"She's my sunshine dog - light and hope after what seemed like an eternity of darkness. She's my partner-in-crime who's enabled me to start living my life, instead of just surviving it."
This is the story of 24-year-old Kat and how she gained confidence, friendship and independence through the help of her Assistance Dog Jojo - her “sunshine dog”.
Kat discovered Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust (ADNZT) in 2017 after years of struggling to find anything that would help her. She joined our waitlist that year, but it wasn’t until May 2022 that her “partner-in-crime” finally came along – Assistance Dog Jojo, changing her life in an instant.
Kat lives with a range of disabilities and chronic illnesses including Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Hypermobility, POTS, FND, and experiences seizure-like episodes that can last up to 4 hours.
Before Jojo, Kat described her life as, “lonely, isolating, confusing, daunting, terrifying, overwhelming, hopeless and generally just all too much."
"I had no independence. I couldn’t safely be left alone for fear I’d pass out or have a seizure. My anxiety got so severe I would panic, have meltdowns, and not even know where I was - often getting lost or accidentally hurting myself. I couldn’t bring myself out of this state, move, walk, or communicate without the help of someone else. Sometimes meltdowns would last for hours, and I felt like I would never recover."
My physical disabilities and chronic illnesses were debilitating and all-consuming. It often felt like fighting a never-ending battle just to survive. The worse my health got and the more burnt out I became, the worse the physical stuff got - it was a never-ending cycle and a downward spiral”.
Then, Assistance Dog Jojo came along. Since the pair graduated in May 2022, Jojo helps Kat to feel less overwhelmed by her multiple disabilities and conditions, and less overwhelmed by the world in general.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better dog and best friend - Jojo is matched perfectly to my needs, energy and lifestyle. Her training shines through every day”.
Jojo has been tailor-trained to provide support to meet Kat’s needs. She provides a calming technique called ‘deep pressure’ to help regulate Kat’s heart rate and blood pressure when she’s having a panic attack, meltdown, or POTS flare. Jojo also applies light pressure when Kat is experiencing a seizure-like episode, to help ease pain with Jojo’s body heat and to help prevent Kat from accidentally hurting herself.
Jojo can alert Kat when her blood oxygen levels, blood pressure or breathing aren’t good, when her heart rate is too low, too high or irregular, or when something else is wrong for example, if she’s overheating. She alerts Kat by pawing at her and can give her a 20 minute “head-start” before her symptoms appear – often before medical equipment can even pick up these changes! This means Kat has time to get herself somewhere safe and prepare by sitting or lying down.
Sometimes if Kat delays sitting or lying down and it becomes urgent (for example, she needs to lie down immediately), Jojo will gently jump on her and begin ‘deep pressure’ the second she is lying down. Then Jojo will get Kat’s phone or medications, and will stay with her until she feels better.
Jojo has also given Kat the confidence to have experiences she wasn’t able to previously. Together, they’ve travelled on the bus for the first time, had trips out by themselves or with friends, visited the zoo, the movies, and live shows. Kat has experienced her first road trip with friends, started dating for the first time and has even begun enjoying the simple things in life – like walking to the dairy by herself (and with Jojo) for an ice cream.
“Every single new experience I’ve had, goal I’ve achieved and scary thing I’ve managed to do, are because of her”.
With Jojo by her side, Kat’s felt herself grow as a person, and has loved watching Jojo grow too. They’ve learnt a lot about each other, and their relationship continues to go from strength to strength. Kat has loved learning about Jojo’s personality and funny quirks. She loves watching her go from “very serious, professional and focused” when working, to the “wiggliest, silliest goose in the pond” when it’s time to play.
“She just makes me so incredibly happy and her joy and excitement for life in general is infectious”.
Over the next couple of years, Kat hopes Jojo will continue to help her gain independence and a sense of freedom. Kat hopes they’ll be able to move out of home together, participate in the community more, begin some form of work or volunteering and continue to make new friends.
Something Kat's looking forward to the most is making memories and living a life without fear, instead of just ‘surviving’. She’s also looking forward to a future with less injuries and health-flares because of the amazing support Jojo provides.
There are 50+ New Zealanders on ADNZT's waitlist, patiently waiting to be matched with their Assistance Dog. As an organisation, we’re desperately focusing on increasing our output of dogs so we can help those families sooner, and resume taking applications from those who may benefit from our services. But we need help to achieve this.
By making a donation today, you can help these families gain access to the life-changing support they deserve. Thank you 💛