything bad. They just aren’t doing anything at all. Concerns have been raised and ignored. In fact, Pepsi defended the trainer with no actual information. Animals for Autism is in the wrong but Pepsi doing nothing only makes the wrong worse. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

  10. Liz Ditz says:

    1. The photos of the puppies I’ve seen look more like the “mini Huskies” (Alaska Klee Kai, strain developed in the 1980s) than Huskies
    2. To the best of my knowledge, northern spitz-type dogs of any flavor are not widely used as service dogs.
    3. According to some reports, L.M. Kaydus won the voting based on providing 10 free service dogs, but Global Giving required her to change the grant application to more tangible goods that could be evaluated.
    4. Here is the text of an email that is reputedly from a Pepsi Refresh employee
    “The original application approved in moderation was a one line budget requesting $50,000 to train autism service dogs. Because this was such a broad application and one that Global Giving (the company that runs the Pepsi Grant) could not approve for her project, they thought it would make more sense for her to use the grant funds for tangible items related to her project, including vests and collars, a physical training facility, grooming stations, and more. Her grant agreement that was signed and approved by Global Giving shows these 20+ line items. She moved her budget towards the tangible, per our request, to avoid issuing an individual a check for $25,000 to pay for less material costs, such as staff. All of these expenses for her project went both directly and indirectly towards the dog training costs.

    From Global Giving and Pepsi’s point of view, that grantee was in compliance with her grant agreement and her original application. The story that you sent was around the original project describes exactly what GlobalGiving and Pepsi approved in our due diligence process.”
    5. This does bring into question the oversight that Global Giving has over its funded projects. Personally I wouldn’t get involved with another project through them.

  11. Patty Dobbs Gross says:


    My name is Patty Dobbs Gross, and I serve as Executive Director of North Star Foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners well bred autism assistance dogs with children on the autism spectrum. We have been incorporated for a decade and have over 100 successful autism assistance dog placements in progress around the world. I literally wrote the book on this emerging field that holds such promise for children with autism; THE GOLDEN BRIDGE: A Guide to Assistance Dogs for Children Challenged by Autism or Other Developmental Disorders (Purdue University Press, 2006)

    I am writing this post because we got fairly close to winning the Pepsi Refresh Grant last cycle, beginning at #27, but despite our best efforts ending at #77…I unfortunately didn’t have the time to rustle up the necessary votes as it takes all my time and energy to keep North Star running smoothly…

    I’m telling you all this as I’d love to be able to help make this situation right. It breaks my heart to have scammers get money that could have helped us to serve more children (we breed a line of golden and labrador retrievers bred and socialized specifically for their work with children, and have been cultivating our lines for over nearly 15 years; Siberian Huskies are a very inappropriate breed for this work, as has been noted in the above comments.)

    So, if anyone is reading these words and wants to help make things right, North Star could step in if the funding came to us as we were hoping it would be last December…we would put the money toward a breeding/therapy facility, as our wish list indicated, and would have the necessary puppies to train/place with these ten families if we did, as our stellar breeding program is already up and running…

    If anyone wants to learn more about us, or help me to help the children we serve, our website is, my e-mail address is and checks/money orders made out to North Star Foundation can be sent to my attention to the address below my signature…please be clear you’d like these funds to go toward making this Pepsi Refresh Everything situation right, and Pepsi, if you are listening, please know that there is a way to make this situation right, and it involves not just money, but finding the right organization to do the job.

    At North Star, we help children find their way…

    Kind regards,

    Patty Dobbs Gross
    Executive Director
    North Star Foundation
    20 Deerfield Lane
    Storrs, CT 06268

  12. Sallie says:

    My question goes to Patty of North Star – those of us that might be interested in sending funds to you to help in the situation of the 10 families promised a dog by AFA – what will you use the funds for? Will you raise/train and give a service dog to the 10 families in question FREE OF CHARGE or will the funds just go to run your program and you will then turn around and charge your normal fee of $10,000? I saw an article about Luka, a service dog in training with your facility that you handed over to a family but they still are having to pay you $10,000 on top of the dog only being 10 months old and NOT ready to serve is in training yet living with the child it is being trained to help. I also seriously question your ethics of asking for funds for your program on to a blog that is trying to help 10 families that were promised a service dog free of charge to them from another organization.

  13. 行動電源 says:

    Hello. Great job. I did not anticipate this. This really is a splendid story. Thanks!

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