Sheffield dogs charity puppy is helping two very different families

Alex the support dog.Alex the support dog.
Alex the support dog.
When this beautiful young Labrador qualifies as a professional assistance dog in the next two years, it will be a source of tears of pride, joy and some sadness for two different families.

For Shaun and Lesley Logan who are volunteer puppy socialisers for Sheffield-based charity Support Dogs. The couple have been looking after Alex since last summer when he was a tiny puppy, and who will continue to care for him and provide basic training for at least another year before he heads off to full-time training.

And for the family of Alex James, a young man who tragically died following an epileptic seizure at the age of 34 in 2015, and after whom puppy Alex is named.

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Alex’s mum and dad Chris and Peter James have been supporters of the charity since their son’s death, and they and their family have raised thousands of pounds to support the progress of puppy Alex. Support Dogs are the only charity in the UK to train dogs to give a 100 per cent guaranteed warning in advance of an epileptic seizure, enabling the person with epilepsy to get to a safe place to have their seizure.

Alex, who is named after a young man called Alex, who died following an epileptic seizure.Alex, who is named after a young man called Alex, who died following an epileptic seizure.
Alex, who is named after a young man called Alex, who died following an epileptic seizure.

Although they live miles away from the Support Dogs’ training centre or from puppy Alex’s home in Barnsley, Chris and Peter, from Newbury in Berkshire, are kept up to date with the pup’s antics via a What’s App group called Alex’s Humans.

“We share photos and videos and updates of what Alex is up to and we put something in the group just about every day,” explains puppy socialiser Shaun. “I’ve also done a photo book for Chris and Peter, and I hope they will be able to come and visit before Alex goes off to start ‘big school.’”

For Alex’s parents, sponsoring puppy Alex and getting such regular updates about his progress makes them feel that they are doing something for their son, and helping others with serious medical conditions.

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“The What’s App group makes it all so real, to see how this little puppy is coming along,” says Chris. “It’s so good for those of us who have lost someone and are fundraising for the charity to have a relationship and a link with the puppy socialisers.

Alex, with his puppy socialiser Shaun Logan.Alex, with his puppy socialiser Shaun Logan.
Alex, with his puppy socialiser Shaun Logan.

“It’s been amazing for us. Everything we did for our Alex to fundraise in his memory is so worthwhile when you see this little puppy. It’s been so beneficial for us to see what Shaun and Lesley are doing with him – they are brilliant and so committed.”

Puppy Alex is shooting up and at eight months old is now more of an adolescent dog than a pup, all legs and ears. As well as being strikingly attractive – his sister Bon Bon is also a beautiful dog and is known to the puppy socialisers as Brigitte Bardot – Alex is a fast learner. When Shaun gets ready to take him out for a walk Alex goes into the porch and fetches his hat and gloves off the radiator in anticipation.

He loves having fun too and playing and playfighting with the Logan’s elderly Patterdale terrier.

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“He attends to puppy classes and is learning the basics – sit, wait, lie down,” explains Shaun. “His recall is like an Exocet missile. I always use a whistle to indicate food so every time he hears a whistle when we’re out walking, he associates it with food and he comes back like a shot.”

Alex as a puppy.Alex as a puppy.
Alex as a puppy.

The Logans took part in the recent Support Dogs’ Santa Paws Walk in Endcliffe Park, and regularly take Alex to their caravan on the North York Moors so the pup is getting lots of life experience.

Support Dogs’ puppies stay with their socialisers until the age of about 15 months when they start formal training, so the Logans know their time with Alex is limited. But while they have him, both Shaun and Lesley, who started volunteering for Support Dogs when they retired, are loving the experience.

“I had a stroke a few years ago and after the stroke the only thing that got me moving was having two dogs - they provided the impetus to get out and about,” says Shaun. “I got such benefit out of the dogs I thought if I could do something like that for someone else to get the benefit, then why not.”

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The connection with Chris and Peter James makes their experience even more special. For the James’s, although the association is inevitably tinged with sadness, it is also positive.

Alex with his puppy socialiser Shaun Logan.Alex with his puppy socialiser Shaun Logan.
Alex with his puppy socialiser Shaun Logan.

“Alex’s epilepsy was not under control, but despite that he lived life to the full and didn’t let his condition stop him doing anything he wanted to do,” says Chris.

Alex did well at school, going on to have successful careers in the banking and telecom sectors, and was a huge Arsenal fan. His parents recall that after a major seizure they sat by his hospital bed for hours while Alex grew more and more concerned that he would miss an Arsenal game and was desperate to discharge himself.

After he died his parents asked for donations to Support Dogs in lieu of flowers, and family and friends have been generous over the years, taking part in marathons and sponsored events in his memory.

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“Obviously I’d love puppy Alex to become a seizure alert dog to help people with epilepsy, but whatever he ends up doing we’ll be so proud,” says Chris. “It’s a great thing for us to do - to sponsor puppy Alex – because it feels like we are doing something for our Alex.”

Support Dogs is a national charity based in Brightside that trains assistance dogs for children and adults with autism, epilepsy and a range of serious medical conditions such as MS and cerebral palsy, enabling them to lead safer, more independent lives. It relies entirely on public donations to fund its training programmes.