Abigail Pratt was a miracle baby, but as a child even the simplest of tasks was too overwhelming for her as she suffered a range of maladies. They tried everything, but Abigail was effectively housebound. Then Abigail met Rosie, and everything changed. Paul Williams reports.
A shaggy black dog has become a guardian angel for a Shannon teenager who struggled with daily tasks that most people take for granted.
When she was born, Abigail Pratt weighed just 516 grams. She was a miracle baby. Her mother Rochelle endured 10 miscarriages before Abigail arrived after just 27 weeks of pregnancy.
The youngest of four sisters, Abigail, 17, was in hospital in an incubator for the first five months of her life as doctors worked to ensure she was well enough to be taken home.
Initially Abigail was fed through a tube. After learning to eat and swallow, she began to thrive. But as a toddler, it became apparent that the easiest of tasks were extremely difficult for her.
Abigail was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, sensory processing difficulties, anxiety and panic attacks, which could make the simplest of tasks overwhelming.
Her condition began to deteriorate a few years ago in what her mother described as "hitting a rock wall". A trip to town was impossible, resulting in an overwhelming fear and shaking.
Mrs Pratt said they had tried everything, from medication to expert advice. They were housebound.
"Under no circumstances can we fault the help we have had from health professionals. But we were living in a world of 'what is this?'," she said.
Wanting to understand, Mrs Pratt was told that Abigail's feeling could be likened to that of being in Times Square in New York on New Year's Eve with light bulbs flickering everywhere at once.
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Abigail said she was frustrated by the invisibility of what she was going through.
"I don't know what's actually happening. It's super hard to explain. I'm super powerless," she said.
Willing to give anything a try, it was suggested they look at DPT - Deep Pressure Therapy - that could come from a trained dog.
It was then they met Rosie, a six-month-old labradoodle from Tauranga. The pair were originally introduced in a trial period to see if the union would benefit. But after a short time, there was no doubt.
They had been together for four months now. Abigail said Rosie was changing her life.
"She's my guardian angel," she said, as she handed her friend another liver treat.
"She's always there if I need her and I know she will keep me safe."
Mrs Pratt said the effect Rosie had on Abigail was incredible. They were inseparable. As well as a companion, Rosie would sense when Abigail was having an attack and would press her body weight on her, first with a paw, then with more of her body which had a calming effect.
"I don't even know if there are words to explain Rosie," she said.
"She has brought laughter back. It was very serious for awhile. Her impact has been huge. Abby has just blossomed."
First with a paw, Rosie would comfort Abigail and prevented her from hurting herself during episodes, and also provide companionship and protection.
Mrs Pratt said when they visited the therapy dogs in Tauranga she couldn't believe her eyes as she watched Abigail confidently take Rosie for a walk. It was something she had never been able to do on her own before.
They knew they had to have Rosie.
"It's life changing for her," she said.
In a short time Rosie has taken Abigail to the movies, the dentist, the library, the dog park... and they are even planning to go to a ball at the youth group she has joined.
"It's these little things..." Mrs Pratt said.
Rosie sleeps with Abigail. She has quickly learnt her triggers, what she likes and doesn't like. If she can sense Abigail is upset, she responds straight away.
"I just love snuggling with her," she said.
Abigail recently received a $5000 grant from the Mazda Foundation enabling her to buy Rosie, for which Mrs Pratt said they "tremendously grateful".
Abigail was one of 32 recipients who collectively received more than $100,000 in the latest round of Mazda Foundation funding for 2019.