In so many ways, Joey and Reuben Ochoa enjoy and do things typical of young boys.
Joey, 7, likes basketball. A collection of six or seven videos demonstrate his past obsession with Michael Jordan.
Reuben, 5, loves to be outside. A love of nature shows in his favorite companions - a stuffed gecko and two toy fish - that he carries around and rarely lets out of his sight.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Neil Ochoa holds his son, Reuben, 5, as Joey, 7, eats chips at the kitchen table in the family’s Martinsburg home.
But there are also things these two little boys do that remind you why they're atypical.
Not unlike a star athlete, Joey is good at running - away from home, that is. This summer, he made it more than two miles down an unfamiliar road near his family's home in Martinsburg.
It only took Joey 20 minutes and he was wearing only his underwear.
Reuben's love of nature, coupled with sensory issues, draw him to the cornfields near his home where about two years ago, he got lost. The high stalks and wind made it impossible for neighbors helping look for him to hear or see. They waited for an hour and a half for Reuben to come out on his own.
Joey and Reuben, sons of Neil and Mindy Ochoa, suffer from autism, and to help keep them safe, the Ochoas are raising money to buy a service dog.
"It was Joey running away this summer when we started to think of different things," Mindy said.
"We had gotten all sorts of suggestions. Everyone was giving you something ... . When Reuben got lost in the cornfield, you could've called in choppers and everything, but they would've never [found him]. The only thing that could've done it is a dog."
The dog, which the family plans to get through the 4 Paws for Ability group of Xenia, Ohio, will be trained specifically for the boys' needs, Mindy said. This includes interrupting certain behaviors, being tethered and harnessed to them, corralling them if they try to escape and tracking them if they run away.
"A lot of times [people] say just the presence of the dog will help calm aggressive behaviors, or just give them a friend," Mindy said.
But before Joey, Reuben and the family's other three children gain a new friend, they must raise $13,000. Mindy said they've already managed to make about half of the total through various donations, fundraisers and special collections at their church. Everyone from family friends to her son's Taekwondo teacher have offered their help, Mindy said.
"We don't even know a lot of the people who have helped, I'm sure," Mindy said. "Sometimes I think we get caught up in our own families and that kind of stuff, but I think this community has been amazing.
"I was really encouraged. It seems like this community is willing to help people out."
The money goes toward the cost of training the dog, said Karen Shirk, executive director for 4 Paws for Ability, adding that most of the families they deal with raise money through donations and fundraising efforts.
The nonprofit group was one of the first in the country to begin training service dogs specifically for autism. And from what she's heard and read in the paper about autistic children wandering away from home and encountering tragedy, Shirk said she knows the dogs serve a vital purpose.
"For kids with autism, it's a possibly life-saving addition to the family," Shirk said.
Neighbor Diane Clapper said the Ochoas are deserving of such an addition.
"I'm a mother of six kids, and I still can't imagine the things Mrs. Ochoa has to deal with, not even being able to go to the bathroom without worrying a child might run away," Clapper of Martinsburg said.
Certain behaviors that both Joey and Reuben have started to exhibit, and the fact that they will only continue to get bigger and stronger, have the family hoping to get the dog sooner rather than later.
"Joey, when he starts one of his fits, or even if you tell him something he doesn't like, he'll punch his legs when he gets mad," Mindy said. "Hopefully, things like that, the dog can help with."
And as the boys start to show signs of pulling away from people, Mindy hopes the dog will also provide them with companionship.
"For Reuben, he's starting to have some major fits and meltdowns," she said. "But when my mom brings her dog, he just laughs and carries on and chases it around. So I think he's going to love having someone to play with."
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Ochoa's visit the 4 Paws donation page at www.4PawsForAbility.org/donation or mail a check with Ochoa in the memo line to 4 Paws for Ability, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, Ohio 45385.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.