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Sixmilebridge's Jane Quinn alongside her daughter Zoe's service dog Woody. Jane is doing a sponsored sky-dive to raise money for My Canine Companion

Clare mother faces her fears to fly high for charity

A CLARE mother is preparing to face her fears by jumping out of a plane thousands of feet in the air to raise money for a charity close to her family’s heart. Jane Quinn, who lives in Sixmilebridge, will be doing a tandem sky-dive in aid of My Canine Companion, an Irish charity providing accredited service dogs to people with disabilities, predominantly autism.
The family have seen first hand the positive benefits of a service dog having recently welcomed puppy Woody into the life of daughter Zoe, who was diagnosed with autism at four years of age. Jane is hoping that by doing the sky-dive she will be able to raise enough funds for the charity so that another family can experience the “life changing” effects of having a service dog.
Jane is aiming to raise €10,000 from the sky-dive which is set to take place in Kilkenny this Friday, July 30. She admits she is “absolutely terrified” of flying, so why get into a small plane and take on a sky-dive challenge? “Everyone thinks I’m mad!” she laughs.
She explains, “Like a lot of other charities all over the country, fundraising for My Canine Companion has been severely impacted by Covid-19 and I wanted to give something back to them so other families can get support – and to push myself as well.
“Anyone who knows me, knows I’m scared of flying. But when I look at Zoe, and other kids who are on the spectrum, every day they face their fears, be it going into social situations, even down to getting dressed. They face their fears from the minute they get up in the morning. I just wanted to do something meaningful, so I said I have to face one of my fears so another family can have an opportunity to experience this, to bring a dog into their lives which will change everything for them for the good. We’re lucky enough to have received Woody recently and I’ve already seen the positive changes he has brought.”
Zoe has just turned six and is pre-verbal with a few words, including saying Woody’s name. Jane explains that her daughter struggles with social situations and communication, sometimes resulting in “meltdowns” which can bring challenges for the whole family. There have been times when days out or shopping trips have had to be abandoned at the last minute.
“Zoe struggles to the point where we can spend two hours in the car to go somewhere as a family and when we get there she might not be able to go in due to her social anxiety. This has a severe impact on us as a family. Zoe’s older sister Carly, who is nine,  is amazing with Zoe and they have a beautiful relationship. However, when Zoe cannot enter a place where we had intended on spending a lovely family day out, it is very upsetting for Carly.
“I remember we travelled down to a pet farm in Cork last year, and when we got there Zoe just wouldn’t go in. It can be very difficult, even down to just doing the weekly shopping. Sometimes what happens if we go somewhere we have to split up the family, I would stay with Zoe and my husband Brian will go with daughter Carly.”
After a few weeks with Woody, Jane has seen Zoe beginning to bond with Woody. “She has started to play ball with him and every so often she rubs him and smiles while doing it. And there is a twinkle in her eye, I just can’t describe it, it’s a kind of giddiness and it’s just amazing to see.
“The hope with Woody in our lives is that he will help bring us together as a family on days out, rather than having to split up and meet later we can be together. That Woody will ease Zoe’s anxiety and she will be comfortable walking in because Woody is by her side. Also that he will be a companion for her. Being pre-verbal she does find it difficult. All the kids in her mainstream class come up to her and say hi, but she kind of shies away.”
She continues, “Raising funds for the charity I am hoping that another family who is in a similar situation will be able to see these benefits too.”
According to the charity, service dogs can help a child and his or her family living with autism in many ways. This includes helping to increase safety levels and alleviating bolting behaviours; providing independence as the child doesn’t have to hold the parents hand; giving greater freedom to go out in public thanks to the calming effect of the dog; helping with transitioning which leads to reduced stress levels and a more positive experience for all, and also acting as a constant companion, offering unconditional love and friendship to the child
Jane first came across My Canine Companion while researching ways to support her daughter and she was on the waiting list for a service dog from the charity. Then a chance meeting in Limerick resulted in her understanding of their work deepening even further.
“My father met Catherine Michelle Hassett, who breeds dogs for the charity, when he was in the city one day and they got chatting. I couldn’t believe it when I found out there was someone from My Canine Companion living close by with the nursery in Sixmilebridge.”
A self confessed dog lover, Jane began volunteering to help Catherine out with the puppies. “It was a social outlet for me, I just wanted to find something for myself, a bit of me time. Through this I also saw first hand the fantastic work the charity do, and I’ve met families who have told me the positive life changing effects the dogs have had on their lives.”
Catherine, who has been involved with the charity for eight years, tells us she was delighted when she heard that Zoe had been selected to receive a dog while on the waiting list.
“Jane has been a tremendous help, she’s a natural when it comes to dogs. I have seen first-hand the success stories of people who have received a dog from My Canine Companion, I have seen definite development within children’s progress, their mental awareness, their physicality. For a family who are living with autism to have an opportunity to have a dog in their environment that will change and make a difference is just huge. I see it, the whole family dynamic changes. It’s all inclusive. The dog might be Zoe’s to work with, but when the jacket is not on and the dog isn’t working they are a family pet. They are there for everybody and the dogs seem to gravitate towards who needs them in the house.”
She continues, “When Jane came to tell me she was planning on doing the sky-dive for the charity to raise funds so that other families could benefit I was just amazed. My Canine Companion is all about bringing families together, and it’s just fantastic that Jane is going to face her fears to help achieve that.”
The charity, which was set up in 2011 by husband-and-wife team Cliona O’Rourke and Niall Ruddy is the largest provider of service dogs to children and young adults with autism in Ireland. Jane explains that young puppies are placed with their future end-user families which helps grow the bond between dog and child from an early stage. This is a totally new approach to providing qualified service dogs to families.
Children’s parents socialise and carry out basic training with the puppy under the supervision of their My Canine Companion instructor and with the encouragement and support of mentor families who have completed the programme.
They attend monthly classes on handling and obedience with a My Canine Companion instructor, eventually travelling to a ‘boot camp’ in Cork for additional training in how to handle a qualified dog. My Canine Companion does not charge any of its clients for the provision of its service dog programme.
A fundraising web page has been set up for the charity sky-dive, which despite her fears, Jane says she is looking forward to. Though the same can’t be said for everyone. “It’s all booked and I’m ready to go. I’m actually excited about it, my husband and my father not so much! They keep sending me videos of sky-dives going wrong. My husband has even organised for a safety technical expert to double check my harness before I get on the plane,” she laughs.
On Friday she will be cheered on by family and friends, with others who have received dogs from My Canine Companion also planning to make the journey to show their support. Jane is even planning on taking a ‘go-pro’ on the sky-dive so she can be filmed on the way down with the video set to go up online so she can share the experience.
Her parents have sponsored the skydive so all funds raised will go directly to My Canine Companion. Jane has already raised close to €5,000, however there is still a way to go to meet her target. “I’m just overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity so far, I just want to say thank you so much to everyone who has supported me. I would be ever so grateful for any donation and together with your help we can help change the lives of another family,” she says.

Donations to the fundraiser can be made at www.idonate.ie/skydiveforMCC
For more on My Canine Companion check https://www.mycaninecompanion.ie/

About Jessica Quinn

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