The team here at AA Pet Insurance wanted to put a spotlight on the incredibly important work of New Zealand Assistance Dogs. From pooches that perform life-saving epileptic seizure techniques to dogs that allow a blind mother to safely walk her 5-year old daughter to school. Plus woofers, noses at the ready, sniffing for the presence of cancer in urine. These are New Zealand's caring canines.
Kiri and Molly
Meet Kiri and her marvelous Molly, her black Labrador Retriever, who is her Epilepsy Assist Dog – giving her a more independent and happy life.
Before Kiri got Molly ten years ago, she had had to rely on her supportive family and friends to take her to any place she wanted to go. Once she welcomed Molly into her life it unlocked a world of independence for her. By having Molly by her side she had the ability to get herself to the places she needed to go by using the public transport system and by walking. These had been things she was a bit dubious about doing alone, as she tended to wander when she had a seizure and didn't know where she was for a short period of time.
Once, as retold to Kiri by a witness, Molly bravely pulled Kiri off a busy road when she had a seizure unbeknownst to her. Molly has also saved her life when Kiri had a seizure and fell onto the rail tracks while waiting for a train. Molly’s response alerted guards who safely removed Kiri from the track before the train arrived.
Molly, if she catches Kiri at the right time, can even stop her going fully into a seizure, she does this by jumping in front of Kiri (if she is standing) or nudging/licking her (if she is sitting), this works to distract Kiri and can stop her going any further into that seizure.
Before long, Kiri was able to live independently and she ended up meeting her new neighbour Nick, who she eventually married. Nick and Kiri wanted to start a family but they didn't make the decision to have a baby lightly. With Kiri's parents living only five minutes away, they were able to spend every day with Kiri and their new baby Jacob when Nick was at work. Jacob has now started school and Molly is in semi-retirement. Kiri has a new dog Tyson living with them who is ready to take over as Kiri's next assist dog with Molly enjoying slowing down but watching on to make sure the new charge does his job correctly!
Medical Detection 'Poster Boy'
Meet superstar Levi - who is the first dog in the country to be raised by K9 Medical Detection New Zealand (K9MD). Levi is specifically trained for the early detection of bowel cancer.
It is widely acknowledged that early detection greatly enhances the chance of a patient’s survival. Working alongside a full scientific and clinical team, it is K9 Medical Detection NZ’s aim to create a simple diagnostic urine test as a value-added tool in the fight against cancer.
Enter Levi von Heisenberg, sniffer at the ready, who is joined at work by Weta who is also being trained for bowel cancer detection.
Levi is a large, strong, confident German shepherd who loves to work and lives with Pauline Blomfield, K9MD’s CEO. When he’s not detecting cancer samples in K9MD’s training centre in Dunedin, Levi enjoys life on the farm where there’s plenty of room to stretch his legs.
K9MD describe him as a real poster boy – and they’re pretty sure he knows it.
Jess and Jade
Jess has been blind since she was 18 days old. The three guide dogs she has had, Iona, Yani and now Jade, were all funded from donations to the Blind Low Vision NZ Guide Dogs from kind New Zealanders - giving Jess confidence and independence.
Jade, the loving, clever, loyal black Labrador at Jess’ side is her third guide dog, and the one with which Jess has the most special bond.
“She’s not just my mobility aid, she is my world,” says Jess.
“With Jade, I don’t feel vulnerable. When I’ve got her next to me, I know that things are going to be fine. Guide dogs work with you as a team, and it just takes the pressure off.”
“She takes me around all the obstacles, which I don’t even know are there half the time and I don’t have to worry about judging where they are or how to get around them.”
“I’d be lost without her.”
A big milestone for Jess has been gaining the freedom and independence to walk her daughter Ella to school.
“It’s a very big deal considering it took me till just after Ella turned four to actually be able to go out with her by myself, independently. That’s a big, big deal. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
Lady and Lachlan
Lachlan has Cerebral Palsy and Autism. Below is his mothers account of introducing Lady from the Assistance Dogs NZ Trust into the family in 2017.
My son Lachlan has Cerebral Palsy and Autism. He is awkward on his feet, non-verbal and gets very anxious around people. Lady, his assistance dog, joined us in February 2017 and instantly changed Lachlan’s life, his little sister Isabelle’s life, our lives, and the friends and family around us.
Suddenly Lachlan could participate in events that had been too stressful to undertake before. Five days after Lady arrived, we went to the Night Noodle Market on a Sunday afternoon. It was the first outing that we had ever enjoyed as a family, and we stayed for an hour and a half. Normally one parent would go on outings with our daughter, whilst the other stayed home with Lachlan.
Lachlan was excluded from playing with his peers in the neighbourhood. He was the weird kid in the corner who watched everyone else play at the park etc. Parents used to rush their children past him at the shopping centre in case they ask the “wrong” question.
Suddenly, the dog attracted both adults and children to Lachlan. They would ask to pat his dog and ask him questions about Lady. Lachlan went from being the outsider to the centre of attention. With that, his confidence grew over time.
Now Lachlan will happily go anywhere with us as a family – in fact helping with the weekly shop is one of his favourite things to do. He has the confidence to engage with both children and adults anywhere we go. At the park, once everyone has had a pat with Lady, he runs off to play with the kids now.
For the wider community, they get to engage with a disabled child in a way they never did before and understand more about how to communicate. Disability is less frightening. We regularly have people in our suburb come up to us and comment on the changes they see with Lachlan.
A big thank you to the organisations below for sharing their stories. You can find further information on the great work they are doing by visiting their websites below.