Ask a dog lover and they will agree that dogs are pure joy and the best mood enhancer on the planet. Carlie Wacker discovers some very special Sunshine Coast canines that are not only making people happy but truly enhancing the lives of Australian kids with special needs.
Sunshine Coast based not-for-profit organisation Smart Pups might just be the most joyous charity and workplace that ever existed – if you’re a lover of hounds and humans! Who isn’t?
We can all thank Patricia McAlister for turning her passion into a reality.
This is a story that begins with one woman and a dog:
Patricia first trained a dog to assist a wheelchair-bound child and saw such a remarkable difference in that child that she embarked on a journey to learn more from the experts and took up an internship in the America.
In 2010, those skills led Patricia to launch Australia’s first and only National Training Centre dedicated to supporting children with special needs.
What Patricia quickly learnt was that Australian legislation didn’t allow for children to access assistance dogs.
So, this powerhouse of a human set about lobbying the government to flip this legislation on its back and bring canine care to the kids of our nation.
One successful woman and her savvy dog created the change long needed to help children with special needs – dogs for kids got the tick of approval and now Smart Pups is changing the lives of some very special families.
One woman and a dog has grown exponentially and is now a charity that has placed 300 assistance dogs throughout Australia and the demand continues to grow.
You see, Smart Pups are just that – intelligent dogs that can detect seizures before they happen, provide medical and diabetic alerts; and there are also dogs that provide assistance for those with Autism or who need mobility and vision assistance.
When children on the spectrum are teamed up with a canine companion it can completely change their lives by aiding their ability to cope with sensory and emotional overload.
A Smart Pup is the missing link between the child and the world, guiding them through their daily routine providing a sense of safety and calm.
Janelle Denny is the CEO of Smart Pups and shares the story of a local family and their canine buddy.
“This mum of three autistic children was struggling with home schooling after the kids were removed from mainstream schools,” she said. “Sally the Labrador was placed with the family and within three months the kids were back in school and thriving.
“This is why we love what we do,” she said. “We have seen teenagers paired with pups and go on to successfully transition into the workforce, gaining apprenticeships and jobs that previously would have been unattainable.”
See how amazing dogs are?
Not all of them it seems. The ladies tell me some dogs would prefer other careers. If couch surfing was a career my Swiss Shepherd Harry would certainly be in his element!
With success stories to share and in increased demand, this organisation needs more space for dogs and trainers.
They have plans to expand with a new National Training Centre and will be rolling out some epic fundraising events to help them train pups faster and match them with kids in need.
The training centre is where the hard work happens to increase independence and quality of life for kids and their families. This early intervention therapy isn’t cheap and the training isn’t quick.
It takes 14 months to raise and train a Smart Pups Assistance Dog and costs $30,000 to cover initial purchase, food, vet care and ongoing training for each dog before it becomes a permanent addition to the recipient child’s family.
Currently the wait list is 24 months but with community support and funding we can close the gap and see more kids living life to the fullest with their Smart Pup and smiling faces.
To assist with raising awareness and much needed funding, Smart Pups has just announced the appointment of Australia’s greatest Olympian and world-recognised athlete Dawn Fraser as its Patron.
“The charity has some exciting fundraising events planned and with Dawn on board as an Ambassador for Smart Pups, we are confident we can raise enough money to train more dogs sooner to meet the needs of children and families in need,” says Janelle.
Not only can you support Smart Pups by attending events and donating online but you can become a puppy pal and foster a dog in training, sponsor or host a fundraising event or volunteer.
When the new training centre opens there will be opportunities to help on the property and Smart Pups Charity shop at Emerald St, Cooroy and Rewind & Relove Boutique on Memorial Drive in Eumundi are always happy to have new helpers.
Dogs – they really are the greatest gift and remedy! I didn’t think I could love them anymore until I met Smart Pups.
SMART PUP SKILLS
• Autism Assistance
• Medical / Diabetic Alerts
• Seizure Response
• Mobility Assistance
• Guiding Assistance