Dogs are more than man’s best friend - they can be a vital lifeline for people with disabilities.
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Christa is so valuable to me. I could not cope without her. She loves working.Lynn Matthews
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Dogs for Good’s assistance dogs support adults and children with a range of disabilities and also children with autism, providing practical support, increasing confidence and enabling greater independence.
It also trains activity and therapy dogs to work with specialist handlers in communities and schools and its Family Dog team also gives specialist advice and support to help people get the most out of their relationship with their pet dog.
The North West branch, based in Preston, was launched a year ago and supports people in Lancashire, as well as Wigan, Manchester and Cumbria.
So far, members have raised £10,238 through a variety of fund-raising activities.
This money can either purchase 12 puppies for the assistance dog scheme; pay for a year’s worth of health and welfare costs for 37 dogs in training or cover the costs of advanced training for seven dogs.
Dogs for Good’s chief executive, Peter Gorbing says: “We would like to thank this amazing group for their hard work during its inaugural year. This is indeed a truly remarkable achievement and we really do appreciate the enthusiasm, hard work, creativity and dedication that went into raising such a fantastic amount of money.”
Graham Turner, North West chairman, says: “When we started, we intended to train dogs for disabled clients around the house and it has grown considerably, as we realised how valuable dogs are in all sorts of environments.
“We are not training dogs just for disabled adults and children. We are the first charity to provide assistance dogs for children in specialist areas, particularly autism. We have been supported by Children in Need which is massive for us.
“We are introducing dogs to support clients with dementia, We have community dogs trained with handlers to go into the social care environment and special schools on a daily basis to offer support. We train 50 dogs a year and it takes two years to train them.
“We have a programme with PAWS – an assistance programme to help families with autistic children to train their own pet dogs to help out.
“Socialisers look after the dogs in their own home for 18 months and then the last six months the dogs finish their training at Banbury.
“Each dog costs between £25,000 to £30,000 and remain in the ownership of the charity. Although they are given to families, they are our responsibility and we look after regular medical check ups. The dogs can cost up to £60,000 overall through their working life.”
Lynn Matthews, of Heysham, who has dystonia, says her black labrador Christa is a ‘priceless’ friend as she supports her in a variety of basic chores otherwise not possible.
The 55-year-old says: “I was diagnosed with dystonia more than 30 years ago, which makes my muscles go into spasm. It took a long time to diagnose, but it was thought it was triggered by an accident I had with my hand when I was 16.
“I use a wheelchair when I go outside and I rely on Christa, as well as my sister, Brenda.
“Christa is my second assisted dog. She is so valuable to me. I could not cope without her. She loves working. She helps me dress and undress, picks things up for me and she gets the washing out of the washing machine. She can go into overdrive as she sometimes pinches my shoes so she can give them to me again and get a treat. Dogs have their limitations but she loves trying different things.”
Lynn and Christa often attend networking events to raise awareness of the charity and showcase the dogs’ vital support.
Dogs for Good, which is in its 30th year nationally, relies entirely on donations. To donate, visit www.dogsforgood.org.