LEBANON, Ore. - Cara Pomeroy always has a smile on her face.
She also has severe autism.
Cara is five years old, but she is developmentally one.
"She's completely non-verbal, she can only sign about 5 words," her mother Sharon said. "She's just learning to use an Apple iPad to help her communicate."
Sharon says she'll run out in the street or parking lot without thinking of the consequences.
"She has little awareness of the world around her."
Sharon had met a family with a service dog at a pediatric center in Montana. She says she shrugged off the idea since they already have an aging dog. But several months later, on the same day she ran into the street, she called 4 Paws 4 Ability.
She says the average wait time for a service dog is three to five years, and can be longer for a dog that needs to be specially trained.
"We didn't have 3 to 5 years," Sharon says. "We have to do what we have to do for our daughter."
The Pomeroy's are from the mid-Willamette Valley and hope to return after Cara's father Travis retires. The Master Sargeant has completed seven deployments to the Middle East. The pomeroy's are currently stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana.
Cara has two older brothers Chandler, a senior in high school, and Connor, a seventh grader, both honor students.
The family has been accepted into the 4 Paws 4 Ability service dog program, which provides families service dogs for free as long as they raise half the cost of training classes.
Travis is the youngest son of Louie and Lorna White, who currently live in Lebanon. Louie has spearheaded the fundraising efforts, giving speeches with the East Albany Lions Club and a number of American Legions and VFW's.
"[The goal] is to get that dog as soon as possible," Louie says. "I mean it's simply a lifesaving thing."
If the family does not raise $13,000 by December 31st, Cara will have to wait until fall 2015 to be reaccepted for training classes.
Lorna says a specialized service dog is life or death for Cara.
"If Cara started to take off, the dog would just sit down," describing some of the trained characteristics a service dog would have. "The dog will herd her out of danger, away from traffic. If Cara gets out, the dog would be trained to track her."
This Sharon says would be lifesaving.
Sharon recalls times when Cara kicked out a glass window and ran into traffic... luckily a neighbor helped bring her home safely. She says one time Cara walked into a pond and her dad, Travis found her neck-deep in water.
4 Paws 4 Ability service dogs are trained to keep children from running-off, or to seek and find a lost child. "The dog can sense meltdowns, preventing them by calming the child through sensory channels," Sharon says.
"Children with severe autism tend to create bonds with animals, instead of people...especially one's who they are unfamiliar with."
Cara has been showing signs of development.
"She's so loving! She loves music. And she's really started to dance, which is adorable," the Pomeroy's say. "With a service dog we could go camping again... go out for dinner and go outside to a park."
The family says a service dog will allow Cara to understand her bounderies and flourish.
In the meantime, they and the Whites are doing everything they can to get the word out about 4 Paws 4 Cara and to raise awareness about children with autism.
"This dog is important to her: being able to communicate better, and being able to to be protected, and to help her grow as a little girl," Lorna says.
The family is about $3,000 short. Donations are being accepted online. The Pomeroy's also have a Facebook page set-up for Cara: facebook.com/4paws4cara