19 August, 2012
Reporter: Alex Cullen
Producer: Ali Russell
Researcher: Kelly Hawke
From those paralysed by tragedy to those scarred by war, animals are transforming the lives of humans each and every day. Alex Cullen met some extraordinary people whose lives have been changed by a surprising collection of animals.
Take Detroit-based Mona Ramouni. Blind since birth, she relies on a miniature guide horse named Cali to get around, one of only six guide horses in the world. Every time Mona and Cali leave the house, they turn heads – especially when we accompanied them on a cross-country flight to reunite with the woman who trained Cali.
Cullen also met with 28-year-old Ned Rogers, who was left a quadriplegic after a tragic car accident seven years ago. His Boston family needed a hand caring for him, so capuchin monkey Kasey came to stay. Aside from helping with everyday tasks like fetching a dropped phone, turning the pages of a book or putting on a DVD, Kasey has brought laughter and fun back into Ned’s life.
“She puts the biggest smile on my face that does a lot to rejuvenate the spirit,” said Rogers.
Closer to home, Cullen visited the Wagga Wagga home of cerebral palsy sufferer Amanda McKenzie and her assistance dog, Tiggy. Not only can Tiggy unload the washing machine, open doors and get milk out of the fridge, Amanda confirmed that while the practical help is invaluable, the emotional bond he provides is even more important. “He doesn’t ask for anything,” said Amanda, fighting back tears.
“He doesn’t care about the chair and he doesn’t look at me any differently,” she said.
Animals are helping humans overcome not just physical scars, but also psychological ones. Monty Roberts, the man they call the Horse Whisperer, has built a career training horses using revolutionary non-violent techniques. But he’s only recently begun harnessing these techniques to help war veterans suffering post-traumatic stress. Former US Staff Sergeant Alicia Watkins survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the horrors of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. But returning home, the scars of war continued to haunt her. She was homeless for a year, before attending the Monty Roberts clinic that would turn her life around. “I was a dead woman walking… After a few minutes in the ring with the horse, I could see something that would forever change the course of my life,” said Watkins.
Find out more about Monty Roberts, the 'Horse Whisperer', and his horse clinics for war veterans suffering PTSD. Roberts is also touring Australia from late August to early September.
Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled is the world’s only non-profit organisation dedicated to training capuchin monkeys to provide assistance to people with mobility impairments. Click HERE to donate.
Assistance Dogs Australia trains Labradors and Golden Retrievers to help people with physical disabilities.
Assistance Dogs Australia are looking for volunteers to help raise prospective Assistance dogs until they’re 16 months old as well as puppy-sitters.
For information on guide horse training contact Zen Horsemanship.
You can follow the adventures of Cali and Mona on their blog.
Special thanks to Dolores Arste and Sue Brook, Cali’s trainers, and Becky Montano, Cali’s breeder.
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