POUNDS FOR PUPS: ‘Animals like these really do change people’s lives’

Peanut, Chester and Iggy at Support Dog.
Peanut, Chester and Iggy at Support Dog.
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Trio of canine cadets are three good reasons for boosting our £5,000 appeal.

Iggy, Chester and Peanut are a motley crew.

Peanut at Support Dog retrieves a set of keys.

Peanut at Support Dog retrieves a set of keys.

As they line up obediently – one big, one small, one a little drooly – their trainers hand them each a treat.

They are the latest in a long line of canine cadets to make it into Support Dogs’ Doggy Training School.

One-year-old Peanut is full of beans as his trainer, Amy Twamley, leads him around the room.

“He was a stray,” reveals Amy, who joined Support Dogs two years ago.

Peanut at Support Dog retrieves a set of keys with trainer Amy Twamley.

Peanut at Support Dog retrieves a set of keys with trainer Amy Twamley.

“He’s a little young, so he’ll be starting his training in June.”

Next to him is two-year-old Chester, who came to the charity as a career change dog from Guide Dogs.

“He just wasn’t motivated for guide work,” explains his trainer, Becky Ashmore, who joined Support Dogs from a veterinary background.

“It’s important to us that each dog is happy in their role and Chester has really thrived with us. He’s been training for eight weeks now to be an autism support dog and he’s already been matched with a little boy. He should be ready to go to his new family in the summer.”

Chester at Support Dog with his trainer Becky Ashmore.

Chester at Support Dog with his trainer Becky Ashmore.

And finally there is Iggy who, at 20-months-old, is just two weeks into the training programme and is already showing an affinity for autism support.

“Each of the training programmes requires dogs with different qualities and different personalities and we get a good idea fairly early on in the initial assessment period what they might be best suited to,” said Tracey Moore, who has been a dog instructor with the charity for 13 years.

“For autism support dogs, we’re looking for nice, steady, gentle, ploddy dogs. We need to know they can be confident with children and cope with any meltdowns, taking things in their stride.

“For disability support dogs, we’re looking for dogs of all different shapes and sizes that are very food and toy orientated and enjoy learning tasks. We train people’s own pets up if they have them. For seizure alert dogs, we want dogs that prefer to be with their owner constantly, with borderline separation anxiety, that will notice everything and pick up on every change.”

Peanut at Support Dog.

Peanut at Support Dog.

And these pups are being trained to carry out some pretty outstanding tasks.

As autism alert dogs, they will become a child’s constant, providing comfort in moments of emotional distress.

Training involves learning how to do everything from ‘lap rests’ – a doggy version of a hug – to a ‘brace’ - where they stop and brace to prevent their child, who will be attached to them by a waist belt when out and about, running away or into oncoming traffic.

Disability dogs learn how to carry out a huge range of day-to-day tasks, including loading and unloading washing machines, opening and closing doors, fetching medication or the phone, helping their owner get dressed and undressed, and even raising the alarm if help is required.

Support Dogs is the only charity in the UK currently training seizure alert dogs, which can be trained to give a 100 per cent reliable alert up to 50 minutes before an epileptic seizure, meaning their owner can drive, work, and go out alone without fear of being struck with a sudden seizure.

“Animals like these really do change people’s lives,” says Tracey, who works with each dog during the last four weeks of their training, and then for another two weeks to help integrate them with their new owner.

Support Dog trainer Amy Twamley.

Support Dog trainer Amy Twamley.

“Getting that match just right – between clients and dogs – is essential and I’ve seen some really special bonds develop as a result.”

Now The Star is launching its ‘Pounds For Pups’ campaign, to highlight the excellent work Support Dogs is doing in the city, and across the region. We’re asking our readers to help us raise £5,000 to fund one dog’s training – and to help to change somebody’s life in the process.

“Our dogs are sourced from rescue charities, breeding programmes and even council dog pounds,” said assistant training manager Hannah Wright.

“It takes around 18 months to complete the training of a support dog partnership and we don’t have kennels, so every one of our trainees is placed in a loving foster home while they’re with us.

“Following weeks of basic training and assessment, and months of hard work with a trainer, each dog hopefully qualifies as a support dog, and their relationship with a client begins, which will likely last around eight years.

“It’s a wonderful gift to be able to give to people.

“At the ‘graduation ceremony’ we hold each year, there is rarely a dry eye in the house.”

* Tomorrow see a day in the life of Elsie the support dog

Get involved

* Visit Support Dogs-Donate to find out more about how you can help us reach our £5,000 goal. Alternatively, text SDogs15 (and the amount you’d like to give) to 70070, or call 0114 2617800.

* Read more: Pounds for Pups, the Star’s new campaign for support dogs

Peanut at Support Dog in training to load and unload a washing machine.

Peanut at Support Dog in training to load and unload a washing machine.

Pounds For Pups - logo dogs (2 of 3)

Pounds For Pups - logo dogs (2 of 3)