Sienna and Rocco

Updated: Nov 16

“Before we got Rocco, we wondered how much a dog could really change things, but when you see everything they can actually do for the child, it’s so much more powerful than you think."


Sienna has 15Q24 micro-deletion syndrome and is the only person in New Zealand with this

condition and one of just a few hundred cases in the world. Sienna’s genetic deletion brings with it

regular seizures, ADHD, sensory processing disorder and global development delay. While having

experienced many surgeries in the first five years of her life due to the medical complications the

syndrome has caused, Sienna now only has a lung condition and feeding tube remaining.



Rocco comes every week to appointments with therapists and to the hospital and helps Sienna to be able to deal with these challenging environments as a calming presence. Shopping malls are another environment Rocco has helped Sienna to manage, as she can now go into a mall and walk around, as opposed to freezing up and not wanting to move in those loud spaces. Previously we’d have to put her in a pram to be able to go places. As she got older, we knew that wasn’t a long-term option and thankfully Rocco has helped her become more independent. He has also increased her speech as she has the responsibility to feed her dog. Rocco has allowed Sienna to have experiences and try different environments that she would never have been able to cope with before.”


For Sienna’s parents, Kirstin and Tim, they know Rocco is not only her best friend and source of encouragement, but also supports her daily needs and ensures her personal safety. Tethered to Rocco, Sienna has managed to walk over 4km for the first time and to slow down and stop before crossing the road. She has even sat through her first full-length movie with Rocco by her side.


Before we got Rocco, we wondered how much a dog could really change things, but when you see everything they can actually do for the child, it’s so much more powerful than you think. I’ve had neurologists comment on how she’s now talking. Another doctor at Starship commented on Rocco’s training, as the minute they left the hospital room, Rocco didn’t move an inch until they returned. Doctors have been asking a lot more about our Assistance Dog as they are seeing first-hand the massive impact he is having on Sienna’s life.”


The other struggle for the Opie family has been that you can’t visually see Sienna’s disability. “For instance, Sienna could have a massive outburst in a café and everyone judges you as bad parents as the kid looks normal.” Rocco plays a big role in identifying Sienna's disability and encourages people to be a bit kinder before passing judgement on their behaviour.

“The Assistance Dogs team are amazing; the level of focus on matching the right dog to Sienna was really impressive. Sienna is really obsessive and affectionate to the extreme, and Rocco is a very chilled out dog and specifically selected to handle her style.


However, the process for The Opie’s being matched with Rocco was a long one as the family had to wait 5 years to reach the top of the waiting list and find a dog that met Sienna’s needs.


Sadly, the waitlist still exceeds 5 years and there are many more families who could immediately benefit from the life-changing impact an Assistance Dog has. This annual appeal, we are asking you to dig deep and give what you can to help change the lives of the 47 families on our waitlist and reduce their 5-year wait for a dog. You can directly impact the lives of children and their families living with a disability by making a donation today. Thank you.


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