Dogs for Kids with Disabilities (DKD), located in Carrum Downs, specialises in training assistance dogs for children with autism and other developmental disorders. The assistance dogs who graduate from the DKD program help families in several ways:
Katie Hunter, the founder of Dogs for Kids with Disabilities, is a qualified guide dog trainer with more than ten years experience in the animal industry. After being involved with a pilot program, working with dogs assisting children on the autism spectrum and seeing the positive effects the relationships were having on the children, Katie decided to start Dogs for Kids with Disabilities which has now been operational for the past four and a half years.
Before we introduce you to this weeks “Mama’s Inspire”, Belinda Kelly, we thought we would introduce you to the founder of DKD, Katie Hunter to give you some background into the DKD program and to highlight all the great work Katie and her team are doing for the local community.
MLTS: Thanks for chatting with us Katie, we love the idea behind DKD and think you are doing a great service for the local community. How long has DKD been running and what gave you the inspiration to the start the program?
Katie: DKD has been operating for four and a half years. In my previous job as a guide dog trainer in Adelaide I was involved in a pilot program working with dogs and children on the autism spectrum – this was where my love for kids with special needs started. I saw the power a dog’s unconditional love could have on a child with a disability and their family. And it wasn’t just the dog’s love, they engaged with the children and seemed to break into their worId. I got to witness a mum’s tears and love at completing her first walk with her child not holding his hand in a death grip. Previously outings were just too hard with her five-year-old son. From that moment the best way I can describe it is I caught a bug. Over time I moved states and changed jobs but I couldn’t escape the attraction to these families so I decided to start DKD and help Victorian families find their canine partner!
MLTS: Wow, that’s an incredibly inspiring story! How many pups have been allocated to special kids since the program’s inception?
Katie: We now have 50 DKD dogs placed with children with special needs; 11 assistance dogs and 39 companion dogs. We currently have 22 puppies on our puppy development program living with volunteers and another ten puppies ready to join our program in the next four weeks!
MLTS: That’s amazing numbers to have allocated in just four and a half years! Well done! Can you describe a typical day in the DKD office?
Katie: There is no such thing as a typical day in our field, every day is different and that is what I love! At the moment we are whelping a litter of pups, which means cleaning up wee and poo, cuddling puppies, getting puppies used to different sounds. Our puppy raising advisors support our puppy raisers so they are out and about in the community teaching our volunteers how to train and socialise our puppies to help them reach their potential. Then we have our training dogs attending “school” with our trainer Monday to Friday. They live in homes in Langwarrin, Seaford and Frankston and get picked up in the morning and dropped off in the afternoon – during the day they might be learning how to walk on a loose lead, sit, down, stay and come on command, how to leave distractions, how to hug a child, apply deep pressure, anchor a child from running, using travelators, lifts, stairs, heading to the park for some playtime, and they are often seen on public transport, and at the shops!
Katie: Ah special moments… there are just so many, it’s why I love my job! To get a feel for some of our clients you can look at Facebook – Hank our Hero, Reilly’s Best Friend, Benjamin’s Best Friend… I find it really hard to pick one between a child’s first words being three days after the dog joined their family (first word being dog!), seeing independent walks, watching children walk at the shops for the first time, hearing parents have got their first full night of sleep, watching dogs indicate to the parents that their children’s anxiety is increasing and that it’s time for a break, and with some dogs they can even indicate their children are getting sick up to a day before they show signs! So there isn’t just one moment for me… it’s all a combination of moments that I live for.
MLTS: So amazing Katie, we can only imagine the joy it must bring you when you hear such wonderful stories. What are your current needs for DKD? How can people help?
Katie: DKD is always needing donations – whether that be cash, auction prizes, corporate sponsors, donations of blankets, toys or treats as we rely solely on donations to run our organisation. Plus we are always in need of volunteers to raise a puppy. We know so many people are put off by having to give the dog back and we know it’s a hard, sad thing to say goodbye, but it’s so amazing to then watch a dog find it’s life partner and help them navigate through their childhood. And you can always take on another puppy to love! Without puppy raisers we just can’t exist and if we don’t have enough volunteers in this role it means we are limited with how many families we can help.
One such puppy raiser is local Frankston mama Belinda Kelly…
Mother to two gorgeous little girls, Isabella and Charlotte and now foster mum to puppy “Wisdom”. Belinda, if she’s honest, had no idea what she was getting herself in for when she volunteered to train Wisdom for DKD but she can honestly now say it is one of the most positive decisions she has ever made.
MLTS: Thanks for chatting with Mama loves to share Belinda! Tell us, how did you first hear about DKD?
Belinda: I first heard about Dogs for Kids with Disabilities when I stumbled across their Facebook Page. I clicked on the link and read about DKD via their website which made me curious to find out more about the program.
MLTS: Once you decided to become a foster mum to one of the puppies, what did the application process involve?
Belinda: The first step in the application process was to fill out the online application form on the DKD website, www.dkd.org.au DKD thought we may be a suitable candidate as a foster family so they called us to arrange an interview and a home visit to check our house. We were allocated our puppy Wisdom just two days after our initial home visit!
MLTS: Describe the moment your two little girls Isabella and Charlotte first met your pup Wisdom?
Belinda: Although we had discussed becoming puppy raisers with the girls previously we didn’t actually tell them we had been accepted until Wisdom arrived to stay. I picked the girls up from school and asked them to wait out the front of the house. I opened the front door and Wisdom cam bounding up to them. I don’t think I have ever seen them so much excitement and so much love in one moment before!
MLTS: We can just picture the look on their little faces now! So adorable! How have the first few weeks been with Wisdom?
Belinda: We have had Wisdom for 4 weeks now and overall it has been amazing. In the first week it was challenging learning everything l needed to know (it’s a bit like having a newborn again!) but luckily I could contact our puppy trainer from DKD at anytime who are extremely knowledgeable and supportive. This helped so much as I have never raised a puppy before so I had lots of questions!
MLTS: We can only imagine! I’m sure the first week included many a sleepless night! Describe a typical day with Wisdom? What sort of things do you need to continue to teach on a daily basis?
Belinda: Our day starts with opening Wisdom’s crate and letting her walk out. I then take her outside to go to the toilet. I need to take her out to the toilet regularly on her lead throughout the day so she learns to go on command. For the rest of the morning it’s business as usual, breakfast and getting ready for school. Wisdom normally comes to school drop off with us as it’s great to get her used to different people and situations. After school drop off I try to get to the gym so Wisdom goes home and rests in her crate (she also goes in there any time I can’t supervise her). After gym I go home and take Wisdom for a walk, treating her with little dog treats quite often at this stage as she is learning to walk on a lead without distraction. The rest of the day also consists of some mini training sessions to teach her to drop and sit. We then collect the girls from school before taking them to any after school activity they have. In the evening we take Wisdom on another walk before we all wind down with lots of cuddles!
MLTS: Wow, that is a busy day! How have you found Wisdom has fitted into the family?
Belinda: Wisdom has fitted in beautifully. She has such a kind and gentle nature. She is already sensing when the girls need an extra cuddle. They really are amazing animals.
MLTS: Are there any direct costs involved with being a foster family for Wisdom?
Belinda: No, there are no costs involved in being a puppy raiser. All bedding, food, toys and vet bills are covered by DKD.
MLTS: You mentioned you have had Wisdom for four weeks now, how do you find the ongoing support from DKD?
Belinda: The support from DKD has been amazing! Our puppy trainer can be contacted at any time with no problem too big or too small. We also have the same trainer from DKD come out every week to see how we are going and to help us with a different training session for Wisdom. So far we have gone on a residential walk, a park visit (where my girls got to take Wisdom down the slide), a visit to the local shopping centre and a “Free Run’ session in a local enclosed park. Next on the list is to take Wisdom on a ‘Bus Ride’.
MLTS: You have done so much in four weeks! That’s awesome! Would you recommend for others to foster a DKD puppy?
Belinda: I would absolutely recommend anyone to become a puppy raiser with DKD. It is the most rewarding and fun experience. When these gorgeous dogs are fully trained they will make a life changing difference to a special boy or girl. What a fantastic lesson for my children to learn.
MLTS: It really is such a fantastic lesson for them to learn, do you have some words of advice for someone who may consider becoming a foster family for a DKD puppy?
Belinda: All I can say is go for it! Now is the perfect time to apply as they currently have eight gorgeous puppies that will be ready to go out to new homes in a few weeks time!
How can you help?
DKD is about making lives better, and building bright futures. Animals in general have a lot to offer when it comes to learning about friendships, love, working as part of a team and daily living skills.
DKD currently needs to recruit recruit volunteer puppy raisers. Puppy raisers need to live in metro Melbourne / Mornington Peninsula / Philip Island and they need to house, love, care, and train a pup until it reaches 16 months of age. This means taking it out for coffee, to the movies, on a bus/train, to the shops, to sporting activities etc and teaching it basic manners under the guidance of staff. DKD pay for vet bills and provide food and training.
You can find out more about becoming a foster family to a DKD puppy or give a dontation by visiting the DKD website www.dkd.org.au