A GIRL and her assistance dog have become firm friends following an 18-month training push and a tireless grassroots fundraising campaign.
Six-year-old Lexie Eveleigh and her pooch Gigi met with members of It's Her Gym and Rotary Club of Bendigo Strathdale on Friday to thank them, businesses, schools and the wider community for raising $27,500 for dog training.
The pair were united in July two years after members of her mother Kerrie's gym began taking donations for Lexie, who is the only reported person with a combination of two rare chromosomal imbalances.
Lexie is healthy but non-verbal and she has an intellectual disability, Mrs Eveleigh said.
Gigi is a constant companion and was trained by Smart Pups Assistance Dogs to be tethered to Lexie, track her when lost, bring items and detect choking and vomiting.
"Gigi has helped Lexie remain a lot calmer, reduced her anxiety and go to places that we couldn't go to as a family," she said.
"Just being able to go to busy environments like The Zone used to be nearly impossible with three kids. Lexie can run off and seek a quiet place to hide but with Gigi she is able to remain safe at all times.
"It's just amazing being able to do things like go out shopping and not worry about her getting lost."
How Bendigo helped Lexie walk:
Gym owner Sue Walton had noticed Lexie's confidence around big groups since Gigi had arrived.
"We've seen Lexie since she was teeny-tiny. We never thought she would be able to interact like this with people," she said.
Ms Walton said Mrs Eveleigh had mentioned in 2017 that an assistance dog would make all the difference.
"I thought 'right, let's get the dog'. We didn't know how we were going to do it," she said.
"We started with tins in the gym and donations over social media. But it sort of ground to a halt at about about $5000. It was always going to be hard to raise the money."
The Rotary Club stepped in, taking advantage of the Rotary Australia World Community Service, which together contributed $22,400.
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