By Richard Ashmore and Sophia Phan
“Mr Gibbs keeps our daughter alive”
Like most little girls her age, Alida Knobloch loves to ride her bike and play in the garden. However, the only way she can do this is to carry an oxygen tank with her at all times, due to a rare lung condition.
Alida was diagnosed with neuroendocrine hyperplasia of infancy (NEHI) when she was just eight months old, a condition which requires her tobreathe with the aid of an oxygen tank.
For Alida, and her parents Aaron and Debbie, it meant simple activities such as going for a walk were difficult. It is hard for a small child to lug an oxygen tank around to stay mobile.
Aaron and Debbie desperately wanted to do something to help ensure their daughter’s childhood was as normal as possible.
They began to consider using a service animal after seeing a TV program about guide dogs.
They realised an animal that could be trained to help the blind could also be trained to help Alida. They eventually found help in the shape of a goldendoodle, a golden retriever-poodle mix, named Mr Gibbs.
The paramedic-like pooch has been trained to shepherd Alida wherever she goes – even down a playground slide – and acts as Alida’s 24-hour guardian.
Debbie says Alida and Mr Gibbs are growing up together and learning new things all the time.
“Alida never complains about her condition, but at the moment she does have a habit of trying to pull her tubes out and we have to tell her that’s not really a good idea,” she says.
“She loves Mr Gibbs and he loves her too. She’s just starting to realise she’s different, but as the bond between her and Mr Gibbs gets stronger, we think things will get better.”
Debbie adds that the little girl and her dog work extremely well together, with Mr Gibbs carrying the oxygen tank on his back and Alida holding onto the leash.
“There is some good news. The damaged tissue in Alida’s lungs is not growing, so as the healthy tissue around it increases we’ve been told that eventually she may be able to do without the oxygen during the day,” Debbie says.
“Alida calls the oxygen her ‘O’ and she lets us know when she needs more because she can feel if she is getting low.”
Aaron says they are trying to provide their daughter with some independence and Mr Gibbs helps them to do just that.
“He is still learning; he’s very much a puppy in some ways, playful and gangly. But when he wears the vest, he’s all business and does really well, even in public,” Aaron says.
Mr Gibbs has been trained to follow Alida’s instructions as well as those of both her parents.
“Getting him to listen to a three-year-old is harder. But he’s getting used to her,” Aaron says.
Alida has been taught to echo every order the family gives and the dog is starting to accept her as his charge. The pair even managed to negotiate the crowds on a recent family holiday to Disney World.
“Our dog Ruby has given our son Nathan his independence”
Gavin Ford says labrador Ruby, who has been with the family for four years, is an asset to both his son Nathan, 14, who has cerebral palsy, and the whole family.
“Nathan was looking for more independence, but with his disability, he wasn’t able to achieve that.
“Ruby does a lot of the things Nathan isn’t capable of doing, which we take for granted, such as switching on the lights, opening and closing doors or picking up things he has dropped. She also provides companionship.
“She’s not only changed his life, but she’s also changed the family. She makes us laugh a lot more and he’s a lot happier. He does get frustrated with his disability and the dog helps to defuse that situation at times.
“Companion dogs are amazing. Nathan and Ruby are best friends. That’s the first thing he’ll always say.”
“Because I have Harley, my family doesn’t worry as much”
Paul Cox, 38, had a car accident more than a decade ago which left him unable to walk, but things became much easier when labrador Harley came into his life five years ago.
“After my accident, my older brother gave up his job to become my fulltime carer. I live with my mum and brother and they worried when I went out. Because I have Harley, they don’t worry as much as they used to.
“I’m always dropping things, so he’s always there to pick them up.
“I’ve always been a person who’s been close to animals. All the animals I’ve ever had have been rescues.
“After the accident people were stand-offish and didn’t want to approach me. With Harley, the biggest thing that changed was that all of a sudden people wanted to come over and pat the dog and meet me.”