Assistance dog Claudia had helped Noah Kosovich, 7, conquer many firsts. Picture: Jay Town
Assistance dog Claudia had helped Noah Kosovich, 7, conquer many firsts. Picture: Jay Town

Man’s best friend a lifeline for many

Assistance dogs are so in demand waiting lists for the life-changing canines have been forced to close.

Applicants can be left waiting for 12 to 36 months as dogs undergo a thorough breeding and training process.

Assistance Dogs Australia works without government funding to qualify 40-45 new dogs a year to become support companions. But they have 200 clients and more than 100 people on their waiting list.

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General manager Alberto Alvarez-Campos said support from the government would be a great start to speeding up the process.

"We are working to improve our premises to provide more services to more people, we are totally inundated from people in need," he said.

Mr Alvarez-Campos said the program was "expensive" because as well as extensive training, the organisation supported clients throughout the rest of the dog's life.

"After they're born we have them with volunteers for 12 to 15 months, then advanced training for 25 weeks and from there we have to train the clients, and the client training is fundamental," he said.

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Mr Alvarez-Campos said assistance dogs could have a significant impact on cognitive, emotional, and behavioural wellbeing.

"The truth is it can be quite amazing, it's difficult to put into words without sensationalising," he said.

Kate Kosovich adopted support dog Claudia in June last year for son Noah.

She said Claudia had helped the seven-year-old conquer many firsts.

Noah Kosovich, 7, and his assistance dog Claudia volunteered at Belgrave CFA and helped organise donations for fire victims.
Noah Kosovich, 7, and his assistance dog Claudia volunteered at Belgrave CFA and helped organise donations for fire victims.

Noah's autism left him unable to cope with busy public spaces but with Claudia's help he has now been to the movies and on family outings, including to Sovereign Hill.

Noah and Claudia also helped bring some cheer to the Belgrave CFA when they popped in over the busy bushfire period. "It's beyond my expectations, she helps the whole family because she gives us hope. On a really bad day I've got her tucked in my back pocket like another tool I can use," Ms Kosovich said.

Claudia supports Noah by stopping him from focusing on what's going on around him when he's having a tough day.

"She does this beautiful thing called the 'nudge', just saying 'hello I'm here, can you give me attention'," Kate said. "He'll just pat her quietly and it'll bring him out of what's going on in his head."

Noah can't imagine life without Claudia now, the labrador enabling him to sleep in his own room with her for company.

"He now sleeps through three or four nights of the week which he never used to. I've had broken sleep most nights for seven years," Ms Kosovich said.

Claudia, who like all certified assistance dogs underwent years of training, was fully funded by a private sponsor and the family is grateful every day.

"She gives us a happy focal point and she gives him that confidence," Ms Kosovich said.

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