More than just a cuddly buddy

Ben puts best paw forward to help Toni

LISA KNIGHT
Last updated 08:17 04/08/2014
Toni and Ben
WOMAN'S BEST FRIEND: Ben, from Assistance Dogs New Zealand, has been with Toni Burgess for about 18 months.

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Assistance dog Ben has completely changed Toni Burgess' life.

In 1998, while playing softball, Burgess went for a ball and ended up slipping discs in her back.

"The resulting damage from that is I can't completely feel my legs," she said. "I have no feeling in my feet, I've spent time in a wheelchair and I had to learn to walk again."

As an outdoor recreation instructor - a job she took up after she was injured - she has qualifications in adventure tourism, abseiling and has spent the past few years running the YMCA climbing gym.

"It's been an interesting process over the last 15 years since I damaged my back," Burgess said.

"This guy here, Ben, has been the best addition to my life."

Ben, from Assistance Dogs New Zealand, has been with Burgess for about 18 months.

Ben can carry up to 8 kilograms of gear in his saddlebags. He can pick up anything that Burgess drops, including keys, phones or her walking stick, and helps with picking up laundry around the house.

If Burgess falls over, Ben will stand beside her so she can pull herself up against his weight. He also has a handle on his saddlebag to assist her in getting out of chairs.

"He has hugely improved my life. Down at the climbing gym my work completely changed. I wasn't going home in absolute agony or exhausted."

This week is International Assistance Dogs Week and Burgess and Ben will be at Pak'n Save on Friday from 10am to 6pm to collect for the New Zealand's Trust's annual appeal.

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- Manawatu Standard

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