Grand Opera, no less.

Last year, when Alberto told us that we were accepted into the Dogs for Dementia trial program, we happened to be due to subscribe to the May 2016 season of Opera Australia in Melbourne. I enthusiastically upgraded our seats somewhat so that our future companion could be comfortably accommodated at our feet. When the time came, Rolf grew a little apprehensive and thought we maybe shouldn’t take the dog, because he didn’t want him to be a nuisance to others. I pointed out that we have always enjoyed the sight of assistance dogs in public places, and that our dog could be expected to similarly give enjoyment to others. And so it was. Jiyu was perfectly behaved, and was seemingly asleep throughout the vocal gymnastics, orchestral crescendos and so on. Interestingly, his only reaction was to the audience applause, when he sat bolt upright. That must have seemed more immediate to him (‘surround sound’) than the activities on the stage. And I was right about Rolf’s concern – people in the foyers and so on loved seeing Jiyu there, many reacting with the same little smile that comes to the face when one sees a small baby. And as always, he provided a conversation starter with interested people.

Again, when we took him to a couple of Melbourne Theatre Company plays, apart from one scene wherein a long shelf of books and ornaments crashed to the stage, it was only the audience applause that engaged his interest. During one play, Jiyu was lying variously across or under our feet, and when he sat up in reaction to the applause, the raked seating ensured that his nose was only a hand’s width from the back of the neck of the unsuspecting man in front of him. A careful shielding of his muzzle by our hands kept the two safely apart until Jiyu settled back down. Luckily, he was rested and not panting, and was quite undetected.

In April, Jiyu became the first D4D dog to graduate as such, at a ceremony held at Southbank in Melbourne. Other Assistance dogs to graduate that day were providing support to people with physical disabilities, autism and PTSD. It was wonderful to see the huge impact the organization is having in these areas, and humbling to think that we, also, have been embraced by Assistance Dogs Australia and HammondCare in this program. Jiyu looked very ‘nose-in-the-air superior’ as he showed off his mortar board!

In May, our N.Z daughter and her three boys, aged 12, 11 and 9 years, came to Melbourne for a week. They loved being with us and Jiyu, and we had numerous excursions together. I showed them Jiyu’s response to the ‘visit’ command, whereby Jiyu quietly places his chin on my open hands and gazes into my eyes. This impressed the boys no end, but somehow it didn’t quite work for them when they raced into the house all shouting out ‘visit! visit! visit!’, expecting Jiyu to do his stuff. They were quite rightly thoroughly ignored by the discerning dog.

In June, we three were honoured to be invited to attend HammondCare’s Dementia conference (‘Are we there yet?’) at the Sydney Hilton, together with superdogs Nina and Lucky and their respective owners. The conference was a huge event, and one session was devoted to the use of ‘dementia dogs’ like ours. So far, the concept looks promising and more dogs are joining the ranks. We were kept very busy throughout, in part with media events and at other times being snaffled by the two delightful Assistance Dogs trainers from Sydney, Katie and Rosie. These superb experts took every opportunity to give us extra training, discuss strategies and listen to our concerns–so valuable, so much appreciated!

Rolf has had a little set-back with his dementia after having to stop taking one medication because of unwelcome side-effects. The marvelous thing is that his relationship with Jiyu is unchanged–he loves that dog, talks to him, croons over him, tells him he’s wonderful, and leads him on our walks as always. What would we do without him?



The views expressed in these blogs are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily the views of HammondCare or the Australian Government.