How Man’s best friend can change a life

Dog Assistance Labrador puppies

Photo: Assistance Dogs Australia

In this month’s Bark ‘n’ Purr we highlight the wonderful work being done by Assistance Dogs Australia, a non-profit organisation that trains Labradors and Golden retrievers to help enhance the quality of life and improve the level of independence for people with disabilities.  Laura Catherall, Assistance Dogs Australia shares an inspiring story about Michael, a quadriplegic and his Assistance dog called Fizz.

Dogs have been Man’s best friend for years, but these days, Assistance Dogs have a much more important role to play – they can change a life.

Assistance Dogs Australia has been training Golden Retrievers and Labradors to assist people with disabilities since 1996, placing over 190 dogs, free of charge, with families across Australia.

Assistance Dogs are placed with a wide range of people, ranging from wheelchair users, to children with autism. New areas of work include placing dogs with sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, and an upcoming pilot with couples living with dementia.

Assistance Dogs are trained in up to 50 specialised commands including how to open and close drawers, pick up keys and other items from the floor, as well as alert bark if their owner is in trouble.

Fizz the Assistance Dog has been trained in all of these skills, and many more, and helps his owner Michael every single day.

Fizz, was raised by volunteers in their homes, learning basic skills and how to be interact with families and other pets alike, before heading to Sydney to be trained in advanced skills. Upon graduation he was placed with Michael.

Photo: Assistance Dogs Australia

Photo: Assistance Dogs Australia

A professional triathlete, Michael was an active person and a keen cyclist. Until, one day, in 2008, a cycling accident left him quadriplegic.

“Fizz gives me a sense of being human and being adult again. I know he’ll bark for help if I’m in trouble, and fetch my crutches when I need to use them. Having Fizz means that I can be left by myself and be independent.” says Michael.

Michael now runs his own business and volunteers at his daughter’s school and is a spokesperson for Bicycle Safety.

‘’Thanks to Fizz, walking my daughter to school is something special that we can do together. The kids used to tease her because of my disability, but now they come up and say hello.”

To find out more about Assistance Dogs Australia, visit their website at


new puppy march

Photo: Assistance Dogs Australia

Assistance Dogs Australia urgently needs puppy raisers Australia wide.  Puppy raisers look after puppies in their home for around a year.  Find out more and complete the application form here.

Each Assistance Dog costs just over $27,000 which covers the two year training period and lifetime support once the Assistance Dog has been paired with an owner.  Your support as a volunteer, donor or corporate supporter is invaluable.

Cathy Beer
Founder, Pets4Life