Dogs for Good is an innovative charity, exploring ways dogs can help people overcome specific challenges and enrich and improve lives and communities.
Since 1988, we have been making lifechanging differences for people with disabilities. We support people with a range of needs including physical disabilities, autism, dementia and learning disabilities, enabling them to lead more independent lives through the help of specially trained dogs.
Very simply, we believe dogs are good for us and can play a huge part in improving our mental and physical wellbeing. Everything we do comes back to getting it right for the dog and by doing so, we get it right for people. This ethos then enables us to go onto create mutually beneficial, healthy and life-changing relationships between dog and owner.
DOGS FOR GOOD FOCUSES ON THREE CORE SERVICES:
Assistance Dog: our amazing assistance dogs support both children and adults to provide practical support, enrich daily life and overcome specific challenges.
Community Dog: our clever community dogs work alongside a specialist handler in schools and colleges, hospitals and in social care. Over their lifetime, a community dog helps dozens of people to overcome challenges, supporting them to achieve goals such as development of life-skills, overcoming anxiety or engaging with physiotherapy, using techniques known as animal assisted intervention (AAI).
Family Dog: this service offers training, guidance and ongoing support to parents of children on the autism spectrum enabling the whole family to benefit from the unique support a well-trained dog can bring.
Dogs for Good’s client, Ann, is partnered with assistance dog Twickers and her story demonstrates beautifully the phenomenal power of dogs.
Independence, fresh air, broader horizons, safety, meeting new people, confidence, elevated self-esteem are all words and phrases Ann uses when asked what her assistance dog, Twickers, brings to her life.
One night in 2001, Ann went to bed with a really bad headache and woke up from a coma six weeks later in hospital. “In total, I spent 10 months in hospital before coming home to a life – my life – which had changed beyond all comprehension. I became withdrawn and fearful of the future.”
After meeting a lady who had an assistance dog, Ann decided to investigate getting a dog herself and not long afterwards, found herself attending an open morning at Dogs for Good. “It was a total gamechanger,” she recalls.
Ann applied and was astounded to receive a letter shortly afterwards saying that her application had been successful. “I felt special again – rather than just a lady in a wheelchair with special needs,” she explains.
Ann attended a training course at Dogs for Good’s HQ in Banbury. “It was exhausting!” she laughs. “But my training team were amazing; gently reassuring me that one day it would all just ‘click’.” And click it did. “That moment was incredible. It was the day that my new life changed for the better.
Twickers helps Ann by picking up things she’s dropped, opening and shutting doors, bringing her the post, pulling off her socks and gloves etc. “But it’s the stuff you don’t expect that brings you the most joy,” she says.
“My self-worth is elevated because I’m caring for another life, rather than being the one that receives care. Before, I was just a lady in a wheelchair. Now, I’m Ann with the lovely, clever, amazing dog and my disability fades into the background.”
Another Dogs for Good client is a smiley young man called Samuel who is partnered with assistance dog, Heather.
Like most boys, 13 year-old Samuel was a human whirlwind, loving nothing better than being active and, in particular, playing football and rugby.
During one particular rugby match, he fell over and initially thought he’d pulled his hamstring. But quite quickly, it became obvious that the injury was more than a pulled tendon.
Samuel’s injury was diagnosed as a spinal cord infarction – a stroke within the spine where a blood clot blocks off an artery, killing the blood supply to the area.
“There’s no reason to think he’ll get any worse but by the same token no-one knows whether he’ll ever walk or run again,” says Samuel’s mum, Ali, who has nothing but praise for her son throughout this catastrophic time. “Despite the pressure cooker of frustration and sadness and the physical and psychological battles he goes through every single day, people always, always comment on his smile,” she says. “He’s pretty amazing.”
One day, Ali was sat by Samuel’s hospital bed reading a magazine and saw an advert for Dogs for Good.“I’d had a dog as a child and I knew Samuel would love to have one,” she recalls. “And if that dog could help him get out more, enjoy more of his life, empower him, ease his upset and give him back some of his confidence, it would be life-changing.”
Ali then attended an information day at Dogs for Good and by the end of it, she knew that having an assistance dog would be unequivocally the right thing for Samuel.
Then one foggy Friday morning, the phone rang. “It was Dogs for Good and that call changed Samuel’s and our life for the better,” she says. “I put the phone down tried to take in the news that Samuel had been potentially matched with an assistance dog.” Ali went to find her husband to tell him the news. “I got to him, told him and then started crying. Happy tears, obviously!” she laughs.
Shortly afterwards, Dogs for Good brought Heather to visit the family at home “Heather came in with her tail wagging, looked really comfortable and a two hour visit just flew by,” recalls Ali. “She fitted in perfectly, we all fell in love with her and had everything crossed that she’d be ours forever.”
The following morning, Dogs for Good called again to get Ali’s feedback and whether she felt that Heather was the right dog for Samuel. “Of course, we had no reservations and just couldn’t wait to have her home with us,” she says.
Heather settled in straight away and stays with Samuel in his room at night, helps him off with his socks, fetches his slippers, retrieves stuff he’s dropped and many other practical tasks.
Heather also helps Samuel with his physio and the first hospital tests after she came into his life were remarkable. “His walking ability is tested every six months,” explains Ali. “Before Heather, he had a real mental block about it and it was something we all dreaded.
“But the first time we went with Heather, Samuel said to me, ‘I don’t care, I’m doing it and I’m going to do it for for Heather.’ He was calm, relaxed, utterly determined and with his best friend walking beside him, Samuel aced the test.
“He doubled the amount of steps he took and took them in under half the time it had
previously taken him. I was speechless. The power of Heather and Samuel together is a remarkable thing,” says Ali.
The main things Heather has brought Samuel are unconditional friendship, love and devotion. “She’s helped him so much mentally which has a huge impact on his confidence and determination.”
Heather has also had a big impact on the family as a whole is that she’s brought them all together again. “It’s a far less stressful house with Heather here. She’s such a cheeky girl and makes us laugh every day. She’s perfect.”
For more information
about Dogs for Good
please visit www.dogsforgood.org