BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I AM A WORKING DOG
Clever canines and the people who depend on them
photographic shoot is under way, an event that would have most pre-teen girls dancing about in a “look-at-me” frenzy. But the lights and camera hold no allure for 12-year-old Monique Wegener. She drifts away from the hubbub into a corner of the courtyard and sits quietly, her hand gently patting her dog, Wilson. The labrador looks at her steadily, then settles his big head on her knee. His eyes stay wide open, though. Wilson is at work.
It might not seem like much, this tiny tableau. But if you'd known Monique three years ago, you'd be amazed at how calm she is with all these strangers around, says her mum, Diane. You'd be amazed that Monique let Diane leave her side to help out with the photography of their friend Marayke Jonkers and Lacey, a golden retriever. Amazed at how much Monique's life has changed since Wilson became her shadow.
Three years ago, Monique's autism was causing her severe anxiety and panic attacks. She became suicidal and was put on medication. Diane, 42, a single mum living on the Sunshine Coast, had to withdraw Monique from school and teach her at home. Monique's only real outlet from the paralysing fear that gripped her in public was swimming – following that straight black line in silence – but joining a squad to test her natural gift was a step too far. She took private lessons instead.
Then came Wilson, trained by Diane to be Monique's guide, companion and protector, under
WKH SULYDWH FHUWL¿FDWLRQ V\VWHP VHW XS E\ WKH assistance dog training group, Canine Helpers for the Disabled. The labrador took Monique around the pool, to the shops, everywhere, really. Monique
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dwindled, then stopped. She joined a swim squad. 2Q 0RQGD\, 0RQLTXH ZLOO FRPSHWH LQ WKH ¿UVW RI WHQ UDFHV VKH¶V TXDOL¿HG IRU LQ WKH 1DWLRQDO 3ULPDU\ Schools Swimming Championships in Melbourne. Wilson will be with her, waiting poolside.
“Our lives have changed since Wilson,” says Diane, who had trained dogs before Monique was born and stumbled onto Canine Helpers while desperately searching the internet for help for her daughter. “There was a time when Monique wouldn't go anywhere in the house without me. She wouldn't dare go out into the yard on her own at all, now she's happy to go out there as long as Wilson's there. Doing this trip to Melbourne is a humungous
WKLQJ IRU XV. +H¶V MXVW EHHQ DQ DEVROXWH FRQ¿GHQFH and independence booster. It's just been amazing.”
Dogs have been helping us out for thousands
RI \HDUV. $W ¿UVW, LW ZDV RXWVLGH SXUVXLWV: KXQWLQJ, retrieving, guarding, herding. Fast-limbed critters that would respond to a farmer's whistle, their snouts perilously close to the heels of sheep or
cattle as they corralled a herd with sheer will and bluff. They'd sniff out people buried in snow and haul them out; follow us into war. All for a bowl of
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“Dogs love having a job to do,” says Dr Michael Archinal, a veterinarian based in Canberra and author of Animal Wisdom. “They love to know boundaries and they love consistency. Over the past 20 to 30 years, we've been selecting dogs for different traits, traits that have to do with companionship and intelligence. In the process, they've gone from the kennel to the couch.”
The best-known and original assistance dog is
WKH JXLGH GRJ IRU WKH EOLQG, WKH YHU\ ¿UVW EHLQJ a German shepherd, not the labrador that is most commonly used nowadays. But as man's bond with our canine companion has grown, as we have tuned in to their ability to obey commands for the modern era – such as load the washing machine, or touch the lift button – they've found a whole new raft of jobs to do. Several studies worldwide have found
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a confusing world. Dogs can detect if an owner is DERXW WR VXIIHU DQ HSLOHSWLF ¿W, RU LI WKHLU GLDEHWLF PDVWHU ULVNV D K\SRJO\FDHPLF HSLVRGH. 1XUVLQJ homes now have in-house or visiting dogs to help brighten the residents' days. Dogs can sniff some
FDQFHUV, D IDFW ZKLFK LV VFLHQWL¿FDOO\ SURYHQ, VD\V Archinal for the doubters. In recent years, returned soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder or injuries have been brought back from despair by an assistance dog, the most famous of them all being Britain's Endal, the “Dog of the Millennium”.
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and was wheelchair-bound after serving in the
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incommunicative, suicidal and on the brink of divorce. Then Parton had to accompany his wife, Sandra, to her job at a dog training centre. That's where he met Endal, a labrador that was about to be retired as an assistance dog because of a joint condition. Parton sat sullenly. Endal made it his mission to cheer him up. He did not leave Parton's side, bringing him things, licking him, putting
KLV SDZV RQ 3DUWRQ¶V ODS XQWLO, ¿QDOO\, WKH VROGLHU smiled. “I suddenly saw a chink of light,” said Parton. That was in the late 1990s. Endal died in 2009 but not before saving his master again, this time in 2001 when he rolled Parton into the recovery position, put a blanket over him and ran to a pub barking for help after Parton was knocked out of his wheelchair by a car.
Monique Wegener's friend, Marayke Jonkers, 32, has never known life without a wheelchair but doesn't let that get her down. Her smile lights a room, the motivational speaker's zest for life not dampened by the car accident that left her with paraplegia at eight months old. Like Monique,
VKH H[FHOOHG DW VZLPPLQJ, FRPSHWLQJ LQ KHU ¿UVW Paralympics in Sydney in 2000. She went on to the next two, winning two bronze in Athens, a silver in Beijing. Then she retrained in triathlons, becoming
$XVWUDOLD¶V ¿UVW IHPDOH SDUDWULDWKORQ PHGDOOLVW, WDNLQJ bronze World Championships at the 2010 International in Budapest, Triathlon Hungary. Union's She LV ¿HUFHO\ LQGHSHQGHQW. ³, WUDYHOOHG WKH ZRUOG, JRLQJ WR GLI¿FXOW-WR-DFFHVV SODFHV OLNH WKH S\UDPLGV [in Egypt] and Pompeii [in Italy], carting my own bags, doing crazy things,” Jonkers says. “So to suddenly lose that was a big change in my life.”
All the years of elite training had led to Jonkers developing thoracic outlet syndrome, which means her arteries and nerves are squashed between her
¿UVW ULE DQG FROODUERQH. /LIWLQJ KHU DUPV DERYH KHU waist or extending them too far out is incredibly painful now, and if she overuses them, she can be bedbound for days. For a person used to keeping on the go and living independently, Jonkers' new OLPLWDWLRQV DUH IUXVWUDWLQJ. 7KDW¶V ZKHUH VZHHWfaced Lacey comes in. If all goes to plan, Lacey will give Jonkers back her freedom.
LACEY LOOKS SO ADORABLE SITTING TALL AND
VWUDLJKW LQ KHU /-SODWH YHVW WKDW LW¶V QR ZRQGHU the young bloke walking past Jonkers' apartment building at Maroochydore is drawn to her. “How you going, fella?” he says, giving Lacey a pat on the head. Jonkers has to intervene. “Ah, sorry,” she says, “you're not allowed to pat her, she's a working dog.”
It happens all the time. Most of us know we shouldn't but many fail touch to these resist dogs the temptation. while they're Leaving on duty them Lacey, alone they're is even still in more training. important “She when, gets really like excitable when people pat her,” says Jonkers, setting off towards the shops in her motorised chair. Jonkers' beaming smile leaves her lips for
WKH ¿UVW WLPH. &RQFHQWUDWLRQ KDV WDNHQ RYHU. 7KLV is tough work; controlling a chair and a dog when your movement is limited, the pavement is uneven and your voice is sweet and soft. “I'm trying to learn how to be a pack leader but it's a very strange concept,” Jonkers says. “I'm not bossy at all.”
“It's not bossy,” counsels Andrew Holmes, head trainer with Canine Helpers, who has come along to see how Jonkers' and Lacey's teamwork is progressing. “It's just being calm and in control. You have to learn to speak dog.” “Yes, I don't speak Lacey yet,” Jonkers says. Lacey, now 25 months old, became a rookie
&DQLQH +HOSHU DW 10 PRQWKV DIWHU KHU ¿UVW RZQHUV offered her for sale when a new baby arrived. Most of the dogs the group trains are rescue dogs or donated puppies. Lacey had been priced at $500 but when the owners heard where she was bound, they settled for $250. Since then, she's been living and training at the Wegeners' because Diane has become a Canine Helper trainer – her work with Wilson was so deft, the volunteer group asked her to join. The relinquishing family will come along to Lacey's graduation ceremony, where Diane will UHPRYH KHU /-SODWH FRDW DQG -RQNHUV ZLOO SXW RQ KHU RI¿FLDO DVVLVWDQFH GRJ MDFNHW DQG WDNH KHU KRPH. “So it's a second chance for Lacey and a brand new start for me,” says Jonkers, who has been in training with Lacey since the start of the year.
/DFH\ YLVLWV KHU ZRXOG-EH RZQHU ZLWK 'LDQH DQG can already put the clothes in the washing machine for Jonkers and pick up things that have fallen on the
ÀRRU. ³,¶YH JHQHUDOO\ MXVW EHHQ OHDYLQJ WKLQJV VR WKDW it becomes a bit of an obstacle course around the house,” says Jonkers. “It's not worth me trying to pick them up and being stuck in bed. I opened the
FXSERDUG RQFH DQG DOO WKH 7XSSHUZDUH ÀHZ RXW, and Lacey just started picking them up and giving them to me.” Before Lacey graduates, hopefully in October, the duo has to pass a public access test, which is what Jonkers is about to trial. Jonkers says she's the one who needs the most training. “At
¿UVW, , KDG WKLV KLJKO\ WUDLQHG GRJ DQG , FRXOGQ¶W JHW her to sit and I thought, oh dear, we're in a bit of trouble here. But we're making progress,” she says.
There are a few smiles – some friendly, some FXULRXV ± IURP SDVVHUV-E\ DV WKH WHDP UHDFKHV WKH WUDI¿F OLJKWV RSSRVLWH :RROZRUWKV. ³8S, WRXFK,´ says Jonkers, and Lacey is up on her hind legs, aiming for the button to trigger a “walk” signal
ZLWK KHU IURQW SDZ. 6KH GRHVQ¶W TXLWH JHW LW DW ¿UVW but touch.” Jonkers Lacey persists nails it. … Now and it's so game does Lacey. on and “Up, Lacey
seems to know she has to be on her best behaviour. She sits when told at the front of the supermarket and then walks alongside Jonkers through the GRRUV, LQWR WKH DUWL¿FLDO OLJKW. 6KH JRHV WKURXJK DQ XQZLHOG\ FRQWUDSWLRQ GHVLJQHG WR VWRS WUROOH\ WKHIW DKHDG RI -RQNHUV LQ WKH FKDLU, ZDLWV WR IDOO DORQJVLGH DQG PRYHV RQ ZKHQ FRPPDQGHG. 7KH ¿UVW SODFH -RQNHUV GLUHFWV KHU LV WR WKH PHDW DLVOH. ³,W¶V SDUW RI WKH SXEOLF DFFHVV WHVW EXW ,¶P D YHJHWDULDQ, VR LQ UHDOLW\, ZH¶OO QHYHU JR SDVW KHUH,´ -RQNHUV MRNHV. /DFH\ GRHVQ¶W SXW D SDZ ZURQJ. 7KH ULE URDVW LV LJQRUHG, WKH FRUQHG EHHI QRW HYHQ VQLIIHG DW. ³*RRG JLUO,´ HQFRXUDJHV -RQNHUV.
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sight of a dog in the meat aisle. Holmes says
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who looks after the dogs when the primary trainers
need a break, and has put his leatherwork to good use, creating collars and leads for ADA to sell. “I love the dogs,” Mack says, “they put a smile on your face every day.” There are four other back-up handlers, one of them relaxing on the wheelchair used to teach the dogs how to work with people with physical disabilities.
The hero, though, is Opal, Toby's charge, a 10-month-old dog that will be headed to Sydney in mid-August. “Because she's doing so well, they want to take her straightaway,” he says. “So she's going soon but I think that's awesome because she's going to help someone who's stuck in a wheelchair, so that's a job well done. You always know it's not your dog, anyway. She gets her parole.”
Outside, on the patio of the self-contained wing of the prison, beyond the sight of the razor wire,
7RE\ DVNV 2SDO WR ³¿QG´ WKH SKRQH. +H GRHVQ¶W specify the phone yet because the old-fashioned model on the table might not resemble her new RZQHU¶V SKRQH. 6XFK VXEWOHWLHV ZLOO EH UH¿QHG LQ 6\GQH\. 7KH ZRUG ³¿QG´ DQG D SRLQW LQ LWV GLUHFWLRQ VXI¿FHV. 6KH VDXQWHUV RYHU, JULSV WKH KDQGVHW ZLWK her mouth and returns. “Lap,” says Toby, and she drops it in his lap. There's kibble as reward. And a pat. “This can be a harsh environment,” says Toby, “so having the dogs brings a bit of normality into this life. You've got someone to hang out with.” There are downsides, though. “Most labs do snore,” he says, grinning. “I had one, Marco, and he snored like a freight train. And if they eat a bone or something that upsets them, and you can't get them out [of the cell] quick enough, it can really smell.” DIRT AND DUST, FLIES AND STUBBORN COWS: that's the environment dogs such as this one were bred to work in. Red cattle dogs don't usually have ringside seats at one of the world's best
IRRWEDOO ¿HOGV, DFFHVV WR WKH SRVW-PDWFK IXQFWLRQ in Suncorp Stadium's plush Paddington Room and adoring fans at every outing. But Red Dog got lucky. Yep, says his trainer, Justin Jordan, “of all the jobs they could have, he's got a fun one”.
Red, the six-month-old pup playing with a toy on Jordan's manicured lawn in Albany Creek, in Brisbane's outer north, has scored big-time in his role as chief canine and junior mascot for the state's Super Rugby team, the Queensland Reds.
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being whip-smart but even Jordan is surprised Red
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just swallows it up,” Jordan says. Red goes to all manner of publicity events where he bows and twirls for adoration, is in training to deliver the kicking tee next year and leads the team out onto WKH ¿HOG DW KRPH JDPHV DW 6XQFRUS LQ IURQW RI WKRXVDQGV RI VFUHDPLQJ IDQV. ³+LV ZRUN LV demanding,” insists Jordan, “but it's only for a couple of hours here and a couple of hours there and if he mucks it up, oh well, he's cute, he can get away with it. If a guide dog mucks it up, there are some pretty serious consequences, potentially.”
Right now, Red is learning about consequences.
+H OLYHV PRVW RI WKH WLPH ZLWK YHWHULQDULDQ %HUQLH Bredhauer, but stays with Jordan three days a week, which involves interacting with Jordan's dogs: Lex, a labrador that makes visits to nursing homes, and Zed, a rottweiler. Red is trying to take a chewy bone off Zed. A soft growl emits from Zed's lips. “So
PDQ\ SHRSOH DUH WHUUL¿HG RI URWWZHLOHUV EXW ORRN DW that,” says Jordan; “you've got a puppy that only stays here a few days a week trying to take a bone out of his mouth. Eventually, if Red keeps pushing, Zed might go `rah' and snap, but you know, that's a fair call. It teaches Red boundaries.”
After years of work as a senior manager in the automotive industry, Jordan had the resources to quit ten years ago and pursue his dream of setting up a dog-training business. Most of his work is dealing with problem dogs at risk of being re-homed or put down because of bad behaviour. “It's so rewarding to save a dog's life.” Being Red's trainer brings different rewards – such as being in the thick of it on game day.
Before a Super Rugby game, Jordan and Red go out to the precinct in front of Suncorp Stadium to meet the fans. They do the same at half-time, with Red walking the perimeter and giving out “hugs”. “I touch the fence and say `hugs' and he'll stand up on his back legs and put his paws there so the person on the other side of the fence gets to pat him,” says Jordan. “People absolutely adore him; it's huge marketing for the Reds, hugely successful and helps with that engagement with the mums and the kids.”
During a match, Red and Jordan sit on the sideline. Once, Jordan had to throw his body over Red's to protect him from an incoming ball and thundering feet. Sometimes Red lays his head
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only a puppy, and it's a big, big day for him so LI KH ZDQWV WR KDYH D VQRR]H, JUHDW. +DYH D VOHHS, EXGG\,´ -RUGDQ VD\V. :KHQ D WU\ LV LQ WKH RI¿QJ RU a penalty goal set to be taken, it's game on. Jordan gets word through an earpiece that the cameras are about to turn to Red, and the pup is up on his feet,
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the big screen and he spins, he rolls, he begs, he
KLJK-¿YHV. $ ULSSOH RI GHOLJKW VFDPSHUV WKURXJK WKH cauldron. Win or draw, Red Dog puts a smile on our faces … and that's the best job any dog can do.
l * Names have been changed.
THE RIB ROAST IS IGNORED, THE CORNED BEEF NOT EVEN SNIFFED AT. “GOOD GIRL,” ENCOURAGES JONKERS.
In training … Paralympian Marayke Jonkers and L-plater Lacey are learning to work together around the house and outside it.
Prison pals … Inmate Toby puts Opal through her paces. She's doing so well he says she'll get her “parole” next month.
HIS BREED IS WHIP-SMART … RED ALREADY HAS 62 COMMANDS IN HIS REPERTOIRE.
Match fit … Justin Jordan trains Red Dog; ( below) Red on duty as junior mascot of the Queensland Reds Super Rugby team.