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Bo joined our family in October 2016 . Those with assistance dogs told me our lives would change but I must admit I was quietly sceptical. However now as these changes have become the norm, I have to keep reminding myself how things are so much better and easier “after Bo” and he really has made a difference in our lives.

Once upon a time the way we would make Isla keep up a good pace would be to hold her hands and give her a good swing to propel her along while saying  “1, 2, 3 weeeee”. Being 7 and a lot heavier than she was at 3 this was no easy feat. Walking anywhere was painfully slow and frustrating. She doesn’t really like her hand held for a long time so was hard to keep her on course without touching, exploring and even licking obstacles in her way. It got to the point we had stopped taking Isla out for walks as isn’t really enjoyable.

Walking now is completely different. Tethered to Bo, Isla has the freedom to still touch, or at least try to, but she keeps a steady pace. She is calm and she is safe and no one is grabbing her every minute and is so much easier for me.  If she gets distracted or starts wandering off track, which sometimes happens with her poor spatial awareness, I direct her back to her handle on Bo’s harness or to her side of Bo and this is enough to keep her on track. We have recently taken Isla on a couple of bush walks which have been made easy with Bo and allowed her to keep up with the rest of us and explore her environment.

When out in a over stimulating environment Isla cuddles up to Bo and lies on him and has on a few occasions fallen asleep on him in the middle of a cafe or at a busy fair. Sometimes in these types of situations Isla finds it hard to control her emotions and will react loudly, normally by crying and protesting. With Bo in a down stay position she cannot go anywhere and it gives Isla the time to think about making the right choices and accepting a new situation. Even though we still may get “the looks” I feel comforted knowing people might  realise she isn’t a spoilt brat but a girl with additional needs having a hard time.

Isla doesn’t run like she did up until a year or so ago however she is unpredictable. If she gets scared or has a strong reaction to a situation she takes flight and runs without thinking. Bo keeps her safe.

Isla’s motor planning is poor. The world can appear chaotic with no clear boundaries, order or meaning. With having Bo it slows her down to think about what she is doing such as crossing a road. I feel there is now hope for her future to be able to navigate her way on her own with a little help from her dog.

What a relief it is to wake up having a full nights sleep! Isla gets a book read before bed and likes to settle herself now with Bo on the end of her bed. Around 5.30am when she hears the birds chirping Isla and Bo make their way downstairs and she lets him outside. No night time calling out, no 4.30am wakings and a much happy Isla and mummy & daddy!  There have even been a couple of 6am and 7am lie ins too which is promising.

After a year Isla is still sitting beautifully at the table to eat and delights in calling Bo to come to his bed for her meals.

Isla and Bo’s bond is growing all the time. He chooses to sit by her when she is on the floor on the iPad, playing with toys or watching TV.  She hugs and touches him and he is very patient throughout all the prodding and sensory exploring!. It’s still an effort to get her outside, however when we do she has a purpose of throwing a toy or jumping on the trampoline with him.  She loves being tethered to him with her belt and is proud he is her special dog.

I feel so grateful to have the opportunity of having one of these amazing dogs.  The reason it has been such a smooth transition for us is the extensive training, and upbringing of Bo before he arrived.  We were privileged to have Tracy showing us the ropes. She was warm, patient and knowledgeable and with her expert training Bo settled in really easily.  I know that someone is there whenever I need help or have questions.

 

King saved our lives. We have had our beautiful black Labrador King for just over 2 years now. Cheyenne, my son, is 11 years old and has Autism. He used to be an absconder and a runner, and once ran 5km away from home - it was the most trying time of our lives.

We are truly blessed to have King help Cheyenne, firstly by being an anchor when they are tethered together so Cheyenne cannot run away. Secondly, Cheyenne has come so far now that he can independently walk King in the Supermarkets and out on the streets with my guidance. Thirdly, he has brought so much calmness, love and happiness to our home.

ADNZT do such an amazing job with training these wonderful dogs to help make our lives easier, as it is such a challenge on a day to day basis.

King has changed our lives and we are much richer for having him. He helps us as a family and takes wonderful care of Cheyenne when we are out in public.

After almost one year since our initial meeting with Julie and Wendy from Assistance Dogs NZ Trust, and following four months of solid fundraising, we welcomed ADNZT Lobo into our family to support our daughter, Georgie. She has Autism Spectrum Disorder, Global Development Delay and Speech Delay with hearing issues. Now aged seven, it is 20 months since Lobo entered our lives and the change in Georgie, and our whole family is incredible. No longer able to run away, Georgie quickly learned that cooperation and ‘asking’ to look at things gave her much greater freedom. She has graduated from wearing a body harness to wearing a belt. She is holding Lobo’s harness more and will soon have a ‘harness handle’ of her own to hold as she’s getting taller. When we arrive home, we are starting to allow her to walk Lobo from the car into the house independently.

Lobo is a firm fixture in our community but still gets some interested glances when we venture into town. We now visit the supermarket and hospital confidently and have made multiple cinemas and theatre-type trips.

 

We have been able to teach her to safely cross the road. Lobo has also helped her to learn to wait in a queue. Going to school is a familiar routine now and the other kids at school accept the Georgie & Lobo team without a blink.

For anyone considering whether or not an Assistance Dog would improve their lives…make the call. After one visit with you, Julie will know if her team can help. The fundraising isn’t insurmountable. The long term gain is amazing. The support is incredible. We are now ‘dog people’!

 

The story of our family’s journey with Assistance Dogs New Zealand starts of course with us, the Jackson’s. Amanda, Ross and our nine year old son Sam.

Sam was born with Down Syndrome but was also diagnosed with Autism shortly before he turned three. Aside from a raft of complex medical issues, it is the Autism that has perhaps been the most difficult aspect of life with Sam. His inability to cope with things outside his normal routine or new environments, the difficulty he has with social interactions and engaging in appropriate or meaningful play, the fact that he is non-verbal and has very limited ways to express himself or communicate with us. These are just some of the aspects of Sam’s Autism that at times have made life not only incredibly difficult but also extremely lonely and isolating for all of us.

The beginning of this journey with Assistance Dogs started with the discovery that there was even such a thing as an ‘Assistance Dog’ and better yet, an organisation in New Zealand that was training them! In our case, what followed was nearly a two year process that started with one parent trying to convince the other parent (who wasn’t keen on dogs) that this could possibly be a wonderful thing for our son (who was then seven) and maybe even life changing for our little family.

It took a lot of convincing, but I finally had agreement to arrange an initial assessment interview and in May of 2010, we met with Julie and recently graduated Assistance Dog ‘Dylan’ who was about to be placed with his new family in Auckland. Julie was instantly able to identify ways that an Assistance Dog could have a positive impact on life for Sam, but it was perhaps ‘Dylan’ who played the most crucial role during that assessment. He was of course the perfect example of an obedient, gentle and friendly dog and probably the one thing that convinced Ross that perhaps this was something we should seriously consider.

I would be lying if I said I’d had absolutely no reservations about this from the beginning. There were times throughout the last year and a half when I seriously wondered how I was going to cope having to look after a dog as well as Sam, particularly when he has been unwell. All I kept thinking was that if we don’t do this, then life will probably continue just as it is and I really didn’t think I could bare that. Fortunately, once we had made the decision to proceed with our application, rather than focus on those concerns, excitement took over and we just couldn’t wait for a dog to be trained for Sam.

During our assessment, Julie had explained that she didn’t think any of the dogs she had on their programme at the time would be a suitable match for Sam and that there were several families all currently on the waiting list. She would likely have to find a puppy for him and whether a dog will prove to be suitable for the specific tasks it will need to perform or the environment where it will be placed, is often not known until the end of their training. Essentially, we were facing a reasonable wait. As it turned out, this was probably the hardest part of the whole process, especially once we had started fundraising and people who had donated kept asking us…”when do you get your dog?”

Despite the fundraising being a daunting task, we set aside our pride and threw ourselves into it, sending out literally hundreds of emails, writing story’s for our local newsletters, papers and drumming up as much support as we could. We were completely overwhelmed by the phenomenal response we had to our online fundraising page and the support, encouragement and generosity from family, friends and strangers alike.

We first heard about Julie and Assistance Dogs NZ through a friend who’d been one of the first families to receive one.   Our son James (7 years) is profoundly autistic and getting out and about with him was becoming increasingly hard as he would dash off unexpectedly and had no awareness of traffic danger. Family outings were becoming too hard.  Even walking James to a local park – it would take so long to get there and back, and be so physically challenging for me, that it was easier to stay at home.  After talking with Julie, and other assistance dog handlers I knew that getting an assistance dog would be a fantastic addition to our family.

Julie was amazing with all the time she spent on the phone talking to me and coming down to Wellington to do a ‘trial run’ with James.  It really gave us a clear idea of what it would be like so our expectations would match reality.  The fundraising was daunting and we wondered how long it would be before our dream would be a reality – every day it seemed like ‘if only we had an assistance dog we could do…..”.   In fact, after the last family camping trip, I’d decided we just couldn’t do it again with James – which was a shame as he actually enjoyed most parts of it but the stress of keeping him safe was too much.

To our absolute surprise and delight, the fundraising happened very quickly – our family and friends could also see what a godsend an assistance dog would be for us.  I also think that everyone had wanted to help us in some way – and this was a great opportunity to give us practical support.

Mahe, a great big black lab, has been with us now for just over six months and we can’t imagine life without him.  When we’re out in public with him and James, Mahe brings amazing positive attention to James –  whereas before people would ignore James and his unusual behaviour, now they come over and want to know all about him and Mahe.  We did manage to go camping again as a family, and it was a completely different experience with Mahe to help.  Walks to the beach and back were a breeze and if we wanted to make sure James didn’t run off while we were having a bbq – we would tether them together for a while.  Mahe seems to have this calming influence over James – when they’re tethered together as a team,  James is very happy to be with Mahe whereas if I was gripping his hand, he would be agitated and trying to get away.  James has also learned that Mahe is the access to going places – he uses his communication device to ask for ‘Walk with Mahe’ when he wants to go out.

At home and off the lead, Mahe is a normal, silly dog that runs around with his toys – James thinks he’s very funny and giggles at him.  James’  older sister also benefits hugely from having Mahe around.  I know Julie tries hard to match the dogs with families and I think she’s definitely got it right with us.

The ADNZTrust team trains the dogs to a very high standard and puts a huge effort into raising awareness for children with disabilities and the difference these dogs can make.  The training and continued support we get from the ADNZTrust Team is fantastic.  We feel so proud and privileged to be an Assistance Dogs family.

 

Rocco has now been part of our family for 8 months - how time has flown by and how integrated Rocco now is in Sienna's life and our extended family life. Every night Sienna will say 'Rocco hop up' which is cue for Rocco jumping up onto Sienna's bed and going to sleep with her. Every Saturday Rocco will accompany Sienna to horse riding and wait patiently while she sits on her horse Aladdin and shouts out 'Rocco' from a distance. Every day he takes Sienna into school and brings her home - and every time Sienna will be found telling Rocco to 'go free' when we enter inside the house.

 

But for all the 'everys' are also a number of 'firsts': Tethered to Rocco, Sienna has managed to walk over 4km for the first time, and to slow down and stop before crossing the road for the first time. Sienna has sat through her first full length movie with Rocco for the first time. Sienna has been into busy shopping malls and sat quietly and patiently for the first time without losing the plot! Likewise, Rocco has helped reduce her anxiety for the first time by attending her Starship hospital appointments and staying with her post seizures.

My son Lachlan has Cerebral Palsy and Autism. He is awkward on his feet, non-verbal and gets very anxious around people. Lady, his assistance dog, joined us in February 2017 and instantly changed Lachlan’s life, his little sister Isabelle’s life, our lives, and the friends and family around us.

Suddenly Lachlan could participate in events that had been too stressful to undertake before. Five days after Lady arrived, we went to the Night Noodle Market on a Sunday afternoon. It was the first outing that we had ever enjoyed as a family, and we stayed for an hour and a half. Normally one parent would go on outings with our daughter, whilst the other stayed home with Lachlan.

Lachlan was excluded from playing with his peers in the neighbourhood. He was the weird kid in the corner who watched everyone else play at the park etc. Parents used to rush their children past him at the shopping centre in case they ask the “wrong” question.

Suddenly, the dog attracted both adults and children to Lachlan. They would ask to pat his dog and ask him questions about Lady. Lachlan went from being the outsider to the centre of attention. With that, his confidence grew over time.

Now Lachlan will happily go anywhere with us as a family – in fact helping with the weekly shop is one of his favourite things to do. He has the confidence to engage with both children and adults anywhere we go. At the park, once everyone has had a pat with Lady, he runs off to play with the kids now.

 

For the wider community, they get to engage with a disabled child in a way they never did before and understand more about how to communicate. Disability is less frightening. We regularly have people in our suburb come up to us and comment on the changes they see with Lachlan.

 

This is only one tiny aspect of the life changing impact Lady has had on our lives. There is a huge need for the services Assistance Dog New Zealand Trust provides.

 
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