“In assistance dog Elsie’s world, Duchenne is not invited. Everything is positive and beautiful; it’s a world of love, kibble, sofas, snuggles, games, fun, outdoors and happiness”
Following Isaac’s diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was four years old, the family embarked upon a steep learning curve. “It’s a complex condition,” explains Mum Kathy. “Isaac is severely affected cognitively. Intellectually he is fine, but his brain’s processing power is running about 60% behind real-time.”
“It takes longer for the message to get through and he’s only getting around half of what is happening. Keeping up with other kids and having conversations is challenging, because it all just goes too fast.”
As he got older Isaac’s world started to close in on him. “It was difficult for him to make friends and he became anxious and withdrawn. He wasn’t interested in going outside and preferred to just stay indoors and watch TV,” says Kathy. “As well as all the drugs he had to take to manage the condition, he had to take Vitamin D supplements because he wasn’t getting it from sunlight by going outside.”
Isaac was matched with Elsie, a yellow Labrador, in February 2015. From not wanting to go out at all, Isaac, Kathy and Elsie now go on a walk every day after school. “Every day, we go somewhere beautiful and it’s non-negotiable because Elsie needs a walk and because of this, Isaac has developed a true love of the natural world – and Vitamin D supplements are no longer needed!”
Elsie has impacted positively on Isaac’s language and communication skills. “When we take Elsie out, other people often come up and start to talk to Isaac about her. From these conversations, regular and easy to predict, Isaac has found his sociable nature and loves it!
She’s also changed the way other people see Isaac and the way he sees himself. “When people see Isaac with Elsie, he’s the dog handler, not the disabled person. He cares for Elsie, he tells her what to do and she does it. He’s in charge, and ‘disability’ takes a back seat.”
Assistance dog Elsie offers practical help with tasks like getting clothes out of drawers, picking things up, pulling off socks and gloves, fetching things, opening doors, and putting washing in the laundry basket. But to Isaac, she represents so much more.
“Elsie has opened up a door for Isaac, to confidence, friendships, nature, and to happiness; she stands there in that doorway with her tail wagging, saying ‘Come on, let’s get going! There are beautiful places to go, balls to chase, muddy puddles to splash in, friends to meet up with and fun to be had!”