Here on Pet Hooligans we are going to be running a series about assistance or service dogs, which will showcase the amazing teamwork between human and dog and the fantastic work of the charities and organizations involved. For the first of these interviews please welcome Jenny Moir from Canine Partners.
1. Firstly, please introduce yourself and tell us the name of your organization and where you are based? I am Jenny Moir, Head of PR for the charity Canine Partners. We are based in Heyshott, near Midhurst in West Sussex, UK.
3. How long have you been in the service dog field? We call it the assistance dog field as our dogs are all registered and recognised assistance dogs which give them access to public places which pet dogs do not have. I have been working for assistance dog charities for nearly 12 years. I worked briefly for Guide Dogs, then had nine years at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People as Head of PR before moving to Canine Partners in the same role.
4. How do you know which breeds of dogs will be a good fit for you, and how are individual dogs selected? We tend to go for the retriever breeds as they are fairly tried and tested in the assistance dog field. So Labradors, golden retriever, Labrador cross golden retrievers, poodle cross Labradors and poodle cross golden retreivers. We also currently have two German shepherd cross golden retrievers in advanced training that are doing very well.
It is important that the dog enjoys the work, is happy to retrieve items back to their owners, and are of a size that is comfortable working around a wheelchair and able to do the “up” work – pressing pedestrian buttons, opening doors, handing over items to the cashier. These breeds work very well for us, and they are also breeds that enjoy being around people which is important.
6. Once a dog is matched with a person, does that person also need to go through a training or induction period? During the advanced training period, the dogs will meet several different disabled applicants and work with them, and the trainers take note of which dogs seem to work better for which people, as well as looking at the applicants’ lifestyle and specific requirements, and the strengths and abilities of the dogs. The dogs are then matched to applicants and from that point on the dogs are trained to their future partners’ individual requirements.
At the end of the advanced training period, the applicants are invited to the training centre for a two-week residential course during which time they work with their chosen dog and the dog’s trainer on a one-to-one basis. They learn everything – what commands to use, grooming, feeding, exercise, health issues, and practise working with their dogs every day so that the bond begins to develop. At the end of that two-week course, the partnership will then go home and set off on their new life together.
The Charity’s aftercare team will visit every new partnership at least seven times in the first year of partnership, and twice a year after that. The Charity retains ownership of the dogs, and is committed to the welfare and wellbeing of every partnership until the end of the dogs’ working lives.
7. If someone wishes to support or otherwise become involved with your organization, how do they do it? Also, is there anything they can do on a practical level or maybe to help with fundraising? As the Charity receives no government funding, we rely on donations from the public. There are several ways that people can help: we have an Adopt a Puppy scheme where, for as little as £1 a week, you could receive updates on one of our puppies going through training and into partnership with a disabled person.
We have collecting tins that can be placed in pubs, shops, libraries or anywhere else where people might like to donate. Leaving a gift in your Will can make a huge difference to us, and help us to change someone else’s life. We collect postage stamps which can then be turned into cash for the Charity, so saving your stamps and sending them in to us will help.
In addition to funds, we need more people to know about our work so we have a network of speakers who go out to talk to organisations and schools. If someone wanted to do that on our behalf, we run speaker training courses and would provide the necessary information. Or if people are active and want to help, perhaps they can take on a challenge and get themselves sponsored to raise funds for us.
We also need volunteers to become puppy parents, taking our young pups into their homes, taking them to puppy class and teaching them some core tasks for a year… then give them back to us! We have 12 puppy training satellites around the country so there may well be one near where people live. Lots of ways to help!
8. As this is Pet Hooligans, where we celebrate everything about pets, including their occasional naughtiness, do the support dogs ever get into any mischief or is there something very endearing about their characters that you can tell us about? Assistance dogs are, at the end of the day, dogs like any other dogs, and we certainly don’t want to train robots. What usually happens is that while the dogs are wearing their purple working jackets they know they are “on duty” and they generally behave as they should. Sometimes once their jacket comes off and they are going for a free run or playtime, then they become like any other dog!
Sometimes during puppy training there can be some funny episodes. When the dogs are learning to retrieve certain items, the puppy parents find that they tend to come to them with a whole variety of different everyday objects that they have found lying around . The good thing is they at least bring them to their owners! One puppy learning to put things in the washing machine rounded up all his toys and put them in the washing machine! Sometimes the close bond that disabled owner and dog have can mean the dog joins their partner in the shower!
The dogs we select tend to be very bright, and once they are placed with a person with a disability and have built up the close relationship needed, the dogs teach themselves new tasks such as opening and closing bins, putting their food bowls in the sink and even wiping their paws when they come in from the garden. One dog went a step further at a Mother’s Day church service and waited in line to be given his posy of flowers then took it back to his owner.
9. Finally, if people want to learn more about your organization may we have your web address, Facebook page or Twitter profile where they can find out more ?