I have a muscle wasting condition called FSH muscular dystrophy, which has been steadily affecting my mobility since my early teens. Â Iâ€™ve been totally confined to using an electric wheelchair for several years.
Not long after I was diagnosed with FSH, it became obvious to me that although the doctors and scientists would one day find a cure for my condition it would not be during my lifetime and that in the short term I would be more reliant on those people who could offer practical everyday help, such as the physiotherapists and occupational therapists. However it never dawned on me that one of the greatest things that was ever going to help me would come in the form of a dog!
The first time I heard of Canine Partners was in 2008. I Â soon realised the many benefits there would be in having such a wonderful working dog by my side. I made the initial call and got the ball rolling by sending in my application.Â I was asked to Canine Partners training centre in Heyshott, West Sussex, for my first assessment day.Â That day spent in the company of these amazing dogs had me hooked instantly.
I then spent two more fantastic days working with several lovely dogs.Â Just over a week later I got a phone call telling me that I was matched with a beautiful black lab/retriever cross called Kelty.
Kelty had actually been puppy walked in the East of Scotland, so it was an added bonus to be able to bring her home. The next step was to undertake training together at Heyshott. The weeks leading up to heading south were full of anticipation and nerves.Â My two weeks at the centre were anything but a walk in the park; it was exhilarating, exhausting, exciting and at times exasperating as Kelty and I learned how to work with each other.Â The entire time was a truly memorable experience. Finally I headed home with Kelty by my side and thatâ€™s where she has been ever since.
Kelty does many amazing things for me.Â Sheâ€™ll get the phone from any room in the house, sheâ€™ll hand over my money at the shops, sheâ€™ll open and close doors, get the mail, take off my socks, empty the washing machine, the list goes on and on.Â However, the truth of the matter is that although all the practical tasks are fantastic, and every one is a help to me, I have found in many ways itâ€™s the simplest of things that she does for me that is the biggest help of all.
One of the most frustrating things for me is annoying everyday problems such as dropping things and not being able to pick them up. It may sound trivial, but itâ€™s one of those exasperating things that really wear you down. Before having Kelty, if I dropped anything it meant either going and getting my litter picker and trying to retrieve the item myself or having to call someone to help. Iâ€™m personally very fortunate as I have a wonderful wife and son who are always there to help, but, like everyone else, I want to be able to do things for myself and not be constantly relying on others. Since having Kelty this daily frustration is a thing of the past. As soon as she hears anything drop, Kelty is straight up looking to see what it is and ready to pass it back to me.
Kelty has also been great for my self-esteem.Â When you lose your mobility people stop giving you responsibility for things. This isnâ€™t done for any other reason than love and kindness: in truth they are in many ways doing the right thing and I am forever in debt to my wife, family and friends for the many things they do to help me. It was, however, very refreshing when Canine Partners stipulated that it was essential that I was the one who was to take full responsibility for Kelty. I was to be the one to feed, groom and exercise her. I believe people thrive on responsibility and the mental stimulation it brings. Disabled people are no exception to this rule; in fact in many ways we need it even more than others.
Itâ€™s not just the physical things that Kelty helps with; having a dog like Kelty by my side helps to break down many of the social barriers that come from being a wheelchair user. With a dog by your side, people who previously wouldnâ€™t have spoken to you suddenly want to stop and talk.Â Iâ€™ve lived in the same village for just over twenty years now and I can honestly say that Iâ€™ve spoken to more local people since having Kelty than in all the previous years put together.
The arrival of Kelty isnâ€™t just good for me; she also brings great peace of mind for my wife.Â When she is out at work, itâ€™s a tremendous comfort to her to know that Kelty is with me and if anything were to happen Kelty could raise the alarm, or bring me the phone.
Our most memorable moments happened only a couple of days after bringing Kelty home. I had been advised that it would be best just to let Kelty settle in for a few days before starting getting her working for me. But Kelty had other ideas!Â Whilst in the bathroom, I dropped a small plastic bottle. Â Kelty was waiting outside the door and the moment I opened it she was in the room.Â She instinctively scanned the room, found the bottle, picked it up and placed it in my hand. It was the simplest of tasks, but the most wondrous of moments.Â It symbolised to me how Kelty was going to give me back so much of the independence that I had lost.
We are having a wonderful time together and I consider myself extremely fortunate that Iâ€™m one of the lucky few people in the country to have one of these amazing dogs by my side.Â I will never be able to thank Canine Partners enough.
There are two puppy training satellites in Scotland – one in Paisley and one in Stirling.Â We are always looking for volunteers, fundraisers etc so if you would like to help Â why not get in touch on 0845 4811915?Â For more information seeÂ www.caninepartners.org.uk