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A friend for life: Waitlist for assistance dogs ‘growing every day’

A New Zealand charity which trains and manages assistance dogs says its waitlist is “growing every day”, and more funding and volunteers are needed.



Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust (ADNZT) breeds, trains, and certifies dogs to help children and young adults with special needs, such as autism.


ADNZT’s Fundraising & Communications Manager Kendra van der Linden says the dogs provide companionship, confidence and security, and are trained to be a perfect fit for their human.


“Our dogs can be trained to do a range of things for the child, such as pressure calming, where they apply pressure to the child in situations of overwhelm, to help calm the child,” Kendra says.


“They can also act as an anchor through a special harness called a tether harness.


“We work with a lot of children with neurodiverse conditions, and we want the match to work for the family - but we also really want it to work for the dog as well, so it's a partnership between the dog and the individual.”


13-year-old Natalie - who has epilepsy, autism and an intellectual disability - got assistance dog Rufus about three years ago.

Rufus the assistance dog.

Rufus the assistance dog.


“She's what they describe as sensory seeking with autism - so she's not overwhelmed by sights and sounds and new people - she kind of thrives on that,” Natalie’s mum Philippa says.


“Natalie's main thing was that she's always running away, and she doesn't really sense danger and she doesn't see risk.


“As she got older and she was still behaving like that - that's when it got really hard, because how do you stop someone who's now bigger and stronger and faster, and doesn't want to hold your hand, or can pull away from your hand really easily?


“You couldn't take your hands off her for a minute, even if you went to pay someone and do your EFTPOS, and let go of her hand for a second - she'd take that opportunity.


“It got to the point where I would have anxiety attacks because I really didn't know if I could keep her in one piece.”


Now, with specially-trained Rufus on the job, things have become more manageable.


“If she does have a seizure, Rufus calms and comforts her - he's really intuitive and comes and has a bit of a snuggle, so that's nice - but really his main job is keeping her safe.”

- Philippa



“In the early days, I would hold the leash and she would be attached to him with a belt – but nowadays, she leads him herself, but still has that belt attached," Philippa says.


“If he feels someone pulling on his lead, he knows that means to move forward - but if he feels pulling on his back, that means resist, and lie down and anchor.


“As soon as she does that kind of darting movement, it jerks on his back and he just goes 'brakes on'. You can see it click for her, she just gets reminded - oh, that's right, we're walking calmly and sensibly.”


The organisation currently has 31 working dogs placed around the country, but its waitlist for a dog has grown to more than 50.


“There's a huge demand for our services and the list is growing every day – we’re constantly receiving new emails and phone calls from families,” Kendra says.


“The families on our waitlist are waiting up to five years for their assistance dog, and of course, throughout that time, the needs of the individual who's waiting for their dog are changing.”

A young assistance pup.

A young assistance pup.


Due to unprecedented demand, the charity has been forced to temporarily pause adding new people to their waitlist.


“Our goal is to be able to increase our output of dogs, so that we can help them sooner.”


Being a not-for-profit organisation, ADNZT is heavily reliant on fundraising and sponsorship to reach that goal – some of which is done by the families who receive the dogs, but most comes from partnerships and corporate sponsorship.


“Some of our main supporters are the Lindsay Foundation, Hill’s Pet Nutrition … we also have the Scarlet Trust, and of course the ANZ Staff Foundation, which has come on board to support the purchase of a puppy development vehicle,” Kendra says.


The ANZ Staff Foundation’s $9,995 donation will provide transport for the Trust’s operations in Christchurch.


“What that means is that our puppy development adviser in Christchurch has a vehicle to pick up all the puppies - she can take them to the vet, transport them when they are new puppies at around nine weeks old, and transport them to their puppy raiser homes - so it's pretty phenomenal, that contribution and it's filled with gorgeous puppies, so a very rewarding thing to fund.”


ANZDT is also always looking for volunteers to help raise puppies in various areas – more information can be found on the Assistance Dogs NZ website.


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