VIDEO: Meet dogs that 'save lives'
PUBLISHED: 10:39 19 September 2013 | UPDATED: 10:39 19 September 2013
FOR most people, having a pet dog may just be for companionship or to get fit and healthy, but for people supported by Dogs for the Disabled - a charity that trains assistance dogs for children and adults with physical disabilities - they are a lifeline.
At the weekend as part of the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Open Day, The Cloisters on Barrington Road opens its doors to members of the public to view the Grade II listed building.
And on Sunday the iconic building will host an annual fayre, with many exhibits and stalls, including a stand by Dogs for the Disabled.
Manning the stand will be former Met Police officer, Andy Lee, who suffered a spinal cord injury during a cycle challenge, leaving him wheelchair bound.
The 50-year-old has been helped by the national charity since 2003, when he was given his first dog, Henry.
Mr Lee, who is paralysed from the neck down, said: “Seven years after my accident I first became aware of the charity at a mobility show. I was still coming to terms with my disability and the way my life had changed. I decided to apply for a dog and was partnered with Henry.”
Mr Lee, who is a trustee of the charity, said the accident had robbed him of his confidence and independence.
“I’ll never forget what Henry did for me,” he said. “I’d been a police officer and extremely active. I became frustrated by my physical limitations and, worse, my only view of the world was now from a wheelchair. It felt like I had become invisible.”
Henry was soon able to help Mr Lee with pretty much everything he needed, including getting him ready for bed, taking clothes out of the washing machine, fetching keys and paying for things in the shops with a credit card.
“I could now go to bed when I chose. Previously, bedtime could be as early as 8pm on the days when I was first on the carer’s round,” he said.
Mr Lee, who is from Orwell, was given a new dog – a black Labrador called Rufus – when Henry retired after 10-and-a-half years.
Rufus, aged two, has been trained by experts at the charity’s national training centres in Banbury and Wakefield.
“Training the dogs costs a lot of money, the charity gets puppies at eight weeks old and they spend the first year of their lives with a puppy socialiser,” said Mr Lee. “At around a year old, they go to the national training centre, where they spend six to eight months giving them all the skills they will need to help a person with disabilities.”
Another member of Dogs for the Disabled, who was on hand to explain the work of the charity and has an assistance dog called Blue, was Marie Carden, who suffers from arthritis.
The 76-year-old said: “For most people, and especially children, these dogs are a lifesaver. They are calm and friendly and will do anything for you.”
It costs approximately £10,000 to take an eight-week-old puppy through to become a fully qualified assistance dog working for its disabled owner.
The charity trains dogs to help three groups of people: adults with physical disabilities, children with physical disabilities and families with a child with autism. To support the charity and find out more about what the charity does, visit www.dogsforthedisabled.org