Tears of happiness were spilled in Oak Flats this week when Hunter Hawken was presented with the companion dog he had long dreamed of.
"Because of all the people here, and a lot of strangers, your wish has come true," Josh Kearn quietly told his 13-year-old stepson as his mother removed the blindfold from his face.
While an excited and emotional crowd of loved ones looked on, a golden Labrador puppy was gently placed in Hunter's lap.
"He was more in shock than anything and once the shock settled then he did shed a few tears," his aunty Emma Kearns said.
"He was definitely speechless so it was very heartwarming to watch."
Hunter, who is in a wheelechair due to an incurable muscle-wasting disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, named his new best friend Bee and asked to be taken back inside so he could keep the pup warm. In the lounge room, the two of them curled up together on the floor.
In time, Bee will be trained up to become a service dog to help Hunter move around and be more independent, until the time comes when the disease eventually robs him of all movement.
Bee was made possible because of a GoFundMe page created by Emma a fortnight ago, which raised an impressive $11,639.
The crowdfunding campaign was boosted by a whopping $2000 donation from Dr Meghan Dares and her team at Wollongong Foot and Ankle Centre, as well as a steady stream of contributions that ranged from $20 to $500.
With the money, the family was able to buy a purebred girl from a Bargo breeder, as well as a bed, blanket and some toys. It will also cover desexing and vaccination costs.
They are so in love and happy - two peas in a pod already. She just wants him and that's it.
The balance will go towards the $30,000 cost of paying a trainer to teach Bee the skills she will need to become a service dog.
A trivia night and Jolly Soles boxes are two of the ideas that have been floated to meet the shortfall.
Meantime, the family is delighted to be watching the puppy love grow between Hunter and Bee.
"She's very gentle for a puppy, I thought she'd have been full of energy but her temperament just appears to be very calm," Emma said.
"Hunter is a very calm-natured boy so whether or not she was sensing that from him and was feeling quite content, I'm not sure, but she just kept wanting to lick his face and snuggle in."
The devoted aunty was thankful to those who supported the GoFundMe page.
"I'm really proud of the community that we live in for helping my nephew get his one wish," she said.
Hunter's mother, Bec Kearns, also expressed her gratitude to the Illawarra for its help in bringing Hunter and Bee together.
"I am absolutely elated and speechless," she said.
"This would have never happened if it weren't for our family and our beautiful community."
"Hunter said he would like to thank everyone who donated money to get the puppy.
They are just so in love and happy - two peas in a pod already. She just wants him and that's it."
To donate, please visit the GoFundMe page here.
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