Gold Coast therapy dog changing kids’ lives

A young boy living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has had his life dramatically changed since he started seeing a therapy dog on the Gold Coast.

Salena Brunger noticed something was off when her son RJ was six months old.

“He couldn’t clap properly to start with. He would try to clap with one hand, but I just brushed it off,” the mum of two said.

“As time passed, more things stood out to me, like his obsession with pouring water into cups and his avoidance of looking at strangers in the eye. I knew something wasn’t right,” she said.

With his speech and motor skills delayed, Salena started taking RJ to early intervention therapies – costing vast amounts of money.

However, he wasn’t diagnosed with level two autism spectrum disorder until he was six and could access NDIS funding.

“I felt like I couldn’t get answers, even though his teachers and speech pathologists were on the same page as me,” Salena said.

Now nine years old, RJ’s life has turned around for the better after meeting therapy dog Kora, a golden retriever cross labrador, about a year ago.

He now has weekly appointments with Occupational Therapist Abigail Spanner at Medical on Robina and Medical on Burleigh, the first medical centres on the Gold Coast with a therapy dog specifically for children.


Gold Coast Occupational Therapist Working with Child

Gold Coast Occupational Therapist Abigail Spanner at Medical on Robina and Medical on Burleigh


“Early intervention is key to improvement,” Abigail said.

“Diagnosis is increasing due to the increased awareness of ASD both in the home and school settings, and there is a massive demand for access to a therapy dog like Kora.

“I have seen so much change and progress since introducing Kora to therapy sessions,” she said.

Rj with Therapy Dog Kora at Medical on Robina Gold Coast

RJ with therapy dog Kora at Medical on Robina, Gold Coast


Salena said everything turned around from just the first session.

“His mood, writing, speech, and balance have improved, and he sleeps more easily. A few months ago, he tied his shoelaces for the first time. That was a huge goal for him.”

“He is just a much happier kid at the end of the day,” she said.

The session’s cost is also completely covered by RJ’s NDIS plan.

The treatment has been so successful that Salena will send her six-year-old son, Emmett – who also has ASD and ADHD – when he’s ready.

Kora’s occupational therapy sessions with her owner, Abigail, are available at Medical on Robina on the Gold Coast.

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