National assistance dog charity, Canine Partners, needs support to help make sure its 30th year is not its final year following the Covid-19 pandemic.
“During the Covid-19 lockdown my pain levels have increased, having a direct impact on my general mobility. I am experiencing increased dislocations and subluxations due to deconditioning in my muscle tone and I’m experiencing greater levels of fatigue and exhaustion. This is all a direct result of a lack of activity and exercise available when being isolated to my home. While the points stated above are side effects of house-bound isolation, that I am all too familiar with – there is one key, fundamental difference to my experience this time. I have the beautiful and uplifting companionship of my canine partner, Misty.”
These are the words of Dominique Grace, one of national assistance dog charity Canine Partners’ 452 established partnerships across the UK who have been experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown with their canine partner assistance dog by their side.
The charity has been training amazing assistance dogs since 1990 and providing them to people living with disabilities across the UK, boosting their confidence and independence.
The dogs are taught a range of everyday tasks including picking up and retrieving items, opening doors and undressing a person. They can even help to load and unload a washing machine and they can fetch help in an emergency.
For the charity’s partnerships, like Dominique, the support with these daily tasks is life-changing in normal circumstances, but the support from their assistance dog is especially needed during the current Covid-19 pandemic and throughout the lockdown imposed on the UK from March 2020.
Dominique has multiple conditions that have a big impact on her day-to-day life including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a condition which causes chronic pain, chronic fatigue, dislocations and other symptoms.
Dominique added: “Physically, due to my lessened energy and heightened pain/dislocations, Misty will happily and effortlessly pass me items I have dropped, open doors for me and carry items to me that I’m having difficulty holding. She is now enjoying practising emptying and filling the washing machine for me, she is absolutely in love with finding my emergency medipack from around the house, and she is completely enthralled with practising getting my partner for help (like playing hide and seek around the house)! Prior to having Misty, being housebound would have pushed me into a really negative space. However, now, I wake up every morning with a purpose as Misty needs me, just as much as I need her.”
Instead of holding many of the events planned to celebrate Canine Partners’ 30th anniversary year this summer, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the charity’s fundraising and the anticipated shortfall is £1 million in the funds Canine Partners expected to raise.
Reduced income means that Canine Partners faces an uncertain future and funds are being stretched to deliver all areas of the charity’s services, including providing aftercare support to the established partnerships across the UK.
Miriam Bentley was partnered with black Labrador Laurel in March 2018, two years before the Covid-19 pandemic begun to affect the UK.
Miriam said: “Laurel has always been a phenomenal emotional support for me and now more than ever she is my one constant. Her routine keeps me grounded and her cuddles drain negativity and worry from me. She is still there every day beside me, helping me out of bed, to get dressed, helping around the house and also passing me notebooks and pens when I need them. I don’t actually know where I’d be right now without her.
“She knows when I get sad or anxious and has started pushing her head under my arm to force me to cuddle her. I don’t know where she has picked that up from as it wasn’t taught by Canine Partners, but it makes me switch my head from worrying thoughts to her and that is worth so much right now. She is so in tune with me. I used to say she was my shadow, but during this crisis she is more a physical part of me.”
Miriam was a fit, healthy individual running a house and being a mum, whilst also being very career driven. After noticing her hip was painful, she went in for an operation and despite walking down to theatre, she has never walked unaided again. An error during surgery left her with permanent paralysis of her right leg.
“Lockdown has been extremely challenging, especially with children in the house who should have been taking exams. I am an essential worker for my local council, and as such have been working long hours from home. I am dealing everyday with vulnerable people, children whose parents are struggling to feed them, vulnerable adults who are scared of dying alone, or have disabilities that make it hard for them to manage in this new situation. It’s an emotional job at the best of times but currently at times it feels overwhelming.”
Both Miriam and Dominique have had their canine partners with them throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. The crisis means an increased health risk and greater isolation for many of the people that Canine Partners supports, with most of them having to shield or self-isolate to protect themselves from the virus.
The charity’s assistance dogs are a lifeline, providing practical support, companionship and security during this difficult time.
Supporting Canine Partners at this crucial time will help to make sure that when this crisis ends, Canine Partners will still be here and able to train amazing dogs to transform lives of people living with physical disabilities. The charity needs help to ensure that its 30th year is not its final year.