Matching an assistance dog with a person, usually a child, is an exact process. The dog’s temperament and the person’s needs must coincide for the match to be effective.
Assistance Dogs NZ Trust breeds, raises, trains and finds homes for assistance dogs, whose job is to help people with disabilities. Ninety per cent of the Trust’s customers are children, often with multiple disabilities that prevent them enjoying the same quality of life and daily activities as other children.
Assistance dogs provide companionship, guidance, safety and medical alert functions for the people they belong to, functions that are often life-changing for the families involved.
The Trust oversees and manages the hard work of raising and training the dogs until they are ready to be matched. It also maintains a relationship with the dog and its new family after it has been placed. Although the Trust has six employees, much of the early work is done by volunteers.
Volunteers breed the dogs, which are all golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers or a cross of the two. From eight weeks of age the puppies are cared for by volunteer puppy raisers who do the important work of socialising the puppies into family and community life.
The Trust’s Funding Development Manager, Wendy Isaacs, says “Our puppy raisers open their hearts and their homes to our dogs until they are ready to be trained. Most of them have a puppy every year. It’s a huge but very rewarding commitment.”
Puppy raisers are supported by the Trust’s Puppy Development Coordinator who visits the puppies fortnightly in the volunteers’ homes, providing technical support and advice. At age one, the puppies are trained by professional trainers in preparation for their working life.
“We are thrilled to have received support from Trust Waikato towards the costs of reaching and supporting our puppy raisers,” says Wendy.
In 2015/2016, Trust Waikato was pleased to donate $7,000 towards Assistance Dogs NZ Trust’s volunteer costs.