Newly graduated Assistance Dog Jack provides support for his young client’s varied disabilities and needs, allowing the Newman family to begin to enjoy life again.
Callum was diagnosed at 3 months old with a range of neuro-disabilities, including Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy, both of which present several associated behaviours and challenges for solo mum of two Melanie. Since his diagnosis in November 2015, life has been a constant challenge as Callum’s needs became all-consuming. His epilepsy has had a significant impact on the family’s ability to go out and enjoy life together as he suffers from daily and nightly seizures, involving regular ambulance callouts, hospital visits and 24/7 monitoring. Life revolved around Callum’s schedule; leaving the house became stressful as Mel wasn’t sure if he would have seizures and need a nap, his mood would escalate quickly and result in melt-downs and they would have to head home urgently. For Callum’s older sister Mariana, going out as a family and enjoying time at the park or with friends was limited by the constant need to take Callum away, socialising simply wasn’t accessible.
Mel came across Assistance Dogs while researching various therapies that might help her son. Whilst there were choices of service dog organisations for his individual disabilities, Assistance Dogs was able to tailor train a dog to meet the wider needs of his multiple disabilities, as well as their family. In June 2022, ADNZT’s Jack was matched with Callum and delivered to his family home in the Bay of Plenty to begin his placement programme with the team. When Jack arrived – Callum’s reaction was one of immediate adoration. Callum is extremely genuine in displaying his emotions and has no filter and you could see the joy on his face the moment he locked eyes with Jack. He also struggles with transitions and new people, but Jack provided a welcome distraction and he immediately went up to give him a cuddle. The more the pair played together, the more Jack’s tail wagged, the happier Callum became – it was truly a special moment to be a part of.
During the 2-week training programme with ADNZT staff – Mel learnt how to become Jack’s primary handler, with Callum at his side. The training involved learning his commands, heading out into places they would regularly need to go and interacting with their community. Jack was welcomed with open arms by everyone he met and people began to recognise the new member of their community, taking the time to learn his role and purpose with the Newman family. During this time they also simulated scenarios with Callum, such as hospital visits, school assemblies and trips. At home, they fine-tuned his training to ensure Jack could perform all the tasks that Mel and Callum would need to make life a little easier.
Jack’s purpose and training will continue to develop as he settles into life as a qualified working dog with his new family. Currently, he performs tasks such as picking things up for Callum and lying on his stomach applying calming pressure when Callum has a meltdown (for his safety and comfort). In these instances, Jack can help calm Callum quickly, turning screams into giggles as he nudges his new friend for cuddles and kisses. They both enjoy playing together and lots of touch, and it’s clear that both Callum and Jack are having as much fun as each other wrestling and cuddling around the home.
Jack has become another member of the Newman family – primarily caring for Callum, but also providing new opportunities for the family to go out and enjoy their time together, something that was often too stressful to enjoy before. They have gone to the beach and enjoyed swims, played fetch in the park and taken a little more time to slow down and appreciate each day. Mariana is learning that Jack is not only a pet in the house, but also a companion and support for her brother, and is beginning to understand how to interact with a working dog at home.
Hospital visits have become easier for the family as Jack can help distract Callum and provide comfort in an otherwise uncomfortable environment. He has also started to attend Callum’s Assisted Walking classes, walking alongside him to provide support, or on good days, ahead to act as a goal for Callum to reach. The pair have made a splash at school, with Callum’s latest T-Rex themed birthday being highlighted by his very own dinosaur friend, in the form of Jack in a T-Rex jacket. Jack’s and Callum’s stylish endeavours will continue this year as they plan their matching jack-o’-lantern Halloween outfits this October!
Jack has been a life-changing addition to the Newman household, allowing the family to return to some level of ‘normality’. As the pair develop and Callum grows, Mel hopes Jack will continue to support his seizures through the night and learn new tasks to support Callum’s future development and behaviour. For now, it’s clear that her son has found a best friend and life has become a lot happier.