How my assistance dog helped me feel like myself again
My physio suggested I look into getting an assistance dog - I couldn’t pick stuff up from the floor that I’d dropped, and assistance dogs can help with that.
I started off a bit pessimistic. I loved dogs but had no experience of keeping one. But I went online and had a look at some videos of what the dogs could do and decided to apply to the charity Canine Partners.
However the waiting lists are very long. Over time I lost the image of having a dog. Then, all of a sudden they called and said they were sending someone round to check my house to see if it was safe for a dog. Then I had to wait for another few months! It was a rollercoaster, my hopes were up and down.
Eventually I was invited to the Canine Partners centre in Loughborough and spent a day with some of the dogs. I was quite overwhelmed by the things they can do, they’re so smart and clever. A few months later Canine Partners called and said that they had a puppy for me – a black male Labrador called Oxford.
I went down again to their centre in Osgathorpe near Loughborough, for two weeks training. At the beginning of the training they told us it was going to be tough, that there would be crying and laughter. I thought: come on! It’s a dog, how hard can it be? It proved me wrong!
A confidence boost
We started with the theory and then worked on the cues, commands and routines. We started by going out to a small village to see how we controlled our dogs when there were distractions around – a half eaten sausage on the floor, pigeons, people with other dogs etc.
Doing this with Oxford was the first time I felt I wasn’t the centre of attention, because I wasn’t on my own. When you use a wheelchair people don’t know how to react. But with a dog alongside everyone says hello. He’s the centre of attention! It’s a line of communication. I felt like myself again.
How Oxford helps me
Oxford is the reason I leave the house. He’s got to exercise everyday (to walk couple of miles) so I have to leave the house and take him to the park. This means I get my share of everyday exercise too. At home he does things like pick the mail off the floor for me, or retrieve my keys when I’ve left them inside. There are days when I don’t have enough strength or stamina in the morning to get off the bed. I have a rubber toy that I hold at one end and he tugs at the other, and with that tug I can get myself out of bed.
We are family
It takes a lot of time and money to train a dog like Oxford. When they are young they live with puppy parents, and Oxford’s puppy parents have become like extended family to me. After I’d had him for a while they got in touch and sent me an album of photos of Oxford as a puppy. Then they came to visit and they’ve now become good friends – as Oxford is with their dog Sky.
I can’t remember life without him.