I’m sorry to have to break this to all you fans of Mr B out there – but when it comes to Man's Best Friend, I am afraid he is not what you could call a dog-lover.
So when he found out that the subject of the talk at our U3A (University of the Third Age) meeting this afternoon was “Canine Partners”, he wasn’t too impressed. You could see it written all over his face:
he has one annoying partner who insists on going out for “walkies”, does he really need to hear about others? Especially of the canine variety. It is to the enormous credit of our speaker, the warm and witty Mr Malcolm Wells, that by 3.15
p.m. Mr B was quite bowled over.
I think I vaguely knew what Canine Partners was all about before our speaker took to the floor having seen some of the purple-coated
dogs taking part, with their partners, in the Olympic Torch Relay last year. “I know what you’re all thinking,” he started off, “Where’s the dog?” It was so very true. He went on to explain the three reasons why he
did not have a dog with him, the third and final reason being: “And anyway I don’t like dogs.” I suspected this might be a bit of a porky-pie, given his job as an ambassador for a charity that trains puppies to become Right Hand Pets for
people with disabilities. Mr B took his words at face value and perked up a bit.
How on earth does a dog learn to help its human partner to dress, to open and
close doors, to go shopping, to cross a busy road – even to fill a washing machine with dirty clothes and turn it on to the correct cycle? As Malcolm explained, it’s all achieved through a painstaking repetition of play, praise and reward
associated with each tiny movement mastered. Trainee puppies, chosen for their gentle temperament, cooperative and easy-going nature, curiosity and love of people, spend a year in the homes of puppy trainers, followed by a short period of more intensive training
and introduction to their human partner.
You will be assuming, I am sure, that the person needing the dog would choose his or her own doggy partner. I did –
but, no, Malcolm told us that it is always the dog which chooses its future partner. To prove the point he told us the story of the man who felt that one of the two black Labradors would help his street cred down at the pub – only to find himself chosen
by a poodle. I liked that story. It is a Story For Our Times.
Apparently, if we didn’t feel we were up to the task of training a puppy in our own home
for its first twelve months, then there was always the option of adopting a Canine Partner dog once it had retired from active service at the age of nine or ten. Malcolm made this sound quite tempting – our doggy friends would continue to be really good
at picking things up off the floor, for example, and, on account of all their shopping experiences, made excellent shop-lifters...
After the talk came the drawing of the raffle. We didn’t win anything. I raided the book stall and came home with two more books to add to the piles of “Books Still To Be Read” which are sprouting, alarmingly, from the floor
next to the television set. I pondered on buying a second-hand jigsaw puzzle (I love jigsaws) but Mr B said don’t even think about it.
By the way, Malcolm Wells MBE travels
all round the country giving his funny but inspiring talks to groups and organisations – if you are interested you can email him on firstname.lastname@example.org
Just remember to ask
him why he hasn't brought his dog...