DOGS FOR GOOD
By Ann Evans
Photos by Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Dogs for Good, formerly knows as Dogs for the Disabled held their annual Fun Day recently at the Kennel Club grounds at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire. It was a lovely day for families and their dogs plus a chance to discover more about the amazing dogs that have been partnered with a disabled person.
The sun shone, there was ice cream and tasty hot treats and plenty to see and do. Activities included demonstrations by the West Midlands Police Force showing the work they do and how their dogs are trained – including how they apprehend armed criminals.
There was an agility course with dog owners proving that you don’t have to be totally able bodied to have fun and compete. Some less able handlers had mastered the knack of ‘distance handling’ where you tell the dog what to do and where to go without having to try and keep up with them.
Children and adults enjoyed getting up close to owls and birds of prey with Fir Tree Falconry while indoors there was wheelchair badminton and other sports and activities with Dogs for Good providing demonstrations of the work they do.
Dogs for Good (Dogs for the Disabled) was founded by Francis Hay in 1986. Francis was a young, vibrant, active woman who became disabled due to cancer. She loved to live life to the full – travelling, horse riding, athletics, swimming. She also loved dogs and animals. However at 15 she was diagnosed with cancer and at 16 had her leg amputated.
This tenacious young woman did not let that stop her, and she strove to regain her mobility. She trialled artificial limbs and a documentary was made of her doing so to give encouragement to others. At home she trained her own pet dogs to help her around the house. One dog, Kim, a Belgian Shepherd formed a very special bond with Francis.
A few years ago, I spoke to Francis’ father, George Newns, here’s what he told me: “Frances would train all her dogs to do small tasks for her, usually it would be to pick up dropped items or take things to the waste paper bin.
“Kim, a Belgian Shepherd connected with Frances unlike any of the others had done before. Kim was a huge dog with black, short hair and a big long tail. She had the sweetest nature you could hope for. But what set this partnership apart was the way Kim would respond to Frances’ needs. More amazing was that Kim was also ill with a problem with her pancreas, together though, they were able to help one another.”
George added that Kim was never far from Frances’ side and would steady her as she rose from a chair and provide the stability as she walked downstairs. It was this rapport that made Frances realise that a dog could help disabled people in many ways, and so she founded Dogs for the Disabled. The charity changed its name to Dogs for Good in 2016.
Over the last 30 years a number of wonderful assistance dog charities have been formed benefiting people in so many different ways. Eight of them belong to a coalition called Assistance Dogs UK which provides a benchmark of excellence in assistance dogs training, adhering to the highest training and welfare standards as set out by Assistance Dogs International and the International Guide Dogs Federation.
One of their fellow charities is Canine Partners, and we chatted to Jane Lloyd who was enjoying the fun day with her granddaughter Alysse and her two year old Canine Partners trained Labrador, Aster. The pair had been together just six weeks and Jane was amazed at the difference Aster was making to her life.
Jane said, “This week I’ve managed to hang the washing out for the first time in two years – with Aster’s help, dragging the washing basket out for me. She does so much for me – even things I haven’t asked her to do! She puts my wheelchair foot-plates up and down for me. When I want her to do something new it only takes her about two minutes to grasp it. She’s just brilliant!”
As the benefits of dog and man working together continues to grow, so Dogs for Good has continued to developed in so many ways. For example their PAWS Family Dog service has helped hundreds of families to explore the helping potential of their own pet dog. The charity is getting more and more involved in the community, working alongside teachers and therapists with special educational needs in school; also with Age Concern UK, helping sufferers of dementia and Alzheimers; they are assisting adults and children with autism; and more recently doing pilot schemes with Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT).
Gemma Aitkin from Dogs for Good said: “We want to get the message across of just how amazing dogs are for people as an assistance dog, a community dog and even just as a pet dog. There is something very special between people and dogs and the work we are doing in the community is so beneficial. We’re seeing the benefits of working with special educational needs, dementia sufferers, people with autism and now working with children with brain injuries. And there is that wonderful companionship that a dog brings to a person’s life.”
They really are dogs for good, and the work goes on, continually finding new ways to train dogs to help people. They rely on the generosity of the general public to help them continue.
Find out more: https://www.dogsforgood.org