AN animal loving family are making a difference by training service dogs to assist people living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, sleeping disorders and autism.
Mernda residents Brad and Mel Rundel started their not-for-profit organisation Therapy Animals two years ago and have began training sessions for service dogs at Orchard Road Community Centre.
Dr Rundel said the sessions helped families train their dogs for individual purposes.
“Finding a service dog can be a difficult process in Melbourne, there’s often a two year wait and the cost can be up to $30,000,” he said.
“Our organisation trains dogs up for particular purposes – we get calls every week from people with a whole variety of disorders.
“One of our clients didn’t leave his house much, and when he did he used a cane. Within the first month of introducing a service dog, he’s now walking 40 minutes a day without a cane.”
One client said that at 7.15am on the dot his dog knocked her tail on his door to get up and take her for a walk.
“It’s a responsibility and I have a routine now – the problem is she doesn’t know the difference between a week day and weekends,” he laughed.
Dr Rundel said another one of his clients was able to bring her service dog-in-training to an Andre Rieu concert.
“Our client has trouble going to new and unfamiliar places, and her dog was able to sit on her lap and keep her company,” he said.
Ms Rundel said it was rewarding to see the benefit that animals had on their clients.
“We bring our birds, rabbits and dogs along with us to the sessions and we also run wellbeing classes for children experiencing health issues or having a tough time socialising in school,” she said.
“The animals have a real calming effect, it’s incredible.”
Dr Rundel said the idea for Therapy Animals developed from requiring a service dog himself.
“I had PTSD and Mel was looking for a dog for me and we just couldn’t find one,” he said.
“I got to a place where I couldn’t drive to work and had to catch the train – by the time I arrived in North Richmond I’d be dripping with sweat.
“I stopped work and later we started Therapy Animals.”
Dr Rundel has a PhD in Zoology and is a qualified teacher.
“It’s all come together but the biggest thing we face is we don’t have our own premises – the dream is to be sponsored and people who qualify for service dogs can train them at no cost,” he said.
Therapy Animals also provides training to assistant dogs, therapy dogs a ‘Paws in Schools’ program and general dog training.
“It’s incredible because when we started Therapy Animals in Mernda, our clients come from just a stone’s throw from the community centre – it makes you think how crucial the service is,” Dr Rundel said.