More than a man's best friend
Click on the above link to listen to this audio story.
To download a transcript of this audio story, click here.
Below is a written version of this story.
On a big property, north of Adelaide, lives a dog trainer. But he isn’t just any dog trainer. Mark is training his dog BJ as an assitant dog.
BJ is a normal puppy, running around, having fun but as soon as he hears the word work, he stands still letting Mark put his work vest on.
While BJ is working, he helps Mark with day to day life. He walks a little ahead of Mark so he can see what is going on in front of them, while also staying in tune with Mark. He has strict rules he must follow, including no sniffing. Mark says, "He’s not allowed to sniff onto the ground, because once they start smelling and they get onto a scent, then they go off the job." BJ also pays attention to passing cars so he can lead Mark away from dangerous situations and he has learnt to recognise the stop and go noises of pedestrian crossings.
Buddy's unexpected talent
When Mark had a car crash a few years ago, he damaged his frontal lobe and his brain stem. He doesn't remember anything from before his injury. Then, the year after his accident, he broke his kneecap.
Mark developed PTSD. He remembers, "I would wake up in the middle of the night, I was just in panic mode, like freaking out. But the moment Buddy would come up to me and paw me in my chest, I would snap out of it."
When Mark told his psychologist of Buddy's ability to calm him, the psychologist suggested having Buddy trained as an assistant dog.
So Mark entered the world of assistant dog training, with Buddy by his side.
The close bond that Mark and Buddy shared only strengthened with their new training. Buddy became aware of Mark's body in a way that even Mark wasn't of himself.
"I remember once I was at my auntie’s tea," Mark says. "And he was just crying and carrying on. So I got up and I walked out and as I got up and I was walking." As he was walking outside, Mark started to feel dizzy and faint. Buddy led him outside. "When we got outside I went down to the ground and he lay over the top of me. And he just sat there and lay on me. So he was picking up on me having a panic attack."
"He just knew me through and throughout," Mark says. "I just felt so safe."
Then, without warning, Buddy passed away.
"I didn't feel safe anymore"
Buddy was Mark's best friend, and with Buddy gone, Mark didn't feel safe anymore.
The memory of Buddy is still strong in Mark's home. "All this stuff up here on my wardrobe is all his stuff. That doesn’t get touched," Mark explains. "I’ve got a brand new life jacket up there, the bag we’d always use, his treat bag. That teddy bear, that was his teddy bear. And that’s his little box there with his picture on it and his ashes in it."
While no one can ever replace Buddy, Mark and BJ are forming a strong connection.
"It just makes you so independent"
Knowing all the ways that Buddy and BJ have helped him, Mark is now forging a career in assistant dog breeding and training. He wants to help crash victims like himself and also veterans.
Mark says, "People see like yeah, a dog helps people but when you’ve got disability and you’ve got a dog that can help you in ways that you can’t help yourself, it just makes you so independent."
Mark loves dogs so much that breeding and training isn’t enough. So he’s also training to become a dog hydrotherapist at Noah’s Crossing. He was first introduced to dog hydrotherapy as a client. He and Buddy had already been attending Noah’s Crossing for over a year.
"When I would go there, my half an hour would be up and I would just sit there quietly in the corner," Mark remembers. "And then when she’d be busy I’d quickly go do another lap with him and I’d always try to sneak in as much time as I could to be in the pool with him. Because I just loved it, man. Loved it, loved it."
Five months ago, Mark was applying for a job as a dog trainer. He called the head hydrotherapist at Noah’s Crossing, asking for a reference. But she had other ideas. Mark still remebers the call. "She goes, 'I want you. I want you to become a hydrotherapist. I want you to come work for me.' I said, 'Are you serious? Like, be in the pool rehabilitating dogs?' She goes, 'Yeah.'"
So for the last five months, Mark has been getting paid for doing something he truly loves.
"I'm really proud"
Since his accident, Mark has found a new passion and turned it into a career. And it’s really starting to take him places. This year alone, he is going t be travelling all over Australia, and even overseas to learn everything he can about dog training and hydrotherapy.
He is proud of what he has acomplished. "From two-and-a-bit years ago, lying in a bed, not even being able to push a button on a remote to travelling the world working and training my own dogs, within a period of a couple of years. I’m pretty proud of that."
Independence, safety and support
We’ve all heard that dogs are man’s best friend. But for Mark, and many people all over the world, they are so much more. They are independence, support and safety.
If you would like to learn more about Mark’s work, follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mark.both.1671
If you want to know more about assistant dogs, you can find links to resources at www.healthdirect.gov.au/assistance-dogs.
If you would like more stories of people in the disability community, follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JFAPurpleOrange, on Instagram at A Moment of Me, or visit our website at www.purpleorange.org.au