Sonya McDowall – AVCAT Scholar

The Long Tan Bursary has made a huge difference in easing the financial pressures of being an older student and has enabled me to continue to work towards achieving my dream.

By Sonya McDowall

Sonya and her hearing assistance dog Dashii

My high school headmaster told me that my disability was a hindrance to his teaching staff and that it was a waste of time supporting me as I would amount to nothing anyway. These words stuck with me for a long time and during my first degree, and as a young adult, I often hid my hearing impairment from others. I struggled to find a place within the employment world in my early adult life, even after graduating with my first degree.

It was when I moved to London, UK where I learnt that a disability is irrelevant. I found work easily and often supported within my roles. I rapidly worked my way up the ranks and was amazed at what I was able to achieve with no issues concerning my disability. Working in healthcare in the UK gave me the confidence to return to university as an older adult when I came back to Australia and pursue my dream of working with animals.

I undertook a Bachelor of Veterinary Technology and was accepted into the honours program where I achieved first-class honours. This is where I found my real passion and brought together disability, healthcare and veterinary as I explored the challenges of Therapy and Assistance Dogs.

Following my achievements during my honours program, I have since been successful in obtaining a full PhD scholarship to undertake research to establish the cost efficiencies for Health and Social Care delivered by Assistance Dogs within Australia and the associated impact on the welfare of the dogs. This research, I hope, will enable more people with disabilities to access support from assistance dogs, and ensure the welfare and care of the dogs that provide this vital support. Early research into the role of assistance and therapy dogs for veterans has identified key wellness outcomes. I was raised in a military family and my father is living with PTSD following the Vietnam War. The Long Tan Bursary has made a huge difference in easing the financial pressures of being an older student and has enabled me to continue to work towards achieving my dream, and hopefully, better outcomes for others in the community.

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