It’s a graduation day with a difference – but these hard-working hounds deserve their honours as much as any student.
Specialist dogs trained by Sheffield-based charity Support Dogs to help people affected by epilepsy, physical disabilities and autistic children aged three to 10 are graduating tomorrow.
Marley, a three-year-old red Labrador retriever, has been training 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday for a year to become a disability assistance dog for Kym Stretton.
Kym, aged 54, was born with hypophosphatemic osteomalacia – a degenerative condition which causes constant pain and greatly affects her mobility, making even the simplest of everyday tasks difficult.
Marley helps Kym with everything from loading and unloading the washing machine and picking up items she has dropped to helping her to dress and undress and being there to support her if she falls or gets into trouble.
Kym said: “Before I had a dog, I hadn’t left the house for over a year. I had no confidence and my family was worried about me. I feel very lucky to have him.”
She added Marley, rescued by Support Dogs after being found for sale on a ‘second- hand’ dog-selling website called Preloved, has ‘been given a new purpose in life’ since training to help her.
Another graduate is Stanley, a black Labrador who is qualifying as a seizure response dog to help epileptic Amy Williams.
Amy, 22, developed startle epilepsy after having chickenpox encephalitis as a young child. She has epileptic seizures two or three times a day when she is surprised or startled by a loud noise.
Amy said: “Since I left school I became rather isolated because there are no community-based services suited to my condition.”
“It got to the point where I was even scared to sleep in my own bed in case I had a seizure in the night and choked or was seriously injured.”
“I’ve now got Stanley and he has made a huge difference. I feel safer, I am more confident and I now feel much more able to get out of the house.”
Whenever Amy now has a seizure, Stanley is trained to pull an alarm to call for help. He is 100 per cent reliable and never misses a seizure.
Stanley has also been trained to help reduce the number of seizures Amy has by alerting her when people approach her front door, preventing her from being startled into a fit by a loud knock.
Other dogs graduating are autism assistance black labradors Elliott and Farley, and four disability assistance dogs – Toffee the cocker spaniel, Ruby the labradoodle, and Billy and Charlie the Labradors.
Support Dogs fundraising manager Danny Anderson said: “Our graduation is very much a celebration and recognition of the hard work of our clients, volunteers, staff and of course our dogs.
“It also marks the start of a life-changing, working partnership between the support dog and their clients that will last about eight years.”