Jenny talks about her very special dog, Oscar…..
Oscar is not trained as a hearing dog, as I am hearing. Oscar and I trained with Dog AID (Dog Assistance In Disability.) Most Dog AID dogs are trained to help people who use wheelchairs and/or have walking difficulties. Many also have medical alert roles and act on instinct to put their owner in the recovery position in an emergency, bring the mobile phone and a blanket, and go and get help. Oscar did that without having had that training, it was just natural – when I was stuck in the bath! If the client has a hearing impairment then the dog is also trained to help as a hearing dog too. All breeds are accepted for training, it’s all down to the dogs temperament and bonding. It’s best to carefully choose a puppy and bring it on, than take on a rescue dog, as you can’t be sure of its past.
Oscar is an apricot miniature poodle, he was my best friend’s dog so I have known Oscar a long time, since 2006, my friend (his mummy) died after an operation so it was a bit sudden and unexpected. Oscar had been a child carer – or should I say a puppy carer – for his mummy, so he was a natural. Oscar came to live with me after she died. Oscar reminds me of her so much with his expressions, his zest and enthusiasm filling every moment.
I knew Oscar had the ability to qualify as an Assistance Dog and I needed his skills, so I contacted Dog AID. We were assessed; there was lots of paperwork, vet checks, a medical, OT reports etc and we were then put in touch with a local volunteer Dog AID trainer, who trained me to train Oscar. Oscar and I practised tasks between lessons with the trainer. It took just one year to pass all three exams but a lot of that time was waiting for the next assessment exam and a date for the final full certificate exam. So we both qualified as a team. The hardest part during training was that Oscar wasn’t allowed inside places so we had to eat outside in the weather, but we found 3 doggy-friendly pub restaurants that had wheelchair access. I was still waiting for an accessible kitchen at home so eating out was the solution, albeit expensive, it meant I saw a bit of life too.
Oscar has transformed my life. I don’t ever have to be alone. He smiles as I wake, he brings my clothes and pulls off my PJs, helps in the bathroom, brings anything I need and picks up dropped items, he uses the washing machine, on command he opens a cupboard and gives me a tea towel or anything else I ask for, and closes the door after, he brings the phone when it rings, or when I ask for it, the remotes, my keys, purse, and hands me his bowl when he has finished. When out and about he helps with my wheelchair footplates, he shops in the supermarkets from the lower shelves handing me what I ask for, he hands me dropped items, credit cards, receipts and he even found me a £10 note once and handed it to me. That was the brilliant – we had a good breakfast that day! I then bought Oscar a new toy with it, as how could I use Oscar’s money like that!
Oscar is good at guiding when my eyes are bad, and has a GPS mode – he can find places and gets me to the door safely and at speed even when I don’t want to go there sometimes! When my keys fell under my car, Oscar went under the car and fetched them and handed them to me. Another life saving moment! He undresses me at night, tugging off my socks, shoes, jumper and trousers. He tugs lights on and off, and opens and closes doors. He woke me up once, I noticed I had a blocked nose and there was Oscar with the decongestant spray, just what I needed! So he could do the Medical alert role if I needed it.
Oscar is everything to me, always there for me. He has given me my life back, and I can go out again now. In that way, similar to most people with an assistance dog, people see Oscar and smile, so I do see so many smiles reflected back to me, I love that. People stop and talk to me now. Oscar loves his work so much, particularly new places, new experiences, but its hard to find new wheelchair-accessible ones.
Dog AID currently has 29 qualified dogs working and 70 clients with dogs in training. There is a long waiting list and Dog AID’s volunteer trainers are working to capacity at the moment. Some areas of the UK have no trainers, so to grow they are in need of volunteer trainers to join Dog AID. Dog AID is always looking for more trainers. Everyone at Dog AID is a volunteer but they are fundraising to cover a post in the busy office. Dog AID will have a stand at Crufts again next year as it was such a success this year, growing the number of volunteer dog trainers and raising funds for more training workshops.
We have a lot of foreigners locally, working in the restaurants and smaller shops. It can be hard work to gain access and there seems to be a mysterious ramp stealer about, if I believe what is said….
“No, you can’t come in as someone stole our ramp!”
Every week another crowd of language students and tourists, with no skills in equal access, block the pavements – it’s hard for Oscar too. They dive in for a stroke, using flash to take photos. Poor Oscar is trying to concentrate and we are blocked and surrounded, he is blinded by flash and I am distressed … I have to be assertive or avoid those pavements as I can’t get off them to get around people. So you, like me, are educating the world, there are new challenges everyday.