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Opening doors to independence

Mrs Miriam Cartledge, pictured with her Canine Partner Kruger

IT WAS on the most Spring-like day of the year so far that Editor Bill Moores and I found ourselves motoring along the leafy lanes of footballer-belt Cheshire en route to the gothic splendour of Capesthorne Hall for a demonstration of the work of Canine Partners for Independence, writes Anne Williams.

Bill and I had been invited by Chief Executive Terry Knott to see - and hear - first hand what a difference Canine Partners make to the lives of their disabled Partners: it was to prove an enjoyable and enlightening afternoon.

Canine Partners was formed in 1990 with the aim of transforming the lives of people with disabilities by partnering them with highly trained assistance dogs who would enable them to live more independent and fulfilling lives. The first three partnerships were established in 1994 and now, 10 years on, there exist numerous successful Partnerships throughout England and Wales; and the demand for these wonderful dogs continues to grow.

Arguably the most well-known Canine Partnership is that of Allen Parton and his labrador Endal, and so when we arrived at Capesthorne Hall we instantly recognised Allen’s wife, Sandra, who was presenting the day’s demonstrations. Sandra supplied a clear, informative and entertaining commentary as Puppy Parents Jill Ridges and Joan Hattersley acted the roles of disabled Partners to demonstrate to an attentive audience some of the typical components of a day in the life of a Canine Partner ‘in training’. Whether helping with dressing and undressing, retrieving the post, emptying the washing machine, or selecting items of everyday shopping for their Partner’s basket, Jill’s puppy colleague Teal and his litter sister, Joan’s Tallulah went through their paces with a winning combination of gentleness, skill, and calmness which captivated their audience.

Jill has been a Puppy Parent for four and a half years, while Joan is a recent recruit to Canine Partners from Guide Dogs and is on her first trainee with Tallulah. They explained how Canine Partner ‘cadets’ like Teal and Tallulah are placed with their Puppy Parent from about eight weeks and stay with them until about a year old. They then begin up to six months Advanced Training at the Canine Partners headquarters in Heyshott, during which time they are trained to respond to over 100 commands, ranging from the domestic skills we saw here, to emergency response procedures which can - and have - proved of lifesaving importance to the human Partners with whom they will ultimately be matched.

I wondered how hard it must be to part with a puppy for Advanced Training after being so close to them for so long, and Jill told me the soundest advice she had ever been given was to ‘dry your eyes on the next puppy’!

After the demonstrations, Mrs Miriam Cartledge took the floor with black labrador Kruger, who has been her Canine Partner for the past two and a half years. Miriam explained to the listening audience how several years of progressive ill-health eventually resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair, increasingly dependent on her family and gradually losing confidence in her ability to get out and about and live an independent life.

A visit to a local roadshow for the disabled brought Miriam and her husband into contact with someone who told them about the work of Canine Partners and the rest, as they say, is history. With the help and expertise of the Canine Partners’ Training Team, Miriam and Kruger were duly matched and it is clear they are an inseparable and devoted partnership; together they have added quite a few more skills to his repertoire - as well as ‘answering’ the phone and hanging the washing, Kruger is particularly keen on stripping the beds! Miriam’s simple and sincere declaration: ‘Kruger has given me back my life’, was met with warm applause from an absorbed audience.

Chief Executive Terry Knott then opened the floor and received eager questions which he and Sandra were happy to answer thoroughly and thoughtfully, and then it was time to adjourn for lunch. I was fortunate to be seated at a particularly lively table where my fellow guests - Mrs Dorritt Dingwall, Mr Jim and Mrs Margaret Mary Cochrane, Mrs Stanley Morris, and Mr Geoffrey Boston - enjoyed much animated discussion on what we all felt had been an enjoyable and thought-provoking insight into the exciting work of this young and vital organisation.

To find out more about the work of Canine Partners write to: Canine Partners, Mill Lane, Heyshott, Midhurst, West Sussex GU29 0ED tel 08456 580 480 fax 08456 580481 email or visit their website