Top dog to change student’s life

Griffith student Anthony Kinnear in wheelchair with golden retriever Jasper on hind legs and leaning on chair.
Assistance dog Jasper offiically joined Nathan student Anthony Kinnear at the weekend.

The pomp and splendour of a graduation ceremony is not unusual at Griffith University but Saturday morning brought a graduation ceremony with a little less pomp and a lot more pup.

Mortar board and gown were not required when golden retriever Jasper took his university bow, swapping his training jacket for an official assistance dog outfit.

Griffith graduates are accustomed to going straight into the workforce and the story is no different for Jasper who went straight to work for Anthony Kinnear, a second-year student at the Nathan campus.

Anthony (20) was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth and uses a wheelchair to get to lectures and tutorials.

Griffith University provided on-campus accommodation to meet Anthony’s needs when he completed high school at Victoria Point State School and came to do a double degree in law and psychology in 2012.

Early in 2013, however, he realised he needed extra help and after a discussion with his parents decided to investigate the possibility of having a dog on-campus to support him.

“I started searching around March and I didn’t really know who to contact,” he says. “There is very little information immediately available.”

After some intensive googling and email exchanges he discovered Canine Helpers for the Disabled on Brisbane’s north side.

“They had a dog on their books trained to help people with serious physical disabilities. They hadn’t found anyone with the right kind of needs for his training.”

Enter Jasper, who joined Anthony on campus in late March and a beautiful relationship was launched.

Anthony admits it has always been a work in progress for both parties, but says Jasper’s influence has been increasingly beneficial to him. With the restrictions to physical movements caused by cerebral palsy, Jasper’s ability to pick up mobile phones and credit cards and push buttons to switch on lights and open doors is already making a significant difference to Anthony’s life.

“Living here was a big thing for me in its own right. Jasper was a big shift and we had to build the bond and work towards a stage when he could be the incredible benefit he is now.

“Griffith University has been fantastic in the way they enabled me, living here for the last year and a half. Otherwise I would have had to travel to and from Victoria Point each day for lecture.

“Where I lived is very isolated so this allows me a much greater sense of social interaction.”

The manager of Griffith Accommodation, Helen Watkins, said it had been a pleasure providing accommodation for Anthony and now his roommate. “Jasper has become a very popular resident! We are proud to support Anthony in his endeavours until he completes his degree.”

Anthony plans to use his degree to help and support minority groups who are disadvantaged.

At Saturday’s graduation ceremony, the president of Canine Helpers Andrew Holmes explained that more than $18,000 had been invested in Jasper’s training since he was donated to the not-for-profit organisation two years ago.