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Parents seek funds for service dog for daughter

Kelani, age 3-and-a-half, was diagnosed with autism and could benefit from the companion animal
Lahela Urata.

Chris and Karla Urata of San Benito County hope to bring a service dog into their lives for the health and safety of their 3-and-a-half year-old daughter, Kelani, who was diagnosed with autism in February 2016.

​“We will do anything we can do to keep Kelani safe and calm,” Karla said.

Animals from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, from Virginia, are trained to meet the special needs such as autism. Chris said it would benefit his daughter, because Kelani likes to run, but in a crowded place, she will run through the legs of the crowd. A dog would help keep track of her and keep her safe.

“Dogs can sense emotion, and would put a paw on her head, and calm her," he said. "Dogs can also lean on and calm the child.”

Karla explained that “Dogs are charged to get between the child and danger."

Kelani is unable to communicate even for basic needs, such as asking for water or for food.

“If she is sick or hurt we are often completely unaware,” Karla noted.

Even though there has been small progress through therapy, Kelani has no sense of fear or danger, her parents say. A service dog would not just be a companion, but a protector, they say.

Kelani sleeps just four to six hours per night, Chris noted. After a considerable amount of research, the couple was encouraged to learn there are service dogs that will help children sleep by applying pressure and warmth, and can help locate a lost child, if needed.

From their research into agencies that train service dogs, they chose SDWR, which provides puppies with basic training then given specialized training to meet her specific needs.

Parents and children, along with a certified trainer team, undergo intensified training. Kelani's parents would learn how to give commands on Kelani’s behalf. Some of the training would involve travel.

The cost of a dog and training is not covered by insurance, but with the help of private donations from Forgiving Paws and the Immaculate Conception Church in Tres Pinos, prior to Christmas the Uratas had raised nearly a third of the $20,000 needed for their portion of the cost.

Donations are tax-deductible through a 501(c)3 status.

The Uratas are applying for grants through the Community Foundation of San Benito County, as well.

The couple has gone through a number of life changes in a few short years.

“We had been trying to have a child for seven years, and were finally told by doctors that we would only have a 5 percent chance at having a child," Karla shared. “We we’re thinking that we’re not having children, but after I was put through a Kaiser program and on medication for a thyroid problem, our miracle child was born." “We were excited with the wonder of our child, then we began to notice something was not right. But we thought it was something that could be fixed."

There were doctor’s visits for chronic ear infections, for Kelani was not hearing words correctly, her parents thought, and tubes were placed in her ear to help the fluid to drain. 

“Then we had the rug pulled out from under us,” said Karla.

Concern about other issues came forth, and the Uratas were encouraged to go the Autism Disorder Clinic in Sacramento, and it was there where red flags were raised.

There were tests in fine motor skills, growth, cognitive learning, social interaction, and extensive evaluations, and then the couple started working with a team including a psychologist, psychiatrist and speech pathologists.

From learning their miracle child had autism, to restructuring the family home life, the couple is now completely centered on keeping Kelani safe.

Karla and Chris have another little girl, 19-month-old Lahela, who also was recently diagnosed with autism.

The answer for the family’s around-the-clock care would be to have Chris stay at home and care for the children, while Karla works full-time as an accountant.

“It’s an adjustment. But my husband is a fantastic father,” Karla said.

To donate, visit or send checks, payable to: SDWR-MUST. Include Kelani Urata on the memo and send them to: Service dogs by Warren Retrievers, P.O. Box 647, Madison, VA 22727.




















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Laureen Diephof (Freelance writer)

Laureen has been in the communication business for many years as a photojournalist, columnist, and blogger.She served as reporter and columnist for South Monterey County Newspapers. She reported for the Soledad Bee and the Gonzales Tribune, and is currently writing feature stories for the Salinas Californian. From 2012-13, She was on a one year journey beginning in the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert, and many countries and small islands in between. After that she joined AmeriCorps, and served as the volunteer coordinator for the Arts Council for Monterey County. When the 10 month service was completed, she took the earned stipend and used it in Cambodia, where she stayed on a Buddhist Pagoda with the Monks and Nuns. She has written a book about her one year journey and hopes to get it published soon. Her website is: She lives in Aromas with her cat Pharaoh.


Submitted by Community Foundation For San Benito County Nonprofit (President Gary Byrne) on

CONGRATULATIONS! Until there is a cure, there is a dog! With help from donors and the Community Foundation, Kelani is going to get her dog.

The Community Foundation for San Benito County has awarded Chris and Karla Urata a matching grant from the Martin Rajkovich Children's Fund for their campaign "A Hero for Kelani". All donations will be matched (up to $7,500), enabling Chris and Karla to meet their goal of $25,000. You may donate directly to "A Hero for Kelani" or to the Martin Rajkovich Children's Fund.

Submitted by (Karla Urata) on

Thank you so much for featuring our daughters story and the awesome support of the community!

Submitted by (Laureen) on

It was such a pleasure talking to both of you. You are awesome parents.

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