There is this dog.....
But not any dog, believe me. This is a Canine Partner dog, a beautiful, bouncy Tigger of a Labradoodle
named Lexi. She is still in training so not quite ready to be let loose in someone’s home but she is getting there. One day, soon, she will change somebody’s life for the better.
Mr B and I are at Canine Partners’ National Training Centre in Heyshott, West Sussex with our Merry Band of Questers. (Regular readers will remember that Questers is a group which goes on “behind the scenes”
outings to places near and far – we have never been on so many outings in our lives!) We were a little surprised by the sheer number of cars parked in the field adjoining the centre – but it turned out that we were not alone on our visit. The fella
directing us where to park explained that they were expecting over 90 people to today’s Information Session.
It may have been a bit of a wet trudge
across the field to the centre (mostly my fault for wearing completely the wrong shoes for the occasion) but there was no doubting the warm welcome we received. Lots of staff on hand to meet and greet, plus piping hot tea /coffee and biscuits (I passed
on the biscuits – what will-power!) and a table of goodies to inspect before our session started.
If you haven’t heard of Canine Partners then think
Guide Dogs for the Blind but for people with severe disabilities who need a hand with all manner of tasks, from shopping, to undressing, to emptying the washing machine. In their distinctive purple jackets, the Canine Partner dogs are Carers on Four
Legs. With seemingly permanently waggy tails to boot.
I sat next to my friend Christine and we could hear each other sniffing back the tears as we listened to
one story after another from people whose lives were transformed when their canine partner came to stay. It was a good thing we sat together, a case of Snuffling in Sympathy. Mr B sat on my other side but kept a manly stiff upper lip.
Puppies spend a year with a “Puppy Parent” being trained to Canine Partners’ guidelines. They learn how to behave impeccably in shops and restaurants, cope
with transport and be well mannered with people and other creatures. Would that Mr B was so well-trained! After this initial year there is a period of intensive training at Heyshott (or next year in the new training centre being built in the Midlands) to learn
all the really tricky tasks. About 76% of the trainees pass the test to become a canine partner.
We meet one of the 24% who failed the test – a beautiful
nine year old Golden Labrador whose name I sadly have forgotten – but who gives us a perfect performance, showing off all her skills. One of our group asks why she hasn’t been placed, bearing in mind her excellence in carrying out even the most
delicate of tasks. It turns out she failed the Behaviour Test – in other words, she is just too naughty. At the mere mention of the word “naughty” she is wriggling about on the floor to our eager applause.
Icharus is the third dog we meet, along with his sweet and inspirational human partner. She has suffered from severe breathing difficulties since childhood – all her life her dreams
of how life might be have come to nothing. Then, late in life, along comes Icharus and changes her whole world. We could all tell that addressing a large audience was way, way out of her comfort zone- but Icharus, lying at her feet, kept making
quiet, woofy noises in support and her own voice grew stronger and stronger as she told us her story.
The stories stay in our minds, even as we head over to the
historic Unicorn Inn for lunch. The young girl in her early twenties who had to have all four limbs amputated because of meningococcal disease. The former military man paralysed from the neck down, no longer the action man. The young woman who has been
able to dispense with the carers who used to come to put her to bed at the ridiculously early hour of 6.30 p.m. because her Canine Partner could do everything that was needed around her bedtime routine. With his help, she is able to have “normal”
evenings, watching TV, listening to music, like any other youngster.
These amazing dogs don’t just change people’s lives – they give them
their lives back.