James and Mahe

"The training and continued support we get from the ADNZT team is fantastic. We feel so proud and privileged to be an Assistance Dogs family"

We first heard about ADNZT through a friend who had been one of the first families to receive one. Our son James 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. Walking James to a local park 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 the ADNZT team, and other assistance dog handlers, I knew that getting an assistance dog would be a fantastic addition to our family. ​ Out instructor 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 his 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 the ADNZT team tries hard to match the dogs with families and I think they've definitely got it right with us. ​ The ADNZT team trains each dog to a very high standard and puts 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 team is fantastic. We feel so proud and privileged to be an Assistance Dogs family.

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