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By Cara MacKenzie,
Program Coordinator, Assistance Dogs for Independence.
Tanya Sutton received service dog(Bonny) in September 1999. Following is her story.
The most wonderful thing that has come into my life has been a Golden Retriever called ďBONNYĒ.
Bonny has been trained by ďAssistance Dogs for IndependenceĒ, so she could help me become independent. I have been so reliant on other people all my life, and most occasions it even limits me being able to make my own decisions, as when it involves others the decision does not become totally mine.
I am 19 years old and developed Cerebral Palsy at the age of twelve months as a result of food poisoning caused by the bacteria found in salad bars (Listerious). This has made me physically disabled making me totally reliant on others. Some people think I am intellectually delayed because they think others have to think for me.
My recent visit to the Spastic Centre with Bonny caused the therapist to comment on the difference in my attitude and self-esteem. They have always been positive in helping me develop my independence as they know I am very capable of making my own decisions, but it was the presence of Bonny they said, had made such a difference. There was a special scale they have that grades the level of independence of people like myself and the centre is serious in having ďAssistance DogsĒ included on the form.
They were so impressed they asked me to talk to the association about these dogs because they were sure that others could benefit also.
Life includes self-esteem, attitude, confidence and independence, something which you donít get when you have to hang around your mother, carers or therapists all your life. They could see how some of their clients could even live independently at home with the help of an Assistance Dog.
When you think of the high costs of government support with carers having to be employed to help people, and the unpaid care my mother has to do with little support from others, surely the benefits the dogs can have in society must be considered.
Donít get me wrong about carers, I will still need their help in areas a dog canít, but if I could have more time in my life where I can spend privately and feel confident that I am safe, not trying to reach for things I canít, get things when I want to and not have to wait until someone is finishing doing their own thing before my needs are met. Meet my own needs like going to the fridge for a drink when I feel thirsty not 30 minutes later when I can ask someone when they are not busy.
If I tell you the change in my life since I have had Bonny it will make it clearer. Bonny helps in so many ways:
When I get up in the morning, Bonny releases a rope ladder that has to be pulled away from my bed at night for safety. This allows me to pull myself out of bed. I usually have to get my carer to do this and then she stands beside my chair to stop it from moving when I transfer. Bonny does this for me now, by standing firm against my chair so I can get up like a normal person when I want to and not have to wait for my carer to help me. This saves time in the morning for my carer to organise breakfast without interruptions.
Bonny helps me get my pyjamas off and can help me take off my shirt when I canít grab it with my hands. This was always done by my carer or mother.
I usually have difficulty holding my keys and other items, so I drop them. My tummy muscles make it very difficult for me to get them, so I have to ask someone to pick them up, now there back in my hand immediately with the assistance of Bonny.
My mother usually has to make sure I have everything I need before she goes and does the washing. This takes time out of her usually busy morning because I canít always think of everything. Now she can be like any other mother and go outside in the yard and if I need her, Bonny will bark on command and she knows I need her. Bonny will keep barking if itís urgent. My mum feels much better leaving me attended.
How great it is to get a cool drink from the fridge without waiting for someone to get it when the adds come on the television.
I can now go outside into the backyard without asking someone to open the door. My carer and mother are now going to be able to leave me at home alone feeling confident that I can get out in case of fire. You see, my little brother had Cerebral Palsy and was the only one that died in a house fire. He was found at the back door unable to open the door.
Bonny is my best mate who doesnít leave me when I am sick, she is always there when I need her, there are times I like to talk to someone who just listens and not ready to give advice. She encourages more friends to come and talk to me and when my friends leave and go places I canít go, I donít feel so left out because I have her with me and I am not alone.
Bonny has already made dramatic difference in the short time we have been together, providing me with love, confidence and the independence I have always dreamed of.
You see I am the lucky one.
Assistance Dogs for Independence was established as a non-profit organisation in August 1996, to train and maintain dogs in community settings to assist people with physical disabilities achieve a greater level of independence.
These Assistance Dogs are trained to perform a number of tasks including retrieving items off the floor, turning light switches on and off, opening and closing doors and other tasks that are difficult or near impossible for a person confined to a wheelchair. From a wheelchair, these tasks are more complex and time consuming, often leading to frustration and anxiety for the person. Independence is an important goal, being able to perform these tasks leads to greater self-esteem and an enhanced quality of life.
Assistance Dogs are already making a dramatic difference in the quality of life for individuals with a physical disability. Having an Assistance Dog relieves the loneliness, social isolation and physical immobility often associated with a disabling injury or illness.
The program has five main elements:
Labrador and Golden Retriever puppies are acquired and are thoroughly screened for health and temperament. Puppies are then placed with volunteer puppy-raisers who care for the puppies until they are 18 months of age. Their task is to socialise the puppy and attend weekly puppy classes.
The young adult dog then returns to the Assistance Dogs National Training Centre to undergo intensive specialised training for six months. Once trained a two week full-time "team training" program is then completed to correctly match up the dog with their new owners.
After a formal graduation, the "team" is then accredited. Assistance Dog trainers are available on a continuing basis to assist with any follow up training that may be required.
Increases independence by performing practical tasks for a person with a physical disability, while also providing companionship (eg assisting with opening and closing doors, pressing pedestrian crossings, retrieving a mobile phone).
Trained in a variety of surroundings and circumstances to enhance the quality of life for people with physical disabilities by performing interactive tasks while providing love (eg increasing motor skills for young children and adults).
Enhances the quality of life for people through pet facilitated therapy and interactions. These dogs are placed in areas where they can assist more than one individual (eg disability centres, disability childrens' homes).
For more information about Assistance Dogs for Independence please contact the association in Sydney (Australia) on:
FREE CALL 1800 688 364
Phone: +61-2-9548 3355
Facsimile: +61-2-9548 1949
Web Site: www.assistancedogs.org.au
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