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Making a positive difference



Smart Pups Assistance Dogs is a Queensland not-for-profit organisation that specialises in the provision of Assistance Dogs for children with special needs, making their lives easier and happier! This month, HT writer Angela Reedman-Polinksi met with Sharon, Simon and Melissa to learn how the program works and how to get involved.


by Angela Reedman-Polinski


Sharon Chapman has been training assistance dog Vinnie for four months now. She shares the story of what is involved in being a foster carer for an assistance dog and the joy that this unique role provides.


Her pup, Vinnie is a sweet-natured 10-month-old Labradoodle with a bouncy walk and a forever-wagging fluffy tail that thumps against the wall with joy.


“His breed is patient and lovable, and people often comment in the street that he looks and feels like a warm, soft teddy bear,” Sharon says with a smile.


“My foster carer role is a great way of connecting with people in the community, as fellow dog lovers come up for a chat and I get opportunities to teach people what he does.


“Assistance Dogs like Vinnie are specifically trained dogs to enhance the lives of children with special needs, so it feels so good to know that the work we do with Vinnie on weekends will help a child.”


The community and home training sessions involve trips to stores, café’s, libraries and many socialisation opportunities. You benefit as a Smart Pups foster carer by having a well-bred and trained puppy in your home and by making a difference.


“It’s a great training program. You receive guidance from a qualified puppy trainer, meet other puppy carers in your community, and if you need to go away on holiday, another carer can look after your puppy for you,” explains Sharon.


“When a dog is placed with a family, you can see the sense of relief and joy as the family’s life and the world around them opens up. It’s a time of achievement, pride and celebration.


“I know each day that we have taken another step to make a positive difference to improve the quality of life for a child, and the dog is closer to their full-time role of providing safety, companionship, mobility, and independence.”


Smart Pups has a team of qualified dog trainers that teach general and specialist skills to the dogs. Simon Burrough is one the amazing Smart Pups trainers, and he professionally trains pups from eight weeks through to 18 months of age.


“They all begin with the same basic training which becomes more intense and task-specific as we observe the dog’s strengths and natural talents,” shares Simon. “If a puppy enjoys fetch, it might be good at retrieving items for people with mobility issues. If the dog enjoys using its nose, it might be destined to do medical scent detection for diabetes or seizures.


“Some of our dogs might just excel at being a pet, so we don't force them. They become one of our fabulous flunkies and are sold on as a family pet.


“The training graduate pups are placed in homes to support children with autism, mobility, medical or seizure challenges in their everyday life. Towards the end of their training, we match a dog to the specific client and then start tailoring the dog’s skills to the family’s needs.”


The role of Smart Pups is to provide well-socialised and fully-qualified assistance dogs to fit into a family that needs them. “It is also why the role of a loving family foster carer is so important,” says Simon.


“As a puppy foster carer, you receive training from Smart Pups, so you can help achieve their developmental needs. You learn basic training and tricks and ensure the pup uses its manners whilst in your care.”


Simon and the training team train the dogs throughout the week, and then on Friday afternoon, the dogs ride in the puppy ‘fun bus’. Waiting at the other end is a collection of excited foster carers preparing for home-based training time with their pups.

Friday afternoons are Sharon’s favourite time of the week as she drives to the Smart Pups foster carer meeting spot to collect her sweet Vinnie for the weekend at her home. “We warmly welcome Vinnie into our home for smooches, play time and fall in love with him all over again. It’s bittersweet giving him back on Monday morning, but we know how important his role will be in a child’s family, and we are happy to be an integral part of that positive and long-lasting impact.


“You can even choose to do it all over again, training another puppy once yours has graduated. It is such a fulfilling and fun way to give back to the community, and I love being part of the program.”


Are you keen to get involved as a Smart Pups foster carer? All the food, toys, training and sleeping equipment are provided, and all vet costs are covered. This is an excellent opportunity for you to get involved and make a difference.


Give Melissa Bartimote, the Foster Co-ordinator at Smart Pups, a call on 0490 835 275 to learn more about how you can become a foster carer for a Smart Pup.


The charity has relocated to a new training facility in Verrierdale where they kennel and train the Smart Pups assistance dogs. You can donate online or visit their website at smartpups.org.au to sponsor, volunteer or foster for this worthy organisation.



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