Several years ago, while working on my book, A Dog’s Life, I became aware of an organisation called the Kotuku Foundation for Assistance Animals Aotearoa, the KFAAA.
I was amazed by the work they do to provide people with assistance dogs and the undeniable positive impact these dogs had on the lives of these people and these families.
Ada was the first dog I met who the KFAAA trained, she was the first dog in New Zealand to qualify as a diabetes response dog. Her owner Vicki said at the time “Ada’s skill has dramatically changed my live and overall health, more than I could ever have imagined.” What made Ada and Vicki’s story even more remarkable was the fact that Ada is a husky, which is not typically a breed of dog you would associate with being an assistance animal.
In fact one of the things that fascinated me about the KFAAA was that they would train any kind of dog if they believed they had the right temperament and would be suitable for their job. Their focus is on the sourcing, training and placing of disability assistance dogs for any medically-diagnosed impairment that a professionally trained dog can mitigate. This includes Addison’s Disease, Agoraphobia, Anaphylaxis, Autism, Bipolar Disorder, Diabetes, Dissociative Disorder, Head Injury, Major Depression, Narcolepsy, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Schizophrenia and Social Anxiety Disorder.
I had many conversations with the charity’s founder, Merenia, over the period of working on the book and afterwards. Her enthusiasm and passion for her work never failed to amaze me. We often talked about working together, but the timing never seemed to be right.
Fast forward a couple of years; December 2017…
Merenia got in touch to tell me she was coming to Christchurch with her assistance dog Rica for the New Zealander of the Year Awards, would I like to meet and would I like to do a bit of photography. Well of course I did!
Janice at Tevra Dog Training, who was recognised as a Canterbury local hero at the awards for her life changing work for the KFAAA with Delta and Dion. Dion is a veteran who fought, and was injured, at the battle of Baghak in 2012. He experienced PTSI and says that ever since Delta came into his life she has made a huge difference. Dogs assisting veterans are now common around the world, but Delta is the first of her kind here in New Zealand, making her even more special.
Watching the relationship between the Dion and Delta was really touching, the love these two have for each other is so special and unique it was quite moving. Being able to photograph them and hopefully capture some moments that show that love was a true honour and it is something that will stay with me forever.
Janice, RSA President BJ Clark, Dion and Delta and Merenia and Rica featured on One News, you can watch their story here.
At the end of December, much to Merenia’s surprise, she was honoured with a New Zealand Order of Merit for her work with assistance dogs. What an outstanding achievement.
Merenia contacted me again a couple of months ago and asked if I would consider becoming an ambassador for the Kotuku Foundation. Naturally I was delighted that Merenia and the Kotuku Foundation would even consider me for such a special position. I was a little speechless to be honest and I knew I would love to accept the offer.
So here we are, I am EXTREMELY proud to announce that I am now an ambassador for the Kotuku Foundation for Assistance Animals Aotearoa.
Merenia had these very kind words to say, which made me as red as a raspberry from blushing;
“We regard all KFAAA Ambassadors as outstanding representatives or promoters of our activities, selected by invitation for the inspirational example they set for others in their own fields of endeavour as well as their personal qualities.
As respected and highly regarded figureheads for KFAAA, our Ambassadors are eminent New Zealanders, renowned for their personal and professional prowess, underpinned by a willingness and ability to assist those less fortunate than themselves, who would otherwise not be helped, by promoting the charity and its work wherever and whenever appropriate and feasible.
We are incredibly grateful and indebted to you for your kindness, generosity and genuine philanthropic ethos which are rare and precious qualities.”
It’s wonderful to me that in doing something that I love so much it borders on being an obsession, I can help the Kotuku Foundation and in some small way make a difference. I am looking forward to meeting more Kotuku dogs around the country, photographing them and working with Merenia and everyone involved with the charity, so very much. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so Merenia.