The annual appeal week for Assistance Dogs NZ is on now – and the organisation hopes to see donors, volunteers and supporters come out in force.
“We receive no government funding, we rely on donations and grants, so every little bit helps,” said Robyn Marek, regional puppy development supervisor with Assistance Dogs NZ. “As any client would tell you, these dogs are completely life changing for them.”
The organisation, founded in 2008 by Julie and Rick Hancox, provides trained service dogs to clients throughout the country to help with disabilities such as autism, Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy and diabetes.
Robyn Marek said they were very much open to more volunteers and donations. “I’m always looking for puppy raisers and boarders.”
One family in Cambridge are puppy raisers for Assistance Dogs, and their rather big “puppy” Dexi, a lab-retriever cross, will soon be ready to begin her service training in Auckland. “She’ll hopefully be ready within the next couple of months,” said Robyn.
“She’s still very playful,” said Dexi’s puppy-raiser Isabel Steel.
“I love watching her progress, from when we first saw her to now, she’s more behaved, not completely there but she’s definitely matured,” added Siobhan Copeland, who along with her brothers Hamish and Lachlan, managed to talk their parents into signing up as puppy raisers.
“They wanted a dog, I said you’re not getting one, you’ll be leaving home soon and it’ll become my dog,” Isabel laughed. “They had a note up at the high school about it, and so I said well that’s the only way you’re getting a dog!”
Other perks for puppy raisers are not having to pay council registration fees or vet bills (covered by Assistance Dogs) though they do need to get the dog used to certain situations, like going to the supermarket. Robyn meets with the families every few weeks, making sure the puppy is progressing well and guiding the family with tips or pointers. At about a year and a half to two years of age, the dogs then go to Auckland where they’re assessed and trained for whichever job they show the best strength towards.
“Some dogs are better suited to some things than others, Robyn was saying she’s got quite a good nose on her so she might end up as a diabetic dog, sniffing for low blood sugar and things like that,” said Isabel, admitting it does take a dedicated person or family to raise the dog right.
“It’s like having another child, it is a big commitment,” she said. “The kids love it, but it is a lot of work. It’s really great because you can take them places, but it’s hard work because you do need to take them places.”
So far, amongst other activities, Dexi has visited the supermarket (where she’s quite popular), a shopping mall, a school drama assessment, school fundraising, swimming pools, and accompanies Isabel to work each day.
“She’s quite good, if anything she just gets bored, she’d rather be playing.”
“The thing we’re working on now is food… she’ll eat anything.
“They’re not allowed scraps off the floor or human food, just treats during training and dog food. She can’t go on the furniture or jump up. I suppose it’s kind of like childcare, you have to be consistent with them.”
Siobhan said she loved training Dexi and had found a best friend in her. “She’s a good friend, she’s always there for you,” she said, admitting it would be hard to say goodbye.
“It will be sad going in one sense, but in another sense you’re giving her a home where she can really make a difference,” said Isabel.
The family wants to encourage donations and support towards the organization. “It’s very worthwhile, especially when you see the how people benefit from them.”
As well as sign-ups for puppy raisers, Robyn said the organisation was also seeking people to sign up as boarders – to look after the puppies when their raising-family goes away on holiday – as well as donations and puppy sponsors.
To find our more or to sign up, visit assistancedogstrust.org.nz.