Poppy funds will help train assistance dog

By liz.wylie@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

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CANINE COMPANION: Dion Taka meets assistance dog Rika and Kotuku Foundation founder Merenia Donne.PHOTO/ SUPPLIED
CANINE COMPANION: Dion Taka meets assistance dog Rika and Kotuku Foundation founder Merenia Donne.PHOTO/ SUPPLIED

Some of the funds collected from this year's annual Poppy Appeal will be directed to a Whanganui organisation for the cost of training an assistance dog to help an injured veteran.

The Kotuku Foundation, founded by Whanganui woman Merenia Donne, will train a dog to assist Dion Taka who was wounded in the 2012 Battle of Baghak in Afghanistan.

Mr Taka suffers from chronic pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and he and his family have seen what assistance dogs have done for overseas veterans and their families.

Mr Taka's wife, Frances said the dogs are trained to assist veterans to live with PTSD and have a calming affect on them.

"We spoke to one veteran from Denmark who said his dog has changed his life and he hasn't had nightmares since he got the dog," she said.

Ms Donne said there was growing evidence about the benefits of assistance dogs for those with PTSD.

The Kotuku Foundation has trained the only two PTSD assistance dogs currently working in New Zealand and there are two more in training but none have yet been trained for the specific needs of combat veterans.

Ms Donne said it had always been her aim to develop a specialised programme with returned service personnel.

"I have a head injury and PTSD. My grandfather was a squadron leader in the RAF and my father was a Ghurka so I do have very personal insight," she said.

German shepherd Rika is Ms Donne's own assistance dog who travels everywhere with her.

Dion and Frances Taka are working with the Kotuku foundation to find a suitable dog for training and it may be a puppy or a young adult dog.

Once the right dog is found, training would take six to 18 months.

RSA Wanganui manager Kyle Dalton said all returned services personnel who had been involved in combat were likely to experience some level of PTSD.

"There are different degrees of severity for everyone and some people will need more support than others."

-Proceeds from local poppy sales support Whanganui veterans and a $3 donation can be made to the national fund by texting POPPY to 4662.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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