Ella Farnum wanted turf installed to play with her dogs (and brothers) rain or shine

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Farnum family is surrounded by friends and family at their Sept. 10 Make-A-Wish party in their turf-filled back yard; in front are dad bill, brother Alex, Ella and mom Beth, with brother Owen kneeling on the turf with dogs Rio (left) and Roxy.Most Make-A-Wish kids want trips to Disneyland or princess parties or a ride on a fire engine, but Ella Farnum wanted her back yard grass replaced with turf.

The wish is not as bizarre as it sounds. The Farnum family – dad Bill and mom Beth, sons Alex, a fourth-grader at Middleton Elementary, and Owen, a first-grader – have two young dogs – golden retriever Rio, and black lab Roxy.

Ella, who has Rhett syndrome, loves to play with the dogs in the back yard and throw balls for them to fetch, but the grassy back yard turns into a mud pit all winter.

Rhett syndrome is a rare, genetic, neurological disorder affecting the brain, mostly in girls. Symptoms include repetitive hand movements, gastrointestinal disorders and seizures. Most patients don’t have any verbal skills, and about half cannot walk.

Ella not only walks, she runs, and although she doesn’t realize it, running around the yard and picking up and throwing balls is actually good physical therapy for her, according to Beth.

Ella, who is 12 and a seventh-grader at Sherwood Middle School, has a close-knit group of friends from Middleton, and in addition to local friends, the Farnum family has become friends with Rhett syndrome families across the country.

“Emails went out among the families about Make-A-Wish, which gave us the idea of asking for one,” Beth said. “I talked to her developmental pediatrician, who referred Ella to Make-A-Wish. We were so excited when we found out she was a Wish kid, and we wanted her to choose what she wanted to do.”

They chose experiences they thought Ella would like, printed and cut photos for Ella to look at, including swimming with dolphins and Disneyland.

“Our floors are trashed because of the heavy use they get all winter from the dogs and kids,” Beth said. “We thought, what if they could play outside more if we had turf instead of grass that turns to mud?”

They cut out another picture of dogs playing and added it to the mix. Ells picked it up twice, even when they changed the order of the photos. And although she is mostly non-verbal, she says “Yay” when she’s excited, which she did on seeing the photo of the dogs.

“The more we thought about it, the more we realized how much she would benefit from it over spending a few days at Disneyland,” Beth said. “She likes water, but she might have been afraid of the dolphins. We decided that playing with the dogs makes her the most happy of anything, so we presented it to Make-A-Wish. It had never been done in Oregon before, but they were willing to do it.”

The construction company, Three Js Landscape & Maintenance, donated the labor, and Rob Gloeckner of Beynon Sports donated the field turf, which was installed over three days in July, starting with a base of about 6 inches of gravel with the turf added on top.

“Summertime is obviously their busy time, but we got on their docket, and it got done” Beth said. “It is so durable, and the dogs running on it don’t hurt it.”

In fact, as Beth was talking, Ella threw some balls in the yard for Roxy, who quickly bounded after them, picked them up, and dropped them at her feet

An obvious question is, what happens when dogs use the turf for their bathroom?

“There is a sprinkler system, and we turn it on every night for three minutes or less, which flushes everything through,” Beth said. “Once a month, we sprinkle the turf with a garden hose and Simple Green pet enzyme. It’s easy to pick up the poop because it sits on top. We never have to mow it, there is no maintenance, and if it rains, it’s dry in 15 or 20 minutes.

“There are very few things that give me more pleasure than to see Ella play with the dogs. It makes me so happy to see her running around with the dogs. If we would have done this on our own, it would have been years down the road. On the day the turf was installed, Ella was out here from 2 to 8 p.m.”

Beth feels that putting the turf in the back yard has brought the whole family closer together, because the boys used to play with the dogs in the front yard along the street.

“We have an invisible fence so the dogs won’t go into the street, but I’m hoping this will bring everyone to the back yard in the winter,” she said.

And Beth realized that she had a connection with Make-A-Wish from her college days.

“I know it’s a powerful organization, and when I was in college, my sorority’s national philanthropy was Make-A-Wish, and we raised money for it,” she said. “Now the tables have turned, and we’re the recipient. I never thought that I would have a child who would benefit from this amazing organization.”

Beth added, “When somebody makes a conscious effort to pay attention to Ella, she doesn’t always show it back, so that is why we appreciate so much her friends, the school and our community for being there for her. She changes people’s lives, and she’s changed ours.”

A celebration party was held – on the turf, naturally – on Saturday, Sept. 10, when dozens of friends showed up to celebrate Ella and the new turf with fun and games, balloons and food.

The turf would be perfect except for one thing, according to Alex, who told his mom, “We need to spray-paint it like a football field.”

Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, and the Oregon chapter, one of 62 nationwide, has granted more than 3,535 wishes in Oregon and Clark County, Washington.

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