The Farrell family of Omokoroa, Bay of Plenty, have witnessed the life-changing changes an assistance dog can bring to a family or person with disabilities since Labrador Lobo joined them in 2015.
The Farrell family and their assistance dog Willow
The Farrells share their story as Assistance Dogs NZ Trust (ADNZT) kicks off its roll call week this week, appealing to the public to fund the organization’s plans to double its graduates in dog training over the next three years.
This is to meet the growing need within the New Zealand disabled community for assistance dogs that provide independence and vital daily assistance. ADNZT trains specialized dogs for public access for clients with a variety of disabilities, from autism to brain injuries to Down’s syndrome, which means that the pool of suitable applicants is considerable.
For the Farrells, whose daughter Georgie has an autism spectrum disorder, global developmental delay, and speech delay with hearing problems, Lobo made sure Georgie didn’t run away from her parents in dangerous situations like busy streets. The dog also helped her become more verbal through her interactions with him.
â€œWe couldn’t go out as a family before Lobo, and when we did we always had to hold Georgie’s hands or wrists to protect her. Having to put a harness on her meant there was a lot of judgmental glare as Georgie’s disability is not immediately obvious, â€explains her mother Liz Farrell.
â€œLobo taught them patience and tolerance, kept them calm and improved their language from hand gestures and grunts to spoken words. Trips to the supermarket or the park were now possible and even pleasant with Lobo as an anchor. “
Six years later, Georgie can take the school bus and cross the street on her own, giving her an independence that would otherwise not be possible.
But earlier this year, Lobo suddenly died of a ruptured spleen and left a large hole in the Farrell family.
â€œWith the progress Georgie had made, we weren’t immediately sure whether we would have another dog after Lobo’s death. However, she struggled after the loss; Thanks to Lobo we had been able to lead our life as a family, and when he was gone I compare it to a wheelchair that broke. Lobo was an important mobility aid.
â€œSo we talked to the ADNZT team about a new dog, but it was clear to us that we didn’t want to compromise the chance or the place on the waiting list of another family.
â€œEach dog is tailored and trained to meet the unique needs of a particular customer. Willow was tether resistant and not suitable for a smaller child, but perfect for Georgie, so she joined our family in July. “
From the Farrell’s perspective, an assistance dog brings a measure of equity to the lives of children and adults, and offers tangible and sustainable benefits to customers.
â€œIt’s hard to quantify how much Lobo and Willow helped Georgie with her development, and the choices and options they both gave her. Assistance dogs enable people with often invisible disabilities to seek and achieve acceptance and open up a world of social interactions. “
With the charity’s current output of 8-10 trained dogs per year, the plan is to increase the output to 18-20 trained dogs per year by 2024.
ADNZT was founded in 2008 and today looks after 40 customers across New Zealand and has 16 puppies in training. Since their waiting list is now over 5 years and there are over 60 people on the list, they know the only way to meet this need is to increase their training capacity, and therefore the number of dogs that graduate each year, to increase.
Assistance Dogs NZ Trust Chair Sinead Horgan explains, â€œThe Trust does not receive any government funding and is funded solely through generous donations, sponsors such as the Lindsay Foundation, trusts and individual donors, including our puppy sponsorship program.
“Therefore, our annual Appeal Week is vital to advance our plans to engage more dog trainers and strengthen our breeding program to ultimately meet the unique needs of the disabled community.”
Assistance Dogs NZ Trust’s Appeal Week 2021 is running this week and next, and due to the disruption caused by Covid-19, the charity has had to cancel its planned street collections across the country and focus on online donations.
â€œStreet collections are critical to charities, and the Covid-19 lockdowns are seriously jeopardizing our fundraising income. Now we are completely dependent on online donations to achieve our goal, â€explains Horgan.
The tough cost of training and arranging an assistance dog is $ 75,000 (which covers 1.5 to 2 years of training) which is the Assistance Dogs NZ Trust’s fundraising goal for this appeal. Each customer is asked to raise $ 20,000 for their dog, which they often achieve through creative fundraisers while also covering hefty medical bills and full- or part-time care.
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