Eight-year-old Glenvar boy knows the true value of a service dog

Roanoke-based Saint Francis Service Dogs placed Duxi with Charli Celestin, granting him independence he would otherwise never enjoy

Glenvar – Eight-year-old Charli, like most boys his age, loves video games, moving players with quick flicks of the controller.

But look closer and you will see Charli is at a bit of a disadvantage.

He was born in Haiti with no hands and no legs. The story goes that his mother hid him until he could be brought to the United States when he was five months old. She was fearful that superstitious neighbors would harm her baby. Charli now lives near Glenvar, with his guardian Vanessa Carpenter, who has made it her life’s mission to help Charli and other children from Haiti.

Special circumstances require special help – and two years ago, Charlie received Duxi (pronounced Duke-sie), a service dog from Saint Francis Service dogs, raised and trained in Roanoke.

“It was an ecstatic thing for us because we knew that it would help Charlie become more independent,” Charli’s Guardian Vanessa Carpenter said when talking about the day they learned Charli’s application for a Saint Francis dog had been approved.

Charli plays challenger baseball and goes to a regular third-grade class, where he makes A’s and B’s, but he still needs a bit of assistance.

And that’s what he gets from Duxi.

“They do everything that a normal kid and a dog do. Except she is specifically trained to help him with different things,” Carpenter said.

Duxi opens the bathroom door. She picks up his pencil when he drops it, opens the refrigerator and she even helps him pull his shirt over his head - when he runs out of reach.

Even after two years of living with Duxi, Carpenter is still amazed.

“It blows your mind the things these dogs can do and the things that they think of. Sometimes you don’t even have to tell her. She’ll see that he’s having trouble with something and she’ll step right in. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s a bond that they have.”

Vanessa says Duxi knows Charli is her boy. And Charli certainly knows Duxi is a bit of help – to get him where he needs to be - these days and beyond.

“And everything that we do we try to teach him to be as independent as possible so that when he is grown, he could be out on his own. He can go to college. And take care of himself,” Carpenter said.

When asked how much he loves Duxi, Charli smiled and said, “Very much. With my whole heart.”

This week marks the beginning of a fundraiser for Saint Francis Service Dogs, called Barks N’ Rec. John Carlin is a founding member of the Board of Directors for Saint Francis. He is raising money by walking his dog Dougal 15 miles. Please help him as he raises money for people like Charli. Click here to make a donation.

About the Author:

John Carlin co-anchors the 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts on WSLS 10.