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Southwest Virginia family in need of a service dog

By Breyanna Blackwell, News Intern, bblackwell@wcyb.com
Lyndsey Price, lprice@wcyb.com
Published On: Jul 24 2014 04:42:53 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 24 2014 10:32:56 PM CDT

A Southwest Virginia family is trying to raise money for a service dog for their autistic son's safety.

GATE CITY, Va. -

A Southwest Virginia family is trying to raise money for a service dog for their autistic son's safety.

The Gillenwater's four year old son who is severely autistic and has a tendency to run off. That keeps his mom and dad on edge and worried, but that is not the only reason they want a service dog.

Carter Gillenwater loves what any typical 4-year-old would, from playing with toys to running around outside; but he also spends a lot of his time in therapy. "We're up to about 50 words with him now that he can say, which is great, and some of them are even phrases. So we're getting some sentences and stuff," says Carter's mom, Markeeta Gillenwater.

Markeeta says he was diagnosed with severe autism at 3 years old, and then with epilepsy in January of this year.

Markeeta says her son also has seizures during the night. "After the seizure sometimes for up to 30 minutes, his right side will remain paralyzed and his face will droop. It'll look like he's had a stroke," Markeeta said.

That's why the Gillenwater family is trying to raise money for a service dog for Carter. "They can recognize when it's happening, so if they are in bed at night and a seizure happens, the dog can come get us and let us know," states Markeeta.

News 5 also learned that a service dog will also help with Carter's aggression and on those occasions when he runs off. "The dog will be tethered to him and not let him run off. If he does run, the dogs are already trained on his scent, so the dog could go after him and find him," Markeeta said.

But a service dog is expensive, costing nearly $25,000, and so far the family has pulled together about $8,000. "We are doing fundraisers. They don't expect us to pay it all and we don't have to pay it all upfront, we will have the dog before we raise it," Markeeta told us.

Markeeta told us they hope to raise enough money and receive Carter's service dog just in time for Christmas, which would be the best present their family could get.

The Gillenwater family is having another fund raiser this weekend. It's a garage sell at the Bloomingdale Ruritan on Friday from 8am-12pm and Saturday from 8am until people stop showing up.