Assistance dog Lobo has taught an 11-year-old Omokoroa girl "patience and tolerance", giving her the independence needed to live her life.
A Bay of Plenty mum has spoken about how Lobo changed her daughter Georgie Farrell's life, who has autism spectrum disorder, global development delay and speech delay with hearing issues.
This comes during the Assistance Dogs NZ Trust appeal week, with the organisation calling on the public to help fund their plans to double dog training graduates in the next three years.
Lobo ensured Georgie didn't run away from her parents into dangerous situations like busy roads. The dog also helped her become more verbal through her interactions with him.
But he passed away at the start of this year suddenly due to a ruptured spleen.
"Prior to Lobo, we weren't able to go out as a family, and if we did we always had to hold Georgie's hands or her wrists to keep her safe. Having to put a harness on her meant we were subject to many judgemental looks, as Georgie's disability isn't immediately obvious," Georgie's mum Liz Farrell said.
"Lobo taught her patience and tolerance, kept her calm and improved her language from hand gestures and grunts to spoken words. Trips to the supermarket or the park were now possible and in fact enjoyable with Lobo as her anchor."
Six years later, Georgie is now able to take the school bus and cross the road by herself.
"She did struggle after the loss; we had been able to have our life as a family due to Lobo, and then when he was gone, I liken it to if you use a wheelchair and that broke. Lobo was a key mobility aid."
Georgie was paired with new assistance dog Willow in July.
"It's hard to quantify how much Lobo and Willow have helped Georgie with her development, and the choices and options they have both given her. Assistance dogs allow those with often invisible disabilities to search for and achieve acceptance, opening up a world of social interactions."
With the charity's current output at 8 to10 trained dogs per year, plans are in place to increase output to 18 to 20 dogs trained annually by 2024.
The charity now services 40 clients around New Zealand and has 16 puppies in training. There are currently 60 people on the waitlist.
Chair Sinead Horgan said that trust was funded solely by generous donations and sponsors.
"That's why our annual appeal week is critical to further our plans to engage more dog trainers and ramp up our breeding programme, ultimately serving the unique needs of the disabled community."
The charity has cancelled their street collections around the country due to Covid-19 disruptions, and are focussing on online donations.
It costs $75,000 to train and place an assistance dog into a home, with each client asked to fundraise $20,000 toward their dog.
For more information, visit: www.assistancedogstrust.org.nz/appeal