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Assistance dog taken from owner

AN ASSISTANCE dog has been removed from his disabled owner by the charity that matched the pair, due to alleged mishandling and care of the dog. Jonathan Stole, 45, from Old Woodley, Leeds, suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Two years ago, he attended a training course run by Canine Partners for Independence, where he was matched up with his own Assistance Dog, Golden Retriever Dunbar, writes Nick Mays.

Up until last month, Dunbar has helped Jonathan achieve everyday household tasks, such as fetching the post, picking things up off the floor, turning on light switches and emptying the washing machine – all tasks which Jonathan is unable to undertake for himself.

"I use crutches around the house," says Jonathon, "and Dunbar was a great help to me at all times. When I go out, I use a wheelchair or a disabled person’s scooter and Dunbar would trot alongside me to help where necessary."

But on March 11th, officials from CPI, conducting one of their regular checks on Dunbar’s welfare, removed the dog from Jonathan’s care, stating that their relationship had "broken down".

"They said they were unhappy with the condition of his coat, saying he hadn’t been groomed, but I dispute this," says Jonathan. "I can produce a letter from the dog groomers he regularly attended to dispel this.

"They also said there was a lot of dog mess lying on the grass in my garden. My Mum usually tidies the garden every day, but she’s 74 and she’d been ill for a few days and wasn’t able to clear up for me that week, so they didn’t see things at their best."

Jonathan adds that the trainers felt he wasn’t firm enough with Dunbar. "Dunbar used to like walking in fields nearby," he adds. "He was a very single-minded dog and would let me know it. He’d dig his heels in if we were going past the field. He would tug so much that I’d have to turn round and go back.

"The charity said I shouldn’t take him to the field, but instead go for walk, and don’t give in to him. But it’s not that easy. If he stopped, he wouldn’t walk and was pulling against the scooter. They suggested that I stand in front of him and play with a toy, giving the toy as a reward if he obeyed. But how can I stand in front of him? It’s hard enough to stand up and keep my balance!"

Since Dunbar’s removal, Jonathan has started a petition for his return. The petition now contains over 1,000 signatures, including Leeds MP Fabian Hamilton and two local councillors. Dunbar’s story has been featured in local newspapers and on TV and radio, but all, apparently, to no avail.

"Canine Partners for Independence refuse to discuss the matter with me or anyone else," says Jonathan. "Friends of mine have offered to buy Dunbar from them, but they simply won’t even entertain the idea. I feel totally victimised and I feel like one of my hands has been cut off. Dunbar wasn’t just a dog, or even just a tool. He was part of me; he was my friend, part of my life. I feel so lost without him."

All the dogs owned by the Charity, inclusive of dogs placed as Canine Partners, are actively reviewed by the Charity’s Dog Panel every fortnight where health and management issues are discussed. The Charity also has a Dog Welfare Panel made up of both staff and Trustees which reviews all policies relating to the health and welfare of all dogs owned by the Charity.

The Charity has an Applicant Assessment Panel which includes a number of health care professionals and consultants and the application process is carefully monitored throughout.

Any dog that is placed with a person with disabilities is under a planned schedule of support and assessment throughout the life of the dog. If a Partnership comes under scrutiny both the person and representatives of the Charity are involved in the review process and copied with any paperwork and advised of any decisions.

The Charity’s stated aim is to create successful Partnerships. If a person is unable to fulfil their obligations and commitments to the dog, Canine Partners will only then withdraw a dog when every effort to keep the Partnership together has been exhausted.

Bruce Jenkins, Deputy Chief Executive, stated that Jonathan was unable to meet the terms of his contract in looking after Dunbar. "We have spent the last 14 months with a great deal of input trying to make the Partnership work, but we assessed that the relationship was permanently broken down and that for the health and welfare of Dunbar, he was withdrawn," said Mr Jenkins. "I cannot discuss the matter further as we have a strict confidentiality agreement with our clients."