A Pet Photographers Dream
List of questions?-CHECK!
Welcome to the world of a Pet Photographer. The "all systems go check" pre shoot. This was me Saturday 21st January about 9.30am.
Today was the day I got to meet Nemo! Who is Nemo you ask?.....
Nemo, is a very special addition to a very deserving and special family in their own right. Nemo is THE first assistance dog in Nelson trained specifically to assist with Autism. That's a pretty special thing right??
It is Nemo's job to look after Blake, a member of this household. Blake is not your average 5 year old, in that he is a Non Verbal Autistic Child and can be difficult to keep tabs off in public settings.. Enter- Nemo.
Nemo has a custom harness which Blake's own harness attaches to. This means Nemo looks after Blake , and Blake doesn't get himself into harms way. This has made going out in public as a family much easier and the stress of every day life for these guys has decreased significantly (Things that you and I take for granted are monumental challenges for this family on occasion) . As well as integrating Nemo into the family - Mum also has her own business to run so its a very busy little household.
Anna has the pleasure of being mum to Nemo and in her words said "its been like Christmas having him. He has changed their lives so much for the better".
Like any new addition to the family- it takes a while to get into a rhythm and a routine but he has inserted himself right into the mix without so much as a blip on the radar.
If you are casually strolling past Nemo looks just like any other dog- until you look a little closer and see his assistance harness. Harness on means "Work time" Harness off means "Play time" Its easy to forget hes got a job to do, being so gosh darn adorable and all.
He still has training to do, and Anna takes care of that. Like anyone good at what they do, they are always honing their skills and reinforcing good behavior.
It is especially interesting for this little family unit as Nemo is in fact their first dog! I have to chime in here and say, Nemo- is THE most grounded, well behaved and calm 2.5 year old dog I have EVER come across. He is a perfect gentleman and is cool calm and collected. (The odd Pug strolling past did elicit a few ear raises and some whines but he sat rock solid)
He is also 150% focused on Anna, never taking his eyes off her or straying far from her side... take a guess who hes looking at here!
The general public of Nelson will be slowly seeing more and more of Blake and Nemo out and about and for that reason, there are a few things to just keep in mind.
Nemo has a job- he has a very important role to play as guardian for Blake. Whilst Nemo has his harness on his focus should be on Blake. He is utterly irresistible and the urge for any dog loving human is to roll up and give as many pats in a short space of time as possible (I know this- because I'm one of them!) Anna, Nemo and Blake are very approachable, all they ask is that you ask if you can pat Nemo (His attention becomes divided when other humans are giving him cuddles!)
Nemo will be in situations other dogs are not normally in. Cafes, shops, areas in town. Areas you may not normally see a dog in. Again, this is his job- ask yourself if there may be a reason for what you are seeing. As humans we sometimes forget the old "Put yourself in someone else's shoes" mantra and speak/react before we think. Look at this situation with an open heart and mind and this family will be happy talk to you about Nemo, his role and Blake.
The Assistance Dog Programme helps a wide range of individuals- training each of their dogs for different disabilities and situations. There's quite a process to go through to get involved in this Programme, and rightly so as these dogs are trained right from the get go. From the application process there is a waiting list and from there an interview to ascertain suitability for the Programme. Excerpt taken from the Assistance Dogs NZ Website.
Puppies are placed on our Puppy Development Programme at around 8 weeks of age. They are then socialised and receive some initial obedience training. On occasion puppy raisers are asked to carry out specific training tasks relevant to the dog they are caring for. Each pup and the family responsible for them, receive regular visits from ADNZ staff to ensure they are being raised and socialised to the standards required by ADNZ. At approximately 12 months of age each pup begins more extensive training for the assistance role they are likely to perform. It takes around 6-8 months of intensive training before they are ready to be placed with an applicant.
All of the information is located on the Assistance Dogs New Zealand website right here
And for those that are keen to follow along on Blake and Nemo's new journey- head on over here and check out the page An Assistance Dog For Blake. Its not all flowers and roses, the struggle is real for these guys but the support of the community and everyone out in Facebook land certainly does help!
I will be checking in again with the family in a month or two to see how they are getting on for those interested, so keep your eyes peeled for an update.
Sometimes we underestimate the power animals can have and I'm really looking forward to seeing this relationship evolve and become something really special.
Thank you to Anna for taking time out of her own schedule to introduce me to Nemo, and thank you for allowing me to see a snippet of life with Nemo, what a privilege that has been. It never gets old seeing the bond humans have with their furchildren.
I truly wish you all the best, and I like everyone else will be following along.