Phil’s psychiatrist suggested he look into an assistance or service dog about 12 months after his dementia diagnosis. Service dogs, after completion of their training, are allowed anywhere except zoos, court and operating theatres. Phil’s golden Labrador, Sarah, has even stayed in hospital with him.
It cost $43,000 over two years to train Sarah. It is a very stringent training regime with exams every three months, in the lead to the public access test to become licenced. Phil has had Sarah since she was 8 weeks old. At the start, a trainer came three times a week, at a cost of $120 an hour, to train the handler and the dog. The public assess test is gruelling, but Sarah passed first time. She must complete the final exams every two years now to keep up her licence.
Labradors are mainly used as assistance dogs as they have high acceptance rates among the public. Phil has noticed some fear of dogs among groups. He will adjust if he notices this, and will try to reduce other people’s anxiety, for example, by waiting and taking another lift.
Sarah must be the happiest dog in Sydney! She gets excited when she sees her jacket, as it signals work mode! Sarah has very high skill levels, and accompanies Phil everywhere, in taxis, on walks, and on planes where she has a window seat and won’t move. They took two flights together before Sarah graduated. First when Sarah was 9 months. She barked a couple of times as she was stressed but did not move. On their second flight, Phil took her with him when he went to the toilet and put her in the down position. But she went into business class, so he had to explain she was in training!
When Phil first got Sarah he was not on the NDIS. He now hopes to get another pup in a couple of years and anticipates the NDIS will pay.
Sarah gives Phil the confidence to do things on his own. She comforts and cuddles him when he feels uneasy, apprehensive or disorientated.
Managing symptoms and changes
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