9 Aug 2015

Assistance dogs have their day

5:30 pm on 9 August 2015

Nine-year-old Esther Schofer, who has diabetes, is a lot more confident and relaxed when she has her diabetic response dog Molly by her side.

Esther and her medical response dog, Molly.

Esther and her medical response dog, Molly. Photo: Supplied

Diagnosed when she was 4, Esther experiences frequent severe seizures in her sleep.

Her mother Kylee said it was stressful as she never knows when Esther is going to have a seizure.

"We would have to try and give her juice: if that didn't work we would call an ambulance, she has had to go to hospital about five times."

Ms Schofer said since her daughter has had Molly, she has not been to hospital once.

It is success stories like Esther's that reminds Merenia Donne, founder of Kotuku Foundation for Assistance Animals Aotearoa (KFAAA), the hard work is worth it.

The Foundation is celebrating its success stories as it comes to the end of International Assistance Dog Week. (IADW)

A registered charity, the foundation trains medical assistance dogs that help people with conditions such as diabetes, Addison's disease and seizures.

Ms Donne founded the charity in 2006 after her German Shepherd Nikita saved her life.

"I was in a car accident. I ended up driving off a cliff and rolling a few times.

"Nikita was able to drag me out of the car, if she wasn't there who knows what would have happened."

Ms Donne said since then, the charity has trained 12 medical assistance dogs which are now working around the country.

"Doing this work is extremely rewarding: to have the ability to change someone's life like these dogs do is an amazing thing."

"The bond between the dog and its owner is so strong: to have something by your side at all times that has the ability to save your life is reassuring." Ms Donne said.

The charity has one principal trainer and a few more who donate their time. It can take anywhere from six to 16 months to train each dog.

Ms Donne said the charity has trained 11 dogs that are specifically trained for diabetics.

"Worldwide, there are only around 125 diabetic response dogs, so with 11 in New Zealand our charity is often referred to as a 'miracle worker."

She said she fields dozens of inquiries about the dogs each week, but as a charity they had to make tough calls and prioritise who needs a dog the most.

Vicky and her medical response dog, Ada.

Vicky and her medical response dog, Ada. Photo: Supplied

Vicki Parry, who has type one diabetes, said her life has been changed for the better since training her Siberian Huskie Ada as a diabetic response dog.

"Ada has been 100 percent accurate with her warnings of changes in my blood sugar a full 30-45 minutes ahead of any existing man-made technology."

"She gives me a firm nudge with her noise, it's what I call a public friendly response. I work in an office so it wouldn't be ideal for her to be barking at me."

Ms Parry has Ada by her side at all times, and said she could not recommend medical assistance dogs more.

"I still have to monitor my blood sugars but having Ada is added security."

"Lots of people come up and ask me about Ada and her role, so it is great to be able to educate the public about both diabetes and medical response dogs." Ms Parry said.