4th February 2020 - Danny Gallagher
On the 4th February, Biggar Probus Club held an Open Day and welcomed Danny Gallagher from Canine Partners.
Danny brought with him Heston, a big friendly labrador, and together they gave the members a fascinating talk about the work of the charity, Canine Partners, in providing assistance dogs to help disabled and handicapped people look after themselves without having to rely too much on help from other people.
The charity was founded in 1990 by two ladies who came across dogs in Holland who lived with disabled people with a variety of problems such as being wheelchair bound, having to use crutches, suffering with MS or muscular dystrophy etc. and who wanted to continue living independently. Labradors and retrievers are the most suitable dogs to use and they are trained from puppies for about two years by "puppy parents". Then for about 14 months, the dogs receive more advanced training such as being taken into shops, onto buses and trains and into airports. Some have even flown in an aircraft. At the same time, the dogs learn to socialise with people and learn a number of simple commands.
Once graduated from college, the dogs are matched with a suitable person and the two of them become partners. The dogs will pick things up, open doors, use their nose to push buttons and operate emergency alarms, pull lamp cords, get things out of drawers, put dishes in the sink and generally help around the house. They will even help a person to undress. One dog received an award for saving his partner's life and met the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
They are not guide dogs or hearing dogs; they are Assistance Dogs and they wear a coloured jacket with a logo. They do vital work in helping their human partners to recover their confidence, self-esteem and independence. They give their partners a sense of responsibility in looking after the dog properly, they make it much easier to socialise with others and they are a constant source of fun and laughter and love.
There are about 140 puppies in training at present, all with volunteer puppy parents. They are usually with their partner for about 8 years before retiring, after which they sometimes stay with the partner or often go to live with family or friends. There are about 450 active partnerships (34 in Scotland) and 750 have been created since the charity was founded. 19 dogs are partnered with former soldiers, funded by "Help for Heroes" and the Royal British Legion, with more coming along. It can cost up to £20000 to get a dog ready to be partnered with a person. Volunteers are the life-blood of the charity and fund raising is a vital part of their work.
After their fascinating talk, Danny and Heston gave a demonstration which involved Heston obeying commands to pick things up, including phones and credit cards, open a cupboard and start to undress Danny! Everything is gently handed back to their human.
At our next meeting on 18th February, members will be entertained with an account of Frederic Chopin's Scottish tour.