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Helen and Bindi - 2023 update

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

“These dogs don’t just change lives, they save them. I honestly don’t think I would be here without Bindi”.

Wellington-based Helen lives with multiple autoimmune disorders, experiences severe migraines that cause facial palsy, aphasia, vomiting attacks, temporary blindness, and has a severe sleep disorder. Helen was matched with Assistance Dog Bindi 5 years ago, and feels grateful every day for the ways Bindi has changed her life.

Before Bindi, Helen often suffered serious injuries from her sleepwalking, genuinely believing she may die if her sleepwalking continued to the same extent. She was limited in the amount of work she could do each week, and she lacked the confidence to navigate environments due to her complex medical conditions.

In 2017, the arrival of Assistance Dog Bindi changed her life. Nearing the end of her formal training, Bindi was tailor-trained to meet Helen’s specific needs.

“Recently, I had a flare-up of my sleep disorder. Twice in one week, I leaped out of bed, sprinting through my apartment, yelling for Bindi to come with me as I believed we were both in danger. Both times, Bindi got between me and the front door, and tried to herd me back into my bedroom. While I did have some injuries from these incidents, it was nothing compared to what I used to wake up with, and thanks to Bindi, I stayed safely inside the whole time”.

Bindi has also started to pick up if Helen is about to get sick with a cold or another bug. A day or two before Helen notices any symptoms, Bindi will start sleeping up against her chest, or lying with her head on Helen’s stomach. Bindi usually sleeps on Helen’s legs, so this is an incredible indicator to Helen that something is going on.

Helen is a passionate writer, however before Bindi, she was very limited in the amount of work she could do each week. She would teach a one-hour creative writing class once a week and be “absolutely wrecked” from it.

This year, she’s started tutoring kids a couple of afternoons a week, running a weekly story-time, teaching occasional adult education courses, and rehearsing a theatre show. Recently, her work asked her to double the number of adult education courses she teaches, and she didn’t hesitate to agree!

Although she still can’t work full time, Helen says the difference from a few years ago is astounding.

“I put that down to the increased energy I have due to Bindi halting my sleepwalking, and the increased confidence that I will be able to safely navigate any medical issues with Bindi by my side.”

Helen has experienced quite a few flare ups of her medical conditions this year. As well as other symptoms, she experiences severe bouts of nausea which have taken a long time to get under control.

“Along with the physical supports Bindi provides, the emotional support she gave me at this time was invaluable. I didn’t want to be around people when I was throwing up all day, but I would often be exhausted and tearful so being alone felt hard too. Having Bindi come and check on me or lie with me while I recovered meant so much.”

In 2022, Helen travelled to Dunedin to work as a dramaturg (script advisor) for a new playwright. This is something she wouldn’t have considered doing before Bindi, however she found it so much easier knowing Bindi was keeping an eye on her at every step of the way.

“The main character in the play had a disability and walked with a stick like me. I was asked if I would act her in a staged reading. I gave up acting a long time ago, as I became disabled and struggled more and more with fatigue from my sleep disorder. Acting is physically and mentally demanding work, and I couldn’t see how I could continue. I almost said no to acting in this reading, because I assumed I wouldn’t be able to do it. But then I considered how much things have changed since I’ve had Bindi – how much more energy and confidence I have. I agreed to the role, and it went great."

"This reignited a passion for something I had thought was no longer accessible to me. I decided I wanted to help other disabled actors have the same opportunities. I approached a production house about creating a show of five short plays written and performed by disabled people. They loved the idea and made it a reality. I’m performing in the development season of the show (Five Slices of Another Life) at the end of September 2023. None of this would have been possible for me without the changes Bindi has made to my life. Bindi doesn’t always understand I’m acting though, and occasionally wanders onto the stage to help when my character is distressed! Cutest rehearsal interruption ever!”

Bindi accompanies Helen everywhere, including to the hospital when needed. During her most recent time in hospital, Bindi became a “favourite” with all the staff. During a night shift, one of the doctors started explaining Helen’s medical conditions to Bindi, as if she was Helen’s next of kin!

He suddenly realised what he was doing and said, “am I really saying all this to your dog?”. Helen had many visitors from the nurses that night who all wanted to see Bindi. She even overheard one of the nurses say to another, “go and ask the lady if she needs another blanket so you can see the dog”. Although Bindi is Helen’s Assistance Dog, she also brings so much joy to others. Helen said this experience was very sweet, and many staff told her that Bindi made their night during a tough shift.

Helen’s dad is also very sick at the moment, and Bindi has been a huge comfort to him. When he was released from hospital recently, the first thing Bindi wanted to do was curl up by his side and have cuddles.

Bindi is now eight years old. Although she’s starting to slow down a bit, her vet says she is in great health, and is still her happy, playful self. Helen’s favourite memories of Bindi are always at the beach. When Bindi takes her “jacket” off, it’s no longer work time, and she gets to play! The first time Helen took Bindi out to Lyall Bay in Wellington, she got so excited.

She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to dig, run, swim, drag a giant piece of driftwood, or roll in the sand. She tried to do all at once, and earned the nickname “Chaos Dog”. She loves digging massive holes in the sand, but still hasn’t quite figured out why the holes she digs in the water never get any bigger!

Helen is grateful every day for the ways Bindi has changed her life. To read Helen and Bindi's 2020 story, please click here.

To help more New Zealanders like Helen, please consider making a donation today. Thank you 💙

(Thank you so much to the Wellington City Council photographer and Goosey Goosey Gander for providing the beautiful photos in this story)



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