Over the last two years, my daughter and I have headed off on an adventure, walking 100km in 5 days to raise funds for mindDog Australia. Last year I even managed to bring along Jess, who runs puppy classes for me in Richmond and at the end of it, her local Lions Club donated $500! Whilst my daughter and Jess will not be joining me this year, I am super pleased to say that we have Steve and his amazing dog Inka, joining us. Inka is a Border Collie and she became accredited as a mindDog Service Dog last year and I had the honour of testing her and passing her. It will be wonderful having someone join us who understands just how important mindDog is because without Inka, her dad would be lost. This year the walk will start on April 3rd and finish on April 7th.
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?
mindDog relies totally on donations and bequeaths to keep the organisation running. Many of the crew in the background are volunteers and these people have the mammoth task of sifting through all the applications, processing them, sending out diaries, getting these dogs into the program and then monitoring them over the 12 months whilst they train. During this period, they also get their vests and ID cards and Lisa and I then meet with each and everyone of them at the start, again in the middle and then finally for their official test. Lisa and I handle all the Victorian dogs and dedicate each Wednesday to go out and see these dogs and meet their owners and hear their stories and we can be anywhere from Werribee to Shepparton to the Peninsula or even Colac! We go where the mindDogs are so we can reduce the stress levels of the owner.
Hearing their stories puts into perspective just how lucky we are and despite feeling a little saddened during our meets, we are quickly uplifted when we see the changes their dogs have made for them. For some, the dogs have saved their lives, for others it has brought them out of their life of solitude through fear and taken them back out into society. All I know is that their dogs, no matter how small or big they are, brings a smile and warmth to these people and Lisa and I love that we are playing a role in this now.
There are currently over 800 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.
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 trainee vest with the mindDog logo on it and without the jacket the dog cannot work inside public spaces, it pays for the testing, the retesting, the accredited vest, the accredited winter coat, the ID tags 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 and out.
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.