MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A Maryville family faces new challenges every day when it comes to their daughter who is severely autistic. The non-profit organization, Wilderwood Service Dogs is helping families with neurological disorders.
Accidents are common and verbal communication doesn't exist with 16-year-old Abigail Keylon who is severely autistic. Five years ago, Abigail's mother Lou Ann chose to add another member to their family with hopes to help with Abigail's condition.
“It took us about 18 months to go through the whole process, fill out the applications before we got Ira," says Lou Ann.
Ira is Abigail's service dog.
"She provides safety because Abigail likes to get out in front of cars, she has no sense of danger,” adds Lou Ann.
Ira and many other dogs go through countless hours of documented training to help those with various disorders and diseases. Tiffany Denyer is the founder of Wilderwood Service Dogs.
Denyer says, "I'm a psychiatric nurse by training and had worked in a level 3 facility for 13 years and started doing pet therapy on my own with my private pet and saw more results with that than all the things in the medical field."
Denyer works with everything from German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers to Golden Doodles and rescues.
"A hyperactive autistic child needs a much different service dog than an elderly dementia patient,” says Denyer.
Each person gets a dog specialized to meet their needs. It's a very involved application process and the actual cost is about $20,000.
Lou Ann says, "Having Ira with Abigail kind of regulates the anxiety levels that she has, it's a big help in those areas."
For Denyer, she says it's the reason she gets up in the morning.
“I cannot imagine myself doing anything else."
Wilderwood has placed about 150 dogs with graduate families. Families who qualify usually set a fundraising goal and the organization raises money to make up the difference.
They are in need of volunteers and weekend foster homes, call 865-660-0095 for more information.