Celebrating National Volunteer Week 2024

In honour of National Volunteer Week and celebrating our remarkable community we want to introduce you to one of Assistance Dogs Australia’s dedicated puppy volunteers. Her story is a testament that raising an ADA puppy can be a fulfilling addition to all types of families.

Sydney-based volunteer Catherine Jongma began volunteering in 2016 and since, has been the volunteer Puppy Educator of five puppies. As an experienced volunteer, she has also provided short-term care for many more dogs in all stages of their ADA career. Catherine’s niece, Abby who is an Assistant Dog recipient, inspired Catherine to join the ADA community.

“We saw the huge difference that Abby’s dog, Jemima, made in her life. Abby was 10 years old when she was matched with Jemima, who provided great social and emotional support, as well as increased independence,” she says.

Witnessing first-hand the impact of an Assistance Dog is truly inspiring, raising the puppies who will become Assistance Dogs is no less special. After raising multiple puppies on their ADA journey, Catherine reflects on how fulfilling it has been to see their puppies get matches.

“We have loved all our puppies. It was super special to meet up with the recipient of our chocolate Labrador, Letty. We spent some time together with Letty’s recipient and her family and are fortunate to hear about how much Letty is helping with hospital visits, car trips and outings in general.”

Five puppies later, what keeps Catherine and the Jongma family coming back?

“I really love puppies, so it’s naturally enjoyable to have a puppy around the home. It’s also great you can take the puppy almost anywhere in a public place. The ADA community is lovely, and we all take interest in each other’s experiences with our individual puppies.”

“There is also lots of lovely downtime with your puppy when you are just hanging out at home and having lots of fun playing, or just having a chill time together.”

Often ADA hears that people are super keen to volunteer but think personal commitments like having children, working outside the home, or renting means they’re not suitable. Catherine is a prime example of why that’s not true and a multifaceted life is advantageous for ADA puppies. In addition to Puppy raising, she is a mum of four and says her children have been an important part of the Puppy Education experience.

“Our children definitely help with training. We set up a roster of who is on ‘puppy duty,’ especially in the early weeks when we are focused on toilet training. The children have really enjoyed having a puppy in training and we have often taken the puppy to school to help widen the understanding of Assistance Dogs in the community.”

“It’s so great for the children to give the gift of a puppy back and understand the life-changing difference it will have for someone with disabilities.”

Why letting go of the puppy isn’t a deal breaker:

At around 14 months of age, puppies enter Advanced Training, say farewell to the family that raised them and move to ADA’s National Training School. The idea of having to say goodbye to their pup is understandably challenging for many potential volunteers. Catherine advocates for the bittersweet goodbye, understanding the important journey ahead for the pup.

“You have to focus on your original motivation for volunteering to raise a puppy. You are playing a vital role in helping another person have greater independence and a better life in general. The joy of seeing that fulfilled overrides your grief at saying goodbye to your puppy.”

“I also trust that ADA love all their puppies and will send them to the right person where the puppy will thrive. Overall, it doesn’t break your heart, it helps it grow bigger.”

Catherine’s message to anyone thinking of applying to become an ADA puppy volunteer is simple: do it!

“We need your help. We will support you and it will be a life-changing experience for you, the puppy, and the future recipient of your trained puppy. Please apply!”

Start your ADA puppy volunteering journey today. Click here or call 1800 688 364.

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