About a year ago, I was contacted by Melanie Donne, founder of Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa. Melanie wanted to know if I was interested in becoming KFAAA’s Wellington Region dog behaviour consultant. She had heard of my work with the SPCA and thought that if I had time I could help out KFAAA as well.
I told her that while I was very happy to help, but I had no previous experience with training assistance dogs and I would need to bone up (no pun intended) and do some research, before I felt I could be of much help. Melanie was ecstatic, she is probably one of the most positive people I have ever met!
So in the last year Melanie and I have been touching base, I have been offering advice where I could and last summer I was able to help KFAAA receive their second assistance animal from the German Shepherd stock at the New Zealand Police Dog Training Center in Upper Hutt. My job was to meet the prospective canine candidate, Uni, and put him through a general temperament test. Melanie reviewed the results and decided that Uni would indeed be a good candidate for assistance work.
Earlier this year I took a two day scent tracking seminar by American Police Dog Trainer, Steve White, and have been reading up on assistance, tracking, and working dogs. Any books I could find: ‘Scent of the Missing’ by Susannah Charleson, and ‘Until Tuesday’ by Luis Carlos Montalavan, are two of the books I found very useful. Not only helping me learn the basics of disabilities, scenting, or tracking, but giving me insights into what these dogs actually mean to their human partners.
Melanie and KFAAA have opened my eyes to the need for assistance animals, not just for people with physical disabilities but especially people with more hidden diseases: diabetes, Parkinsons, PTSD, brain injuries and balance issues. People who get discriminated against because they lookphysically capable. There is little support for this group and dogs can help, not just with everyday life or simple tasks, but by alerting the person to changes in their blood-glucose levels (yes dogs can do that), assisting with confidence for people with anxiety or PTSD. There are so many ways dogs can help.
Numerous articles have been written about the budding organization, KFAAA, in magazines as well as newspapers. KFAAA has also been granted Vice-Regal patronage and joins a select group of charities honoured to have the Governor-General, Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, as their Patron. Melanie, her assistance dog Rica, and I met the Governor–General a few weeks ago in an exclusive photo call for KFAAA at Government House in Wellington.
This month I have finally been able to work with Melanie and Uni for the first time, introducing them to the clicker, and starting some exercises for Uni that will lead him to be a diabetes assistance dog. Two nights ago the beginning of Uni’s story was shown on One News TVNZ (New Zealand’s National News at 6PM).
If you are interested in this sort of work or want to know more about how assistance dogs can help, I highly recommend reading “Until Tuesday” by Montlavan.
KFAAA is a charity, and would greatly appreciate anyone interested in donating skills, time or products to help the charity and care for the assistance dogs in training. Please contact Melanie if you would like to help.
Donations can be made personally to any branch of the National Bank (account number 060793- 0335053-09) or via internet banking. All donations over $5.00 are tax-deductible.