Recently we featured the organization Canine Partners on Pet Hooligans and you can read all about them at the interview with Jenny Moir, Head of PR here.
Today please give a big welcome to Kate Cross and Byron.
“I was formally diagnosed with a degenerative condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) in my early twenties. This is a hereditary condition that affects my joints, skin, blood vessels and internal organs. I was determined not to let it rule my life but after gaining a degree in music I realised that EDS would not allow me to pursue the career of my dreams which was to become a professional musician. I gave up this dream and went on to retrain as a primary teacher. I was able to combine teaching with playing music both professionally and semi-professionally. I led a full and busy life and was rarely to be found at home.
However, over the next 15 years EDS began to affect my life more and more. My feet, ankles, knees, hips and shoulders gave me a lot of problems. Following multiple dislocations and many serious traumas I spent a lot of time in hospital. I needed many operations to try to stabilise my joints with varying degrees of success! Little by little my independence and mobility slipped away. I had to stop performing and I took early retirement from teaching in 1994, as I could no longer cope with the job physically. I found walking extremely painful and had frequent falls. I became increasingly reliant on a wheelchair, both indoors and out. Not long after I first started to use a powerchair I was going into town when I was abused by a group of teenagers. They thought it would be fun to use me as a moving target for their football practice. I was terrified and rushed home as quickly as I could. I felt angry with myself for being so weak but no longer had the confidence to go out alone. My life as I knew it was slipping away gradually.
My parents, who are in their 80s, did my banking and shopping whilst I stopped at home becoming increasingly isolated. I never went out alone and had no real independence. My shoulders were beginning to drop out of joint several times a day, usually when I bent down to pick something up off the floor. My life felt empty and full of pain. I think you could say I’d hit ‘rock bottom’.
I never imagined that meeting a dog could turn my life around. How wrong I was! When visiting Crufts with my husband, Stuart, I found out about the charity Canine Partners. We had heard of assistance dogs but didn’t really know much about them or what they were capable of doing. I was amazed by the fantastic dogs and decided to apply for a canine partner myself. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was partnered with a yellow Labrador called Byron in 2007 and he has given me my life back in so many ways.
Since having Byron I feel more confident about going out and we walk into town two or three times a week. I am able to do my own shopping and mum and dad’s too. A great moment for me was when Byron jumped up to press a switch that opened the door to the Building Society. A group of teenagers stood watching open-mouthed and rushed over to tell us how ‘cool’ we were and asked me lots of questions about my life with Byron. This was such a contrast to the football incident and suddenly I was not the person in the wheelchair but the person with the really cool dog!
Shopping has become a totally different experience for me. In the past people wouldn’t talk to me and many would avoid making eye contact. I felt invisible a lot of the time. Now people notice us and are keen to chat to me about my life with Byron. I feel valued and no longer feel like the invisible woman. Shoppers watch in amazement as Byron picks things off the shelf for me. When we get to the checkout he puts my shopping onto the conveyor belt and hands over my purse. This means I don’t have to ask anyone for help – I can be independent. Byron draws admiring looks from nearly everyone he meets and seems to make people smile. It is great to be a part of that.
Byron provides me with much needed practical help. Many things become more difficult when you are in a wheelchair but Byron is always there to help me with everyday tasks. He fetches and carries many different things and will pick up anything that I drop on the floor. This means that my shoulders do not drop out of joint so often and are less painful than they have been for years! Byron will pick almost anything up – things as small as a paper clip or a coin. He can even carry my crutches! He is my new shadow, always there a few steps behind ready to help. Even the most mundane of tasks become more fun when you have a dog to help you and Byron helps with many tasks throughout the day. In the mornings he passes my clothes whilst I get dressed and then helps me make the bed. Once downstairs he lets himself out into the garden for a wee (shutting the door behind him). He comes in and gets his bowl ready for his breakfast. He opens the fridge door and fetches the milk for my breakfast. Once the dishwasher is loaded he pushes the basket in and flips the door shut. He loads and unloads the washing machine and pulls the washing basket outside. He then hands me the pegs one at a time whilst I hang out the washing.
He helps me to undress – pulling off my hat or jacket (very carefully so as to avoid any dislocations) and at the end of the day he takes off my trousers and socks and even better ….he puts them in the laundry basket. He can lift my legs onto the bed or the settee and will also stand steady for me to lean on him whilst transferring from my wheelchair. Opening and closing doors is hard when you are in a wheelchair but Byron is able to do this for me too. When we are out in town Byron is able to press buttons for a pedestrian crossing, a lift or automatic doors. This saves me having to stretch and reduces the strain on my shoulders. In the bank or post office he is able to pass things over the counters that are often too high for me to reach comfortably. He can also retrieve money from the cash machine! Everything he does makes my life easier and helps to reduce my risk of injury and my levels of fatigue.
Byron has made a difference not just to me but also to my family. In the past when I have fallen, I have been unable to get up and have had to wait until my husband came home from work or my neighbour heard my shouts for help. Now if I have a fall, Byron is trained to go and fetch help or he will bring me the phone and a blanket and wait until help arrives. This certainly gives peace of mind to my family and me. There are days when I am in pain and don’t feel like getting up. In the past I would probably have stayed in bed all morning. However, now I am greeted with a canine smile and the dubious pleasure of my face being washed by a long pink tongue if I don’t get up. This somehow makes it easier to face the day ahead. In Byron I have a real positive reason to get up and get going in the mornings.
I have not just benefited from the practical help Byron has given, I actually feel like a totally different person since we were partnered together. I have a purpose in life. I can now live a more ordinary life thanks to a very extraordinary dog – my canine partner, Byron.”
As with Glyn and Osbourne we see here an amazing partnership filled with love and companionship between Kate and Byron. Every time I read more about the work of Canine Partners I marvel at the skills of the dogs. You can learn about how the puppies are trained in the video below and if you want to help the work of Canine Partners, please head over to their website to find out more: http://www.caninepartners.org.uk.