Some of you might recall that my daughter and I did a 100km hike over 5 days last year to raise much needed funds for mindDog Australia. Erica and I walked the Great Ocean Walk trail, from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles last Easter and it was painful, exhilarating, exhausting and definitely challenging both physically and mentally, but worth every bit of it and guess what? We are about to do it all again and this time we are roping in Jess, who runs my puppy classes in Richmond at the Swan Street Vet Clinic. This year we start our hike on April 2nd and should complete it by April 6th.
Who is mindDog?
For those of you that don’t know, mindDog is a not for profit organisation that accredits Psychiatric Service Dogs to be Assistance or Service Dogs for their handlers. Their owners all suffer various degrees of mental health illnesses, whether it be PTSD, social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorders, agoraphobia, personality disorders, depression, autism, Asperger Syndrome and even bipolar disorders. Sadly people who suffer these illnesses withdraw themselves into their very lonely world and everything just becomes very difficult. Some don’t leave their homes for months or have panic attacks when they are out in public.
Research have recently shown that quite a number of the mindDog handlers have not only managed to reduce their therapy sessions but some have also managed to successfully come off their medication. This is because their accredited dog has assisted in them going out, pushing them to tackle some of their fears and allowing them to develop new coping skills. Some handlers have also incredibly come ‘off their dog’, meaning their dog was retired because it was no longer needed to assist them out of their homes so it then continues to be their pet dog instead.
What is so special about these dogs?
The dogs we train are everyday pet dogs. They are not specially bred necessarily to be a service dog however what they do have is an unbelievable bond with their person. So much so that they notice the change in the moods at its inception, they know what calms their person down, they know how to get their attention when their person is having a flashback or panic attack, they know how to block people from interfering when anxiety is climbing and they even know to lead their person to a quiet space to calm down. Many of these ‘tasks’ are natural to the dog and some are reinforced through training. Either way, what these dogs do for their person is truly amazing.
Cath, the founder of mindDog does suffer from a mental health illness and she found comfort and confidence when she was out in public with her dog. She realised that many others could also benefit from this. Her dog had ways of picking up when she would feel anxious and he would calm her, move her, apply pressure to settle her and most of all give her something to focus on. This had an enormous impact on her general wellbeing and suddenly things became a little bit easier.
After a lot of research, Cath found an independent assessor who could test her dog and accredit him for public access. This meant he could go into shops, medical appointments, on public transport, supermarkets, restaurants and even planes. He would have the same rights as a Guide Dog. So in 2011 mindDog Australia was founded and launched.
So why am I trying to raise funds for these guys?
Because I happen to be one of their trainers and hopefully in a few weeks time, I will also be one of the very few PAT (Public Access Test) assessors in this country. In fact both Lisa and I will be aiming for that accreditation as trainers cannot assess their own clients. Just recently, a hand picked number of trainers from all over Australia, including Lisa and myself, attended a weekend seminar in Sydney in hope to increase the number of assessors to alleviate the pressure on costs. We will be tested ourselves at the end of this month!
At the moment, there are only two PAT assessors for mindDog in Australia, one in NSW and one in QLD, so they have to travel the country every month to assess hundreds of dog waiting to give their owners a new lease on life. The trouble with having only two assessors is that the small fee they charge for the test does not cover the airfare, the hire care, the motel and other costs so the organisation relies solely on donations. If the client is homeless or financially challenged, then this small fee is waived which really makes it hard for mindDog to stay afloat.
Because of the dwindling funds, mindDog has had to shut down their applications until September this year which means many people are waiting in a cue and each day that passes is detrimental to their improvement.
There are currently over 600 mindDogs out there either fully accredited, almost ready to be tested or ready to be retested (they have to be retested every 12 months to ensure they are still suitable to work). The numbers are growing dramatically as more and more specialists and professionals in the mental health industry have seen the importance of having a mindDog and are now recommending it as part of their therapy.
Unless mindDog have more funds, the crew simply cannot get out to see all these dogs to start their training process or even test them.
Hopefully, with the new assessors coming on board, more dogs can become accredited at a faster rate, there is less travelling for the two main assessors and applications can continue to come in.
Where will the money go?
The money we raise will pay for the manuals the dog owner has to complete before they get their jackets, it also pays for their custom made jacket with the mindDog logo on it and without the jacket the dog cannot work inside public spaces, it pays for the testing, the retesting and quite possibly another staff member who can carry out the administrating work. All these things add up and the more we can raise, the quicker applications can start rolling in again.
So I hope that you can help us out and donate to our cause. If you can donate some money, please click on the link above and it will take you directly to our fundraising page.
Don’t forget to check in on our Facebook page for updates on each leg, photos and stories. We hope you can share the journey with us.