11-year-old Georgie lives with her mum, dad, two brothers, two cats and their trusted Assistance Dog in the sunny Bay of Plenty. She may look like every other child to passers-by, but Georgie is one of thousands of children in Aotearoa living with a range of invisible disabilities, that make life for the Farrell family more challenging than most.
Georgie has autism spectrum disorder, global development delay, speech delay and hearing issues. At a younger age, Georgie was also non-verbal, in the sense that she didn't use words or language, but communicated by pulling her parents in the direction that she wanted to go, pointing at things. She had no fear, and still probably doesn't to a certain degree, and would just run!
Prior to Assistance Dogs, it was a huge challenge for her family to go places, as they constantly had to hold onto her to keep her safe. One tool they used when she was a child were toddler reins, but as she got older, Liz and Matthew were subject to judgemental and disapproving looks as Georgie’s disability wasn’t immediately obvious to passers-by. People just had no idea what day-to-day life was like. Life became very isolating. Taking a trip, going to a sibling’s soccer game, or even something as simple as going to the supermarket became an insurmountable challenge, and Georgie sadly missed out on so many childhood experiences and opportunities as the family searched for a solution.
In 2015, a beautiful black Labrador named Lobo joined the Farrells and changed their family dynamic overnight. Lobo was tailor-trained for Georgie and her particular needs, and began working with a tether harness to provide safety for Georgie and freedom for her parents. For six years, Lobo was Georgie’s best friend, her access to the world and a constant source of new possibilities. Very quickly Georgie learned not to run away from her parents into dangerous situations like busy roads. Incredibly, she also became more verbal through her interactions with him, as she fed and cared for her dog, giving her focus and responsibility.
Lobo taught Georgie patience and tolerance. He kept her calm and improved her language, helping her go from hand gestures and grunts, to spoken words. “Trips to the supermarket or the park were now possible, and in fact enjoyable, with Lobo as her anchor. She’s now able to take the school bus and cross the road, and even play in the park with her brothers, giving her independence that was otherwise impossible. He has opened doors to friendships and makes first social interactions so much easier.”
Tragically, at the start of this year, Lobo passed away suddenly due to a ruptured spleen, leaving a large hole in the Farrell family. With the strides Georgie had made, The Farrells weren’t immediately sure if they would need another dog after Lobo passed. However, it became quickly apparent that Georgie was really struggling after the loss. “Thanks to Lobo, we had been able to live our life as a family...and then he was gone. I liken it to if you use a wheelchair and that broke - Lobo was a key mobility aid.”
Like Lobo, each of our Assistance Dogs is matched and trained for a specific client’s unique needs, and with a growing waitlist now over five years long, the family were unsure how quickly they might receive a new dog.
However, in March 2021, training dog Willow came to the rescue! Willow had been resistant to wearing a tether harness in training and working with small children, but that was no problem for Georgie and her family who had come such a long way already. Willow is a playful, cheeky Golden Retriever X Lab Retriever, and one of four proud siblings graduating this year. After much excitement and anticipation, Willow completed her client training programme with the Farrell family in July, giving Georgie a new friend and continued support.
For Liz and Matthew, an assistance dog brings a measure of equity into the lives of children and adults alike, providing life-altering, tangible, and sustained benefits. “It’s hard to quantify how much Lobo and Willow have helped Georgie with her development, and the choices and options they have both given her. Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust allow those with often invisible disabilities to search for and achieve acceptance, opening up a world of social interactions.”
COVID-19 forced us to cancel our street appeal and rally the troupes to virtually shake a bucket. Thank you to those who have helped us raise over $12,500 already, before appeal week even started!!
Our goal this year is to raise $75,000 - the cost of breeding, raising, training and supporting one of our Assistance Dogs throughout their working life. Please donate generously this appeal week to help continue providing this life-changing service to kiwis throughout NZ.
Your donation will change the lives of more children like Georgie, who will be able to make friends, join clubs, access new education and employment opportunities, and live a ‘normal’ life that so many of us take for granted.
Thank you for supporting our journey and changing the lives of so many already. From the ADNZT team.