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Lady's Retirement and Baxter's Graduation

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

After 6 phenomenal years of service and just after her 10th birthday, Assistance Dog Lady has officially retired.  We're proud to introduce her replacement and one of our newest graduates... Assistance Dog Baxter!

Lady joined Lachlan and his family in 2017, changing their lives in an instant. Lachlan lives with multiple disabilities and conditions including Cerebral Palsy, Autism and is non-verbal.

Over time, Lachlan's confidence grew. He was able to go out with his family and interact with the community when it was previously just too stressful. Lady attracted both adults and children to Lachlan. They would ask to pat his dog and ask him questions about Lady. He went from being the outsider to the centre of attention. And this was only one tiny aspect of the life-changing impact that Lady had on Lachlan and his family.

Now that Lady has retired, Lachlan's family have adopted her as a dearly loved pet, and look forward to spoiling her throughout her twilight years.

However, Lady's retirement also brought about an absence of support that was felt immensely by 15-year-old Lachlan and his family.

When an Assistance Dog retires, they’re officially “off-duty”. This means they no longer wear their ADNZT jacket, have public access rights, or carry out the tasks they were trained to do for their client. They become pets, just like any other dog. 

Lady’s retirement brought about some sudden changes for Lachlan, who became dependent on Lady’s daily support and companionship. Nearing her retirement, they spent a night without her, which Lachlan’s mum Sinead said was “awful”.

Once our clients adjust to receiving the life-changing support an Assistance Dog provides, no longer having that support can often be detrimental (as is the case with any medical equipment or aid). For this reason, if the need exists, ADNZT prioritises finding replacement dogs for our existing clients.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Lady’s replacement arrived - our newest graduate, Baxter.

We're thrilled to introduce you to our newest graduate, and Lady’s replacement, Assistance Dog Baxter.

Baxter has been tailor-trained to meet Lachlan’s individual needs. He's been taught tasks such as deep pressure (to calm Lachlan in moments of overwhelm), behaviour disruption, and retrieving items for Lachlan.

Some of the activities they enjoy doing together include lying on the floor while watching TV, boat rides, playing fetch on the beach, and much more.

Once Lachlan, his family, Baxter and ADNZT's Hannah were all happy with the match, it was time for Lady to pass the baton on to Baxter.

During this time, Sinead (mum) decided to journal their family's experience of navigating these changes. She's decided to share this with you as a way of expressing her thanks for your support.

Sinead's Journal:

Day 1

We said goodbye to Lady as she went on her holidays. Luckily, she’d been away before, so she lept out of the car to see her carer (who loves her and who she loves). They’re sending us updates and she looks so relaxed and happy.

We show them to Lachlan who keeps signing about his dog, and then putting his hands on his heart and dipping his head. Lachlan misses Lady.

We had a night without her. Awful.

But the anticipation of Baxter was huge. We had met Baxter twice before and he seemed cool. He could fit our family.

When Lachlan went to school on Thursday, he knew Baxter would be there when he got home. Lachlan needs routine and struggles with emotion and change, but he was up for it.

Baxter had arrived at 10am. Sam (Dad), Hannah (ADNZT Dog Trainer) and I did a few small things with him but mostly settling in. The big moment was Lachlan coming home.

It was a very casual quiet moment which was perfect for Lachlan. Baxter is a big dog - strong and tall, but he was calm.

Lots of treats for Baxter. and we all just hung out in the sun for a bit. ADNZT’s Hannah sat in the back and watched.

Later when Lachlan had his bath and we were having dinner, Baxter just sat, not knowing what to do. Bedtime was a bit chaotic. Like if you were in a youth hostel that was tiny and you were all trying to be polite and move around each other - we didn’t know Baxter, and he didn’t know our movements.

He slept on the bed with us tonight because we were the most bonded to him. We all slept deeply - exhausted.

Day 2

New day, new training.

We had the school routine to do. Baxter is a tall dog. We weren’t used to a nose on the counter as we chopped the veggies and made the sandwiches. We went about our usual routine, one that Lady knows and dances around us with. You don’t realise how in-tune dogs are and how they anticipate what we will do… until you have a new dog.

We danced around each other at breakfast, Baxter desperate for directions and instructions but also starting to absorb our routine and work out how he would be part of it. He is amazingly instinctive (I think that’s the training and breeding).

Our son has lots of complex medical needs and we spend a bit of time in the hospital, outpatients, blood taking, GPs, etc. A huge part of what ADNZT’s Lady had done for us was reassuring and protecting Lachlan through years of X-rays, bloods, surgeries, and more. People have been touching him all his life without his consent and causing pain. Lady has protected him, reassured him, and reassured the nurses and doctors around him for the sorrow they feel about what they have to inflict on him.

We have talked and posted about that before on ADNZT. She’s like an angel who not only looks after Lachlan but also the other patients who are struggling, and the medical staff who care so much and are doing their best for our most beautiful vulnerable people. The nurses and doctors also love the cuddles and lick on the cheek.

So today on day 2 of training, I had to get a blood test. I was learning how to lead Baxter in the car park (and not doing the best job).

We went into a crowded waiting room - all the seats were taken and there were lots of older people with walkers and a wheelchair. I had to learn from ADNZT’s Hannah how to navigate the space with Baxter, who isn’t small, and find a way to make both fellow patients and Baxter feel safe and happy.

Luckily lots of people smiled as I tried to direct a big dog I didn’t yet know, into a small space to sit down.

The moment I knew he was the right dog for Lachlan, was when he and I went into the room to take my blood.

I sat on the bed and put my arm on the tray table. I had told Baxter to lie down.

I was only his handler for 24 hours at that stage, but when the phlebotomist began to work, Baxter stood up. He tilted his head to check if I was ok and spent the rest of the time caring and supervising until we were finished.

That was the very moment I knew we had the right dog.

That evening was spent getting to know each other. The more attention we spent on getting Lachlan and Baxter to connect, the more artificial it felt. We decided to all go free range and just be. A big success was Baxter sleeping on his bed for a bit, for the first time.

Day 3

We went to Lyttelton market in Christchurch because it’s busy and full of dogs. Baxter did so well and we really gelled as a family. When we got home today, we all felt tired from the training and glad to all flop together and relax.

Baxter is becoming part of our crew. We came home, made pizzas, and hung out. He is amazing.

Day 4

But now for the twist… Baxter ate a stone! Poor wee fella spent the night vomiting and is going in for surgery 😢 he’ll be recovering with ADNZT’s Hannah.

Day 6

Poor wee Baxter has spent two days at the vet. He will need 2-4 weeks of recovery with no activity. We miss him and worry about him. ADNZT has the best care sorted for him and immediately put in place a plan that’s best for him.

Day 7

Lachlan and our family got to go and visit Baxter to say hi and see how he was. He has been really tired but perked up to spend time with Lachlan. They cuddled for a half hour - Lachlan giving as much love and care to Baxter right now as Baxter and Lady have given to him over the days and years. He knows what it is like to be in pain, scared, and have surgery.

Somehow between training and genetics, these amazing dogs and these special humans connect on a level the rest of us can’t understand… but the amazing team of dog and human whisperers at ADNZT spread the special sprinkles to make this work so well.

Baxter is back!

What a great day! It took a few hours for him to find his place again - searching and sniffing everywhere. Hannah dropped him off and Sam (Dad) and Baxter just hung out. When I came home, he wagged his tail like he remembered me.

Hannah came back an hour later and we went to the supermarket. It was like he’d grown up in the month he was away and was perfect on the lead, with the trolley and in and out of the car.  Go, Baxter! He also made new friends at the supermarket who gave him loads of pats. I told them we would be back next week.

Lachlan was home when we got back and was so excited to see Baxter. They both were happy to connect – still not super connected again yet but comfortable with each other. Hannah, Baxter and Lachlan played with the ball outside.

It was Izzie’s (Lachlan’s sister) birthday so we had about 10 people (kids and grownups) over for pizza and cake. Baxter just cruised around like he’d always been here. There were people all over the kitchen, chopping amazing smells and he just was so calm.

The new puppy from next door came in and they had a lovely run around in the garden. As I write this, Baxter is passed out on his new bed. We couldn’t have asked for a better return. He is a super calm cool doggy dog.

Baxter's Return, Day 3

I haven’t done the diary because we’ve just spent the time bonding with Baxter. What a special soul!

We are so lucky to have him in our lives. He is so calm and a gentle giant. He’s spent his time checking out the house, garden, noises, and our routine. All with a tiny curious tilt of his head.

I see the same characteristics as Lady but realise now how Lady and our family had figured out a routine - she knew our next move. A step to the mirror to put on makeup, a step to Lachlan to put on his shoes… Baxter is eagerly loitering without the knowledge of our next move, but very eager to please and to try and figure it out. So cute, but we are still spending our time dancing around each other in a way that Lady automatically knew.

Baxter’s Return, Day 4

Another day of training for the boys today. Apparently it all went well. There was lots of downtime as well.

Baxter’s Return, Day 5

So Baxter’s been back for 5 days. It’s hard to bond with a second dog because you compare them to the one before. BUT he is a beautiful, gentle giant. I brought him to work today and saw him through other people's eyes who patted and walked him all day. They just saw him, which helped me to see him for who he is.

Tonight he helped when I had to change Lachlan's nappy. He ran ‘distraction and laughter’ while I did what I had to do. For the first time, Lachlan invited him up onto his bed. A long dog and a 15-year-old were never going to last long, but they cuddled for about 15 minutes… progress ❤️

Later when I went back in to change Lachlan again, Baxter came and sat on his bed in Lachlan’s room. Progress again! 🎉

We swapped Baxter's bed around (advice of ADNZT’s Hannah). He spent most of the night there next to Lachlan.

November 12th 2023

Today is a huge day… Baxter graduated and Lady retired!!

We weren’t sure how they would react together but their meeting (for the 3rd time) was lovely. They will enjoy living together. They played and pulled a rope toy.

Lady has officially handed over the reins. When bedtime came for Lachlan, she was on her bed and Baxter went into Lachlan’s room with him while he got ready. Lady lifted her head and ear to make sure everything was under control. Once she was satisfied that Baxter was doing a good job, she lay back down and let him get on with it. She let out a big sigh that I hadn’t heard before and went happily into retirement.


Thank you so much to everyone who supports ADNZT. This wouldn't be possible without you.



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