Stink bugs are unassuming insects that emit bad-smelling liquid to ward off predators.
But to 14-year-old Allsion Winn of Denver, they represent a sweet turn for the better in her life.
When Allison was almost 7, she was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer.The tumor was removed surgically but that left her temporarily unable to speak.
What followed was six weeks of radiation and nine chemotherapy treatments. Before her last chemo treatment, she drew a picture of a stink bug to help her say “bye bye to the yucky stuff.”
As she recovered, Allison’s family got her a perky little Bichon Frise dog named CoCo, which became an important part of her life. Then an idea struck her: Other kids with cancer should have a dog, too, while they struggled with disease.
Allison, who learned how to make homemade dog biscuits at a Dumb Friends League summer camp, decided to sell them to raise money. She named the biscuits … Stink Bug.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Allison and her mom, Dianna Litvak, started what is now called the Stink Bug Project, which has given more than 40 dogs to sick kids in the Rocky Mountain region since 2009.
The dogs are trained by inmates in the Prison-Trained K-9 Program at Colorado Correctional Industries. Allison’s program is now under the wing of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Hospital Foundation in Denver.
Earlier this month, Allison received the Outstanding Youth award at a National Philanthropy Day lunch in Denver. She accepted in a speech that drew a standing ovation.
She also has been honored as a Colorado Animal Hero by PetAidColorado, a nonprofit that provides subsidized care to animals of low-income owners.
But perhaps the best reward she has received is the joyous reaction of other kids she has helped.
A 2-1/2-year-old girl in Wyoming who is partially blind received an 80-90 pound dog. “She chose the dog by smelling it,” Allison said.
Litvak said another dog recipient suffered from severe anxiety disorder. “The dog was trained to recognize when he was getting sick and calmed him down.”
“I know how it is with a dog,” Allison said. “I know how other kids are feeling.”
Allison is in the 9th grade at the Denver School of the Arts, where she is studying stagecraft. She said her classmates thing the Stink Bug Project is “cool.”
Litvak said she and Allison would like to expand the program.
“We’re desperate to find moe families to participate,” she added. Once trained by the inmates, dog are brought to Denver to be matched with children. Go to (www.Stinkbugproject.org) for information.
“Families diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions go through a lot. We know it might sound crazy to introduce a dog into a household during treatment, but studies show that dogs lower stress for patients and caregivers,” according to the website. “Finding the perfect best friend during this stressful time will make a huge difference for the entire family.”
Just ask Allison.
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