Canine Partners is a national charity that provides highly trained assistance dogs to people who have disabilities (www.caninepartners.org.uk).
Stephanie Read, who comes from Torquay, has Ehlers Danlos and is registered as blind. Stephanie received her dog, Vegas, from the charity in 2006 and three years later in 2009, Vegas received additional training from Guide Dogs so she could become a dual-purpose assistance dog and be able to safely guide a visually impaired person in an electric wheelchair. Stephanie spoke about how much of a difference Vegas has made to her life:
“Before getting Vegas, I was virtually a prisoner in my own home. I lacked confidence and felt isolated from the outside world. I needed help to get dressed and carry out the most basic domestic tasks, from answering the telephone to picking up a book or newspaper. I had to rely entirely on a carer, often having to wait many hours for assistance to arrive.”
Canine Partners has been training assistance dogs since 1990 for people with a wide range of disabilities. Over 1.2 million people in the UK use a wheelchair, and a large number of those people would be benefitted by having a canine partner. The dogs are matched up carefully to the needs and lifestyle of the applicant, regardless of the extent, and the charity even assists the HM Armed Forces. The dogs are trained extensively so they can help with simple, everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, picking up items that have been dropped, emptying the washing machine, pressing switches and buttons and going for assistance in an emergency.
Canine Partners has recently announced it is working in partnership with Help for Heroes to help wounded servicemen and women benefit from having a highly trained assistance dog perform everyday tasks they might find difficult, painful or impossible.
“With Vegas by my side I am able to carry out tasks such as putting on my own clothes, using the washing machine, taking money out of a cash point, picking up the telephone, answering the door and being able to decide what time to go to bed without having to wait for a carer to be available.
What’s more, Vegas provides me with the freedom and confidence to leave home when I want to. We enjoy regular outings around Torquay and when we are at roads, Vegas presses the pelican crossing button with her paw. She is incredibly tidy and anything left on the floor is picked up by Vegas, regardless of whether it needs to be moved or not. Even my cat counts as clutter, so Vegas rushes to nudge the front door shut before she can dash inside the house!”
Stephanie also talked about the tasks Vegas can do for her and explained how she will help put her sling on and has even assisted Stephanie to a level that she has now become the vice chair at the Coalition for the Disabled in Torquay. Vegas has also become quite the superstar in the area and revels in the attention from the public.
“I feel we have an extraordinary bond that was strengthened a few years ago when I fell from my wheelchair in the pouring rain. Although it took over an hour for help to arrive, she stayed next to me the whole time offering comfort and reassurance. Vegas has transformed my freedom, mobility and independence – every home should have one and with her I feel I have won the jackpot!”
Canine Partners does not receive any funding from the government and is completely dependent on legacies and public donations. Members of the public can help support Canine Partners in many ways; from volunteering to become a puppy parent, fundraising, saving used stamps, joining the Adopt a Puppy scheme and so much more. For more information, please visit www.caninepartners.org.uk