Virgin Australia had a four-legged guest on June 7 when Lacey the trainee service dog flew from Brisbane to Rockhampton.
Lacey, the 18 month-year-old golden Labrador is being trained by Canine Helpers Australia to assist retired Paralympic swimmer Marayke Jonkers, who flies frequently for her work as a motivational speaker and the flight was a requirement of her being placed with Marayke.
Head trainer Andrew Holmes says Lacey handled the trip well. “We wanted to take Lacey on a flight as a training exercise in preparation for her life with marayke, and Virgin Australia was the only domestic airline which would accept a trainee dog", he said.
Lacey spent the entire flight asleep on the floor, “she thought it was in first class and spent the whole time laid back relaxing,” he said.
This was her ‘ virgin’ (first ever) flight and Lacey had a seat allocated to her on board the aircraft. She was secured with a special dog seat belt. The duo of Lacey and Andrew departed Brisbane airport at 8:30 AM and headed to lunch in Rockhampton with another assistance dog, Dougal and his owner, before returning on the 3:30 PM flight.
Upon their return they were met at the airport by Marayke who was excited to hear that Lacey travelled well.
Lacey has been in training for a full year, and has learned tasks such as opening and closing doors, putting washing in and out of the machine, retrieving dropped items, pressing the walk button at traffic lights, pressing the button in elevators and retrieving the telephone when it is ringing.
When she is fully trained she will have a graduation ceremony where the yellow trainee “L plates” are removed from her coat, and she will then live full-time with Marayke.
Marayke, who became paraplegic in a car accident as a child, went on to swim for Australia at three Paralympic games winning two bronze and silver Paralympic medal. She says receiving her first service dog will be life changing.
“I applied for a service dog last year, after sustaining overuse injuries to my arms from too much swimming. After so many years of travelling the world as an elite athlete and being fully independent, it has been quite frustrating not being able to perform simple tasks like picking up a dropped item, and I'm hoping that Lacey will help me return to my former levels of independence,” says the 32-year-old from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.