Family trying to raise money to buy autism service dog

Marci Gore • Jun 16, 2014 at 11:36 AM

Markeeta Gillenwater says when a friend told her about a segment on "The Today Show" that featured autism service dogs, she knew this was something she needed to look into further.

It's been a year since Gillenwater's son, Carter, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. Then, in November 2013, little Carter began collapsing to his right side. After multiple trips to the emergency room and many tests, Gillenwater says doctors confirmed Carter was having seizures and he began taking medication to help control them.

Gillenwater, who is a teacher at Indian Springs Elementary School, says her son, who is now 4, is a sweet and loving child and loves to give hugs and kisses. But he struggles to communicate and gets frustrated when his family does not understand him.

"This causes him to have meltdowns. His meltdowns include screaming, crashing into walls and furniture, pinching and biting," Gillenwater said. "These behaviors are directed at himself, his sister or anyone else in the area when it starts."

Gillenwater says Carter has no fear or sense of danger and sometimes tries to run from her.

"There have been several occasions he has gotten away from me and come close to danger, such as traffic, barbed wire fencing or a drop off. We fear him being hurt or lost," she said.

Gillenwater says after the conversation with her friend about autism service dogs and doing her own research, she decided maybe a dog could be beneficial to Carter.

"A dog would help to keep him with us and be able to track him if he were to be lost," she said. "(It could also) help to calm his aggression, especially toward his little sister, whom he could seriously injure without realizing it. We also want a dog for Carter that can alert us when he has a seizure. As he grows, so can his seizures, in both number and severity."

Gillenwater and her husband, Jason, plan to purchase a service dog from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers in Madison, Va. The Gillenwaters are trying to raise $25,000 toward the purchase of Carter's dog.

"We have three years to raise all the money," Gillenwater said. "Our delivery date should be by the end of the year. We've got our fingers crossed for a Christmas present. We will be able to have the dog before we have all of the money raised."

On June 23, to help raise some money to go toward the purchase of Carter's dog, Buffalo Wild Wings in Kingsport will donate 10 percent of all pre-taxed food sales (excluding alcohol) to the Gillenwaters' fundraising efforts.

Guests who visit the restaurant between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. the day of the event must either present a fundraising ticket or simply tell their servers they are there for the service dog fundraiser for the money to be donated.

Gillenwater says the $25,000 price tag will be well worth it if a dog can help with Carter's quality of life and keep him safe.

"We have no concerns about this. We're just jumping in with both feet and trying to get as much raised before the dog comes so that when he does get here, we can focus on training and getting settled in with him," she said.

The Gillenwaters have requested an older dog with more advanced training rather than a puppy, hoping that will be a better fit for their family.

In addition to the fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings, Greta Ann Gibbons, a consultant for the popular line of handbags and totes known as Thirty-One, will also host a fundraising event from 6 to 8 p.m., June 20 at Bloomingdale Baptist Church, located at 3220 Bloomingdale Road in Kingsport.

For more information, or to find out how you can help, visit Carter's donation page at http://tinyurl.com/HelpCarter or the Wings for Carter's Dog or Autism Dog for Carter Facebook pages.

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