The words of one of the Paralympic competitors keep reverberating around in my head. “If my life and future had not changed so suddenly as a result of the accident years ago, I wonder what I would be doing now instead of being a prominent part of this wonderful personal experience”.
Weighed against the negatives created by a serious RTA 16 years ago, what might my life be like now if it had not happened. We might be enjoying an OAP lunch, coach outings for the elderly or even trying to guess what the neighbours are doing!
Instead I was given a second chance. The charity Canine Partners has changed my life, not only in their contribution to my independence thanks to assistance dog, Kerly, but in that it opened the door to an exciting and fulfilling challenge to spread the word for this wonderful charity.
I now don’t have time to feel like a disabled 73-year-old, sitting in my wheelchair waiting for something to happen to brighten up my day. There is no space for negative thoughts as my time is spent planning, organising, preparing for talks, demonstrations and events.
My husband and I are OAPs but we are not isolated or lonely. We meet many special people, from school children to the residents of care homes. Nothing makes me happier than sharing time with others.
With bookings in the diary for 2103 filling up, we hope to remain active for the Charity and would love to hear from anyone who would enjoy a talk from me and the wonderful Kerly.
Canine Partners is not government funded. To support the Charity please visit the website www.caninepartners.org.uk and click on donate.
This is my story:
Leaving behind the pressures of living and working in the Thames Valley, we moved to Suffolk in 1990, seeking a more leisurely pace of life with time to pursue our own interests and activities. We walked miles, taking the caravan with us to other locations. I gardened and regularly welcomed friends to stay.
Six years later, in a split second, our vision of the future was to be drastically compromised, when travelling to a meeting in a colleague’s car, we hit an articulated lorry at speed. Tragically she lost her life and I received severe crash injuries, leaving me with limited mobility, reduced upper body strength and in a wheelchair.
I was fortunate to have the love and support of husband John, family and friends and my pet retriever Shelley. As I came to terms with my limitations and learned pain management techniques, the advantages of aids – after several “wilderness” years – the importance of “quality of life” become my goal.
Following our move to Somerset in 2000, I was aware my personality had changed; loss of independence tends to create loss of self-confidence and self-esteem. I had been an extrovert, a people person, but was in danger of becoming a recluse. So I researched Assistance Dogs, having experienced the support, therapeutic effects and unconditional love of dogs this seemed a positive path to pursue. However, after reading of the cost of training each dog I felt – retired and with a husband – I could not ask for that charity money to be spent on me.
In 2004 we visited a golden retriever breeder and having listened to what I hoped to do, she brought a 12 week old dark golden retriever puppy and placed him on my lap saying “I didn’t sell him with the rest of the litter, he is too good to be just a pet”. So Juneau came into my life and everything began to change.
We attended training classes and I trained him to do the tasks I needed around the home. When he was two years old we met Canine Partners staff on their stand at a Disability Road Show. In conversation, I told them of Juneau and was delighted and privileged when they offered to assess us both, which proved successful and they took us into their training programme.
Thus began for us all, a new and exciting era – Juneau at my side gave me confidence. I wanted to repay what Canine Partners had given us, so I started organising events, giving talks, raising awareness and funds for the Charity. My mind was constantly planning, I didn’t have time to feel depressed.
Sadly tragedy struck again in June 2009 when, very suddenly, Juneau died from a rare and hard to detect condition. The bottom dropped out of my world, I cried for days. Through these dark days the staff at Canine Partners became our second family, grieving with us but gently trying to move me forward to continue Juneau’s legacy. In October 2009 I received an e-mail from them saying they had a special boy in advanced training they all felt might be my new canine partner. A click of the mouse and there on the screen was this black smiling face and twinkling eyes saying “come and meet me”.
I will always remember the day I met Kerly – I don’t think there was a moment of doubt we had bonded. We raced around the tasks in the training hall, Kerly performing with great enthusiasm, then out in the field to play, making us laugh as, chasing the ball he fell over his own feet, tumbled, rolled, picked up the ball and raced back to me.
Kerly is a Bernese cross and with his distinctive appearance has a novel visual attraction and at first I tended to say he was “Juneau in another coat”. The similarities are the calm, laid back nature, gentle, friendly and happy with attention without getting too excited, “I know I am special, but you may say hello to me”, is what he seems to be saying. He is a gentle giant but still has his puppy moments, on his back, waving his two front feet together.
Each morning I open my eyes to find Kerly’s face alongside me. I sit on the edge of the bed and he gives me my slippers, then placing my hands on his neck and rump, I am able to stand. The word washing brings him running and he opens the washing machine door, takes each item out and places it in a basket. He pulls off pillowcases, sheets from the bed and takes them from each bedroom to the washing machine. When I go for a rest, Kerly undoes the Velcro on my shoes, then takes them and my socks off. He will fetch identified objects such as glasses, pen, my stick, mobile phone and when we go our, his lead and jacket. Out and about he is alert for anything I drop. He opens doors in shopping precincts, calls a lift, gets items from low shelves and gives my purse to shop assistants.
When I was experiencing a bad patch health wise, every day became more physically challenging as pain and immobility attacked all my limbs leaving me unable to manoeuvre myself in bed, sit up or stand. Tasks that had not been practised in training became necessary and Kerly knew that. He was constantly by my side, pulling me to sit up, bracing still across me enabling me to lever myself to stand and balance. He pulled off clothes and picked them up and, when I had to crawl into bed, with painkillers and a hot water bottle he would jump on the bed and snuggle his back into me for extra comfort. During that time we had four outdoor shows booked for a Canine Partners stand and demonstrations. Looking back now, the need to prepare and participate in these kept me going and my pride in Kerly helped me through each event.
I am so grateful to those who selected this special boy for me. Since Kerly and I graduated as a Partnership in March 2010 our ‘Team Kerly’ raised, in Somerset, over £3,000 (and with this we are sponsoring Juneau’s grandson, Bruce, through his puppy training). We have now moved over the border to Wiltshire and here we hope to continue to be active in the community, raising awareness and encouraging support for Canine Partners. The Charity is a great part of our lives, providing us with many new friends to meet and to keep in touch with. My family have also entered into the spirit by competing in the Great South Run to raise funds for Canine Partners!
Kerly captures hearts, and demonstrates with enthusiasm to audiences from the staff and residents of a local Care Home to a whole morning demonstrating and interacting with pupils, age 2-7yrs,at Pre-Prep school (back in a school environment after many years in teaching, is a big morale boost for me) . We are a relaxed team now and long may it continue. Thank you Canine Partners for the difference you have made in our lives. Kerly is my lifeline; his presence makes me a whole person physically and emotionally every day.
Pictured: Sheila with Kerly