Assistance dogs changing lives in new ways

WORKING TOGETHER: Bethany Marinello with her assistance dog, Lulu the toy poodle. The pair have been denied access to public transport despite Picture: Harrison Vesey

WORKING TOGETHER: Bethany Marinello with her assistance dog, Lulu the toy poodle. The pair have been denied access to public transport despite Picture: Harrison Vesey

From sniffing out low blood sugar in diabetes patients to detecting an oncoming epileptic fit, the surprising health benefits of dogs have long been a source of marvel.

But the community needs to be more aware of the role assistance dogs play in modern society, according to Blacktown resident Bethany Marinello.

Ms Marinello’s toy poodle Lulu received a year of training through mindDog Australia to accompany her in day to day activities.

The organisation trains psychiatric assistance dogs to help with conditions including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia.

Lulu wears a vest showing she is a service dog and Ms Marinello carries a government travel card that explains her animal is allowed on public transport.

Despite this, she has documented at least a dozen incidents with bus drivers, including being refused access or kicked off before her stop.

“It really hurts,” Ms Marinello said.

“I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety, and a lot of the time the incidences have caused jelly legs and I’ve nearly fainted.”

CHANGING MINDS: MindDog Australia senior trainer Gayl O'Grady and Blacktown resident Bethany Marinello with her assistance dog Lulu. Picture: Harrison Vesey

CHANGING MINDS: MindDog Australia senior trainer Gayl O'Grady and Blacktown resident Bethany Marinello with her assistance dog Lulu. Picture: Harrison Vesey

MindDog senior trainer and assessor Gayl O’Grady said the experience is sadly not uncommon.

She said many of their clients, some of whom are unable to leave the house without their dog, have experienced issues trying to use public transport.

“Any assistant animal is allowed in public places and they’re covered by the federal disability discrimination act,” Ms O’Grady said.

“People think they’re just guide dogs, they’re Labradors and retrievers for the sight-impaired; but these dogs are every breed and they’re for so many things.”

Ms O’Grady said while most people know not to touch or distract a guide dog, similar education is needed for other assistance dogs.

The animals are clearly identified by a vest while they work, and have been certified to prove they do assist with a specific condition.

“Any distraction can be life-threatening to a person. It sounds severe but it’s true, they’re working dogs,” Ms O’Grady said.

“It may not be clear what the dog’s doing, but it is doing a major job and people do need to be respectful.”