Life-changing pets training in the Bay

By Michele Hunter

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Wendy Isaacs and her puppy Logan - 8 months. Logan will be trained as a dog for the Assistance Dogs Trust. PHOTO/GEORGE NOVAK
Wendy Isaacs and her puppy Logan - 8 months. Logan will be trained as a dog for the Assistance Dogs Trust. PHOTO/GEORGE NOVAK

The Western Bay is now home to three puppies who could change the lives of children living with autism or diabetes.

They are being trained to become assistance dogs who will be paired up mostly with children living with one, or multiple, disabilities.

Ninety per cent of these children will have autism, others diabetes and many a combination of autism and other disabilities including epilepsy, vision impairment or cerebral palsy.

Tauranga woman Wendy Isaacs has spent the last 15 years breeding and training between 60 and 70 guide dogs for the Blind Foundation and began working as funding development manager and dog trainer for the ADNZ Trust in February.

"We specialise in multiple disabilities ... we believe everyone deserves the opportunity of a dog," she said.

Mrs Isaacs is raising 8-month-old golden labrador, Logan, whose sister, Libby, is being trained by Athenree woman Cathy Shannon.

The Western Bay is also home to 18-month-old golden retriever, Casey and her father, 4-year-old stud dog Danny.

Tauranga Vets is now providing discounted vet services to the puppies being raised here.

Practice owner Dr David McDonnell said he was happy to support the Trust after learning how much of a difference the dogs make to young New Zealanders.

"We all think of dogs as man's best friend but, in many cases, these dogs are true lifesavers.

"We should never underestimate the value and peace of mind that gives to families who are already faced with significant challenges.

"As well as looking out for children's safety, these dogs also provide loyal companionship, which can boost a child's confidence at school and help them reach their full potential. This is a charity well worth supporting."

Mrs Isaacs said the Trust used labradors and retrievers as assistance dogs, or a cross between the two, as the breeds were renowned for being confident but compliant and not too excitable.

"They have enough get up and go and are good socially so they can go anywhere with the client."

There are 18 dogs working throughout New Zealand, about 16 of which are paired with children, the youngest aged 5.

The Trust receives six to 10 enquiries a week.

Mrs Isaacs said there was one application from a client in Tauranga and the mother of a young boy with autism had indicated a strong interest in applying for a dog when her son was older.

In the case of autistic children, the dogs are tethered to their owners around their waist. If the child tries to run off, the dog - which is wearing a padded six-point harness - will sit down and brace themselves. "The dog just becomes a rock really, an anchor," Mrs Isaacs said.

Children with autism were generally enthralled with the dogs, inspecting every inch of them. "That's why they have to be so compliant and tolerant."

The dogs can be taught a range of tricks including high fives, playing dead or bowing, which can help children with autism to relate to others in social settings.

"They just have this affinity and it's this whole communication thing just happens between dog and child," Mrs Isaacs said.

The dogs go everywhere, including school or hospital, with their owners and help keep the child calm in the classroom. They will also give them a nudge if they are making rapid, repetitive movements, typical of autism.

If a child is diabetic, their dog will be trained to sense when they need insulin by smelling their breath and alert their parents by pressing an especially designed bell. Dogs are matched with children for life.

"That will be their forever home. We want the dogs to be happy. That's really important to us," Mrs Isaacs said.

Once the puppies have finished being socialised and had time to have fun as a puppy they will be sent to Auckland or the Waikato for four to six months of training, depending on the needs of the child they will be matched with.

The Trust, which was founded in 2008 by Te Awamutu woman Julie Hancox, receives no government funding. The dogs cost about $60,000 to raise and train from birth and families are asked to fundraise $20,000 towards this cost.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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