What is it about?

The rollercoaster adventures of parenting three kids, dealing with disability and mental health - and discussing disability discrimination and how to tackle it.

Sunday, 8 August 2010


See this?

This is not Jenna. This is a photo I 'nicked' from Wikipedia.

Why did I do that? Well, because Jenna is coming on Friday!

You may recall that we tried adding a dog to our family. It wasn't very successful. Yes, yes, I hear you. A dog is a whole lot of extra work. But there are some pretty important positives too. You see, Beaver has mates but what he lacks is a "buddy". Possum is scared of dog, and in general a shy and frightfull child. And then there is Boo Boo.

After our disaster experience with a rescue dog, we figured if we try a dog again, we better do it properly.

Everyone knows about the fantastic work Guide Dogs (also called Seeing Eye Dogs) do. But dogs can do more. If you read or say "My Sisters Keeper" you know about dogs alerting people to a pending epilepsy attack. You may have seen Companion Dogs in Old People's Homes or hospitals. You may have heard about Autism dogs. Or Assistance Dogs. All these dogs provide some service for people with a disability. We were quite interested in the idea of an Assistance Dog, which specifically help people with a disability to gain more independence, but it was an impossible idea. Assistance dogs get co-trained by their adult owners, so that would mean many more years to wait. And on top of that, the service is so popular that the waiting lists are closed.

Thankfully, the Guide Dogs Association of NSW has a wonderful programme called "Pets as Therapy". In a (simplified) nutshell, this means that the puppy dogs that don't make it at Guide Dog training are given to people with a disability as a very special pet. You still end up with a clever dog and we thought we'd take it to puppy classes with Boo Boo and teach the dog to open doors and pick up things.

Mid last year I contacted the Guide Dogs Association to have Boo Boo assessed for the Pets as Therapy program. A lovely young lady called Sam came over and we had a long chat. At the end of it, I asked her what we needed to to for the assessment and how and when we started it. To my surprise, she said the assessment was done, and Boo Boo qualified and was now on the waiting list. I nearly choked in surprise. Most government or charity programmes take endless paperwork and assessments, and a long waiting time to find out if you qualify or not. Sam told us the wait was in the time it took matching a dog with a family, and warned us it would be about a year, but it can take longer. As we have pets - chickens and a free flying bird at time (we didn't have the snake then) and visiting wildlife, I figured we would wait quite a while to find a dog that would suit.

So imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from the Guide Dog Association last week, almost exactly a year after I initially approached them. Were we still interested? If so, Sam had found us a dog.

Yes. Sam had found us a dog!

I was so excited and nervous and scared all at the same time. But yes, we were still interested! So on Friday (the 13th of August, very auspicious day!) Jenna will join us.

Jenna (or Gemma, I was so excited on the phone I didn't quite get the spelling, but Jenna is stuck in my head now) is a female black Labrador. She is two years old and has worked for about a year as a Guide Dog. Unfortunately Jenna developed a small cyst on her eye. A specialist surgeon removed it and she is fine. But this means she can not work as a Guide Dog again. She's currently with a carer recovering from her surgery, and the carer has a bird which flies around in her house. Jenna has shown no interest in this bird, and equally ignores the cat that lives there, so all of this made Sam think that Jenna would be suitable for our crazy house.

Sam will bring her over on Friday.

So, how lucky are we!?!

We get this wonderful, trained dog. Once she is settled with us, we will teach her to open the door for Boo Boo and pick things up that she dropped when in her wheelchair. We were hoping to get a doggy smart enough to teach those things to, but with Jenna having worked as a Guide Dog, I see no particular problems there.

Yes, its a big job. Yes, it means extra work for me. Yes, it is a bit daunting.

But I think it will be more than worthwile. This is one special dog, and you don't get an opportunity like this easily. This is a wonderful gift for our daughter - in fact our whole family - and I will do everything it takes.

It's very exciting, and the whole family is counting the days till Friday!


fabig said...

Cross my fingers, that the dog will be happy to come into the family and that the kids will love it (or her). Be curious for friday. Call you then.

Jacqui said...

So, I'm wondering how it's all going? Our new puppy is a labrador and has quite a personality. I would love to know how it goes. I've thought about getting an assistance dog for Moo except they don't like you to have other animals.