Assistance Dogs provide independence and freedom plus great companionship for people with physical disabiliites who are not able to do everyday activities such as open and close doors, pick up dropped items and press the buttons at traffic lights.
Assistance Dogs organisation currently has 50 highly intelligent puppies at-the-ready waiting to be trained as Assistance Dogs for people who have a physical disability. Top Dog and CEO of Assistance Dogs Australia, Richard Lord, talks about the organisation’s urgent appeal to train its new puppies …
Assistance Dogs Australia trains Labradors and Golden Retrievers to help people with physical disabilities. Tell us about your work?
Assistance Dogs Australia is a tiny but national charity that trains Labradors and Golden Retrievers to help people with physical disabilities.
We all know how important our four legged friends can be, but just imagine if you needed them to help you with everyday tasks as well. Assistance Dogs do exactly that, acting as the hands and arms of people in need and opening the door to a life of freedom and independence.
Our fantastic Assistance Dogs are trained to help their team mates in all sorts of ways – by picking up dropped items, pressing the button at the traffic lights, alert barking or getting the phone if their team mate is in trouble, and even unloading the washing machine! They are a constant companion providing love and companionship and smiles with just a wag of their tails.
Assistance Dogs Australia currently operates without ongoing government funding and relies heavily on volunteers and sponsorship. Each dog is an investment of over $26,000, and it takes 2 years to train each puppy; however, dogs are placed with their recipients free of charge. Recipients include people who were born with developmental disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy or Spina Bifida, people who acquire debilitating illnesses later in life, like Multiple Sclerosis and those who have been injured in tragic accidents and will never walk again.
How did you become involved with the organisation?
About nine years ago, I saw a job ad in my local paper advertising the position at Assistance Dogs Australia. I had never heard of Assistance Dogs, but due to my special education and charity background, I jumped at the opportunity. I met the founders and saw what they had achieved with the 3 staff. The organisation had a great feel, and I could see a blue sky opportunity to help many more people with disabilities around the country.
Why are the Labrador and Golden Retriever breeds chosen to specifically do this sort of work?
Assistance Dogs Australia trains Labradors and Golden Retrievers because of three reasons:
They are the number one big pet dogs in the country, so most people have experienced them. The general public have a lot of confidence with Labs and Goldies, and accept them into the community. This makes it easier for the team, the person and their assistance dog, to access public places with their service dog.
They’re easy to train, because they love food! Assistance Dogs Australia only uses positive reinforcement methods, and much of that includes giving food rewards. Also, these dogs are gentle natured and love being with people.
How does a person with a physical disability qualify and apply for a Service Dog?
The first step is to fill in an application form on our website, which should be accompanied with a recommendation from a medical professional and photographic or video evidence of a suitable home environment for a dog. After the application is processed, the person will be interviewed over the phone by Assistance Dogs Australia staff and then receive an in person interview.
Once they are accepted, they are placed on a waiting list. Assistance Dogs Australia takes great care in matching the personality of the applicant to the personality of their future Assistance Dog.
When the recipient receives their Service Dog, they need to pass a public access test together. They do this test yearly with Assistance Dogs Australia, to ensure they can maintain their public access rights as a team.
Applicants for service dogs need to be over eighteen; however, companion dogs can be placed with children as well.
What’s the difference between a Service Dog, Facility Dog and a Companion Dog?
Service Dogs – these dogs have full public access rights. These dogs increase independence by performing practical tasks for people with physical disabilities, while also providing love and companionship. They assist their recipients by opening and closing doors, pressing the button at pedestrian crossings, retrieving all manner of dropped items, paying the cashier at the shops and even retrieving bottles of water from the fridge.
Companion Dogs are trained in a variety of surroundings and circumstances to enhance the quality of life for people with physical disabilities by providing interactive tasks and love. For example, they can increase motor skills for young children to help overcome their disability. These dogs are primarily for children, those who need additional care and people who only need a helping paw when around the house, as they do not have full public access rights.
Facility Dogs are placed in residential or day-program facilities to benefit the residents through enhancing emotional and physical well-being. These dogs are trained to support residents in the facility. They are not trained to support the residents for community access; therefore, are not trained to travel on public transport or support the recipients in public settings.
Assistance Dogs and Guide Dogs do very important but distinct work. Tell us about this?
Assistance Dogs Australia trains dogs to be the hands and arms of people with physical disabilities, rather than the eyes. Assistance Dogs do physical tasks for their team mates, opening and closing doors, helping them to get dressed and even getting bottles of water from the fridge.
For Coffs Coast residents, tell us what is involved in raising and training a dog?
Assistance Dogs is sniffing out volunteer puppy raisers to take care of our super puppies for the first fourteen months of their training and socialisation.
For the first six months, pups and raisers attend Kindergarten training classes once a week with an Assistance Dogs Australia Instructor and then once every two months for the remainder of the 18 months. We encourage puppy raisers to take the pups everywhere, so that the pups are socialised in a range of community settings. They can go to shopping centres, the supermarket, on public transport, to the cinema – everywhere! If puppy raisers go on holidays etc. we also have puppy sitters to look after the dogs while they are away.
If you can’t take on the full-time commitment but would like to get involved, you can volunteer as a puppy sitter taking care of super pups when their raisers go on holidays.
Puppy raisers and sitters do not have to cover any costs related to raising a dog. Assistance Dogs Australia supplies food, a crate which acts as a bed and a training unit, tick and flea treatment and all medical costs, such as vaccination, de-sexing etc. Puppies need to spend most of their time with raisers and sleep inside. They cannot be left for more than three hours at a time.
To get involved or find out more about training programs:
You can contact Assistance Dogs Australia by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1800 688 364. You can visit our website at www.assistancedogs.org.au
Story by Karen Farrell.