More dogs that do good

21:21, Mar 19 2014

This is a shout-out to some remarkable people - and dogs - who work to make a lot of people's lives better.

Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa trains dogs to be skilled companions and therapy dogs to help people to be healthier and more independent. These people may have suffered a serious injury or be living with pain, depression, diabetes, autism, narcolepsy or some other condition that puts them at risk or holds back their independence.

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about a sweet Greyhound, Emma, whose owner takes her to visit an Alzheimer's group every few weeks - but Emma is just one calming face in a whole movement led in this country by the KFAAA.

  Merenia Donne with Uni and Rica. ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ 
Merenia Donne started the organisation in memory of her German Shepherd Nikki, who saved Merenia from a car crash, pulling her from the wreck and up a cliff the car had gone over. Later, when Nikki was diagnosed with bone cancer, people all around New Zealand gave money to help her treatment - but she died in 2006. That's when Merenia started working to set up KFAAA with the vision of a society where "human-animal interactions are utilised for the benefit of both human and animal health and wellbeing".

Since then, the charity (whose patron is the governor-general) has trained and provided dogs to perform a range of tasks for their human companions, including a blood-sugar-sensitive diabetic response dog.

Recently, the group tried a collaboration between Women's Refuge and Greyhound adoption group GAP. A group of women got to train the dogs for adoption over eight sessions, and the results, says Merenia, were astounding. "Not only did the women benefit tremendously from this activity, but we had a great success rate with three of the dogs adopted out over the course of the programme!" So it was a win-win result, she says - just the kind that KFAAA is striving for.


  Members (human and canine) of the KFAAA team. JONO GRIBBLE
Merenia says the group keeps stringent standards and is the only New Zealand organisation to have been granted full membership of Animal Assisted Intervention International. "Everything we do is based on credible evidence from published global research in reputable journals wherever possible."


As a dog owner, somehow I feel pride when I see other dogs doing such unarguably positive work. It reminds me of what stunning creatures dogs are.

And talking about KFAAA takes me back to something I've said before on this blog. It's beyond doubt, isn't it, that dogs and indeed other pets can be sturdy pillars in our lives? It's not just that some animals can be trained to serve, monitor and protect us (though that's in itself a huge thing). Being with a dog or a cat is itself a healthy thing for people, lifting spirits, stimulating memory and imagination, easing physical and other pain, calming worries, and doing much else.

I don't know if it's ever been fully calculated, but I suspect that the amount of good that pets do, in human terms, is enormous. They are a Good Thing, and their benefit outweighs their costs. This is something always to remember when there are arguments about the value of pets, when someone tells you domestic cats are a menace or that dogs should be banned or restricted - or when you clean up your puppy's third carpet accident and you wonder what it's all for!

Here's a link for contacting Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa

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