Little girl dresses as her aunt’s assistance dog for Book Week

(Picture: Belle Higgins)

Four year old Charlotte ditched the standard princess costume for something more meaningful.

She attended her Sydney daycare’s Book Week dressed as Thadeus the assistance dog, to raise awareness about mental health and the importance of service animals.

Charlotte’s mother Belle Higgins shared a picture of her daughter in her Book Week outfit on Facebook, accompanied by a post that explained why Charlotte chose not to follow the crowd with her choice of costume.

Belle wrote: ‘My daughter wanted to go as a princess to book week.

‘She is four so naturally I could see why that was the best option in her little head to dress up like a princess for the day, but we challenged her to think about it and empowered her to think beyond the female stereotypes.

‘Instead she picked a book called Next Door’s Dog Has a Job, by Gina Dawson. It was given to her by her aunt who has an assistance dog.’

Charlotte’s auntie has Thadeus the White Swiss Shepherd to help with her mental health problems.

Charlotte wasn’t entirely happy about giving up her princess costume and she ‘cried her eyes out’ about not looking ‘pretty’ like all the other girls.

Ms Higgins decided to call her sister and ask if she would speak to Charlotte on the phone to settle her down.

She wrote: ‘Without a second thought my sister jumped in the car and drove an hour to meet us at the day care with her special dog Thaddeus, which I am so grateful for as I know some days just leaving the house is hard.

‘My sister put Thaddeus’ service vest on and took both of them into the classroom and read all the children the book.’

Adorable book week costume - Belle Higgins
Charlotte and Thadeus with the book Charlotte chose as her dress-up inspiration. (Picture: Belle Higgins)

Charlotte’s auntie helped the whole class of children understand that some dogs have important jobs and they might be helping someone who has issues that aren’t immediately obvious.

The teacher initially asked whether Belle’s sister was Thadeus’ trainer because she ‘doesn’t look sick’.

However, she was quickly set right.

Ms Higgins went on to write: ‘I had a few tears in my eyes when my sister stepped forward and proudly said “No, he is my assistance dog, he is here to help me, he goes everywhere with me and helps me everyday”.

‘I can’t tell you how proud I was of her.’

Charlotte’s costume helped to educate the children in her class about assistance dogs and their role in helping people with lots of different problems.

In Australia, specially trained dogs are provided to people with vision and hearing impairments, mobility issues, autism, epilepsy and mental health problems, among other conditions.

‘Disabilities can be diverse and invisible. Assistance dogs come in many shapes and sizes. Mind dogs help people in a variety of ways and are highly trained to assist their human companions.’

Belle encouraged readers to help others and not to give up on loved one who struggles with their mental health.

‘I believe that when “I” is replaced by “we”, illness becomes wellness. And talking about it is the first step to remove the stigma. Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it’s going on when you don’t have the strength.

‘Did you know, four in every 16 young Aussies between 15-30 live with mental health issues every single day?

‘One in four of those are too embarrassed to discuss the problem with anyone and nearly half are afraid of what others would think of them.

Adorable book week costume - Belle Higgins
Our hearts are melting. (Picture: Belle Higgins)

‘It’s OK not to be OK and it’s important we reach out to our friends and family and encourage each other to talk about our mental health the same way in which we talk about our physical health because I believe they go hand-in-hand.’

Although her post was deleted from the group she’d originally posted it in, Ms Higgins is aware that her words have had an impact.

She said: ‘I’ve had many day care teachers contact me saying they are going to encourage children not to dress up just as prince and princesses.

‘I’ve had people who are struggling with mental health just thank me for helping them get though the day and a lot of people asking about assistance dogs.’

Little Charlotte’s costume, her mum’s post on Facebook and her auntie’s bravery in coming to read to the daycare class are all examples of how the conversation around difficult issues like mental health can be started in a positive way.