Happy Dogtober! Celebrating our four-legged friends with Paralympian Amanda Reid

Happy Dogtober! Celebrating our four-legged friends with Paralympian Amanda Reid
Posted on Mon 18 Oct 2021

It’s Dogtober! October is officially the month dedicated to raising awareness of Assistance Dogs in Australia. To celebrate, we spoke to Paralympic gold medallist Amanda Reid about her experience as someone living with cerebral palsy and how her Assistance Dog has had a major positive impact on her wellbeing.

Amanda Reid is no stranger to taking on a challenge. An elite swimmer who came fifth in the 100m breaststroke at the 2012 Paralympics in London, Reid switched focus to cycling in 2015. After a silver medal at Rio 2016, the decision paid off earlier this year when Amanda became the first Indigenous woman this century to win a Paralympic gold medal when she triumphed in the C1-3 500m time trial.

A proud Wemba Wemba and Guring-gai woman who lives with cerebral palsy, eighteen months ago Amanda decided to take on a challenge of a different variety – training her own Assistance Dog.

While people with physical disabilities such as CP are approved for support animals, Assistance Dogs Australia faces overwhelming demand for a limited number of pups. Amanda had always hoped to be able to have a service dog, but the long waitlist in Australia meant that it wasn’t a realistic option for her in the short-term.

 “I’d always looked at having a service dog, but the waitlist is so long here in Australia... There’s so many people who need one and they just can’t get it – the other option is to train a dog,” said Amanda.

And that’s where Odell came in to the picture. A labrador retriever, Odell was in training with Guide Dogs Australia and was all set to be certified as a Guide Dog until a gust of wind on her last training session caused her harness to be caught in a car door. She was offered to Amanda just before Christmas 2019, and the rest is history.

“We just clicked so well instantly. She had to be assessed and qualified to become an official Assistance Dog, but because she was already trained at a high level as a Guide Dog it was only about a month of training before she was a full Assistance Dog.”

Amanda, whose sister has a Guide Dog to support her with a vision impairment, was up to the challenge of training Odell, but it turned out to be a match made in heaven.

“I have dystonia cerebral palsy, so my arm can sometimes do what it wants, so she had to get used to my movements. It’s little things, but she knew almost instantly what to do to assist with my balance, when I get tired, how to position herself physically as well.”

As important as the physical assistance Odell provides is, Amanda thinks the emotional and moral support of having an Assistance Dog is just as important.

“When we’re out in public people see her and they know that Assistance Dogs are there to do a job and provide that support for someone with a disability, so it helps in that way as well.”

And while Assistance Dogs for people with physical disability such as cerebral palsy is uncommon, Amanda thinks that other people living with CP could benefit from them.

“She’s so great with my balance and when I get tired, and we’re now training her to fetch and collect dropped objects. Even just for moral support and having her in a crowd or in public, she’s just been the best thing for me.”

I have dystonia cerebral palsy, so my arm can sometimes do what it wants, so she had to get used to my movements. It’s little things, but she knew almost instantly what to do to assist with my balance, when I get tired, how to position herself physically as well

Welcome to the wrap up episode of Season One of Cerebral Conversations. Here are some highlights and never heard before stories from the great minds at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) and our special guests and hosts.

It’s been a weirdly wonderful time for me – you might’ve noticed I didn’t share a column with you in October? That’s because I was racing toward the finish line of my university degree, a double in Arts & International Studies if anyone was wondering. Four years of my life that unfolded in ways I never could’ve predicted.