Daniel and Yogi share a cuddle
No one who saw the finalists of this year’s ‘Friends for Life’ Competition at Crufts can have failed to realise the power of dogs to change people’s lives for the better. The ‘Friends for Life’ winners were 12 year old Daniel George and his dog Yogi – an assistance dog team trained by my charity Dogs for the Disabled. Daniel has Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy and Yogi has been trained to help Daniel with many practical day-to-day tasks as well as being a wonderful companion.
The ‘Friends for Life’ competition, sponsored by Pet Partners plc, obviously captured the imagination of the public this year with a significantly higher number of votes being cast than in the past. The Dogs for the Disabled stand at Crufts was overwhelmed by people coming to wish Daniel and Yogi well and a regular comment that I heard was that the competition was very positive for the image of dogs. I know that promoting positive images of the ways dogs can contribute to society is something that Rosemary Smart, Chief Executive of the Kennel Club, is passionate about and the interest shown by the public at Crufts in supporting the ‘Friends for Life’ competition shows that the KC are getting this message across loud and clear.
If you come across people who are sceptical about the power of dogs to make a positive contribution to our lives, here is Daniel’s story of what Yogi means to him in his own words.
‘When Yogi won Crufts’ Friends for Life competition it was completely overwhelming. It’s hard to describe how I felt, happy, excited: every emotion you can think of. When I first entered the main ring and everyone started applauding I felt excited that it might be me and it was me! I'm so proud of Yogi and I love him to bits, I couldn’t be without him.
‘I first met Yogi in June 2004 when I attended an information day at Dogs for the Disabled. I remember when they brought Yogi in. This handsome dog just came up to me and wagged his tail and snuffled his nose into my hands. He was just brilliant. I fell in love with him that day. In October 2004 my mum and I went to stay at Dogs for the Disabled to work and train with Yogi and I brought him home on November 5th, it’s easy to remember ‘cos it was bonfire night and Yogi was a little bit nervous because of all the loud bangs from the fireworks.
‘I feel like Yogi has helped me to be myself again, before I got Yogi I was very dismal and didn’t like to go out of the house. Now, because of Yogi I feel happy again and I enjoy being out of the house, with Yogi by my side - I feel a lot more confident and independent. Yogi helps me in ways that other people take for granted, like switching on lights, opening doors, taking my clothes off (including my socks) and picking things up when I drop them. This means I don’t have to keep asking mum for help, and Yogi never says ‘In a minute Daniel.’ If I did need mum I would ask Yogi to speak, he would bark and mum would know I needed her.
‘I like everything about Yogi and what he does, but what I like best about him is when I’m sad or upset, it’s as if he knows and he does something to make me smile, he may take off my socks or bring me the TV remote even though I haven’t asked him, it’s as if he wants to do something to make me smile again.
‘Yogi never does anything naughty, but he can be mischievous, he may go around the house trying to take people’s socks off their feet or pull the washing off the radiators. Sometimes in the morning when mum is trying to get me dressed and has put my socks on Yogi pulls them straight off again, but I know he is only trying to help. When we go out into the garden to play sometimes Yogi has what I call his ‘crazy dog moment’, when he sprints round and round the garden into the house, round the house and out again. All of these things make me smile and laugh and they are not really naughty.
‘When Yogi and I go out, people always smile and say hello. Since we won the Friends for Life competition, even more people come up to me and say well done, then they want to know all about Yogi and I love to tell them. It can get a bit tiring being a celebrity don’t you know!
‘I cannot imagine what my life would be like without Yogi, I do know all my happiness would go and my life would be very empty without him. Having Yogi is like having a best ever friend who is always there for me no matter what. He sleeps in my room at night, often sleeping on my bed with me, making me feel safe and secure. He is the last person I see before going to sleep, and the first I see when I wake up and this always makes me smile.
‘Yogi has made such a difference to my life, I want to see dogs like him help all the other disabled children and make their lives as happy as Yogi has made mine.
‘So I say to all the mums of disabled children, if you get the chance to get a Yogi, take the chance and make your child happier. That’s what my mum did!
‘Daniel George age 12 (nearly 13) and Yogi.
ps. If you voted for us at Crufts - thank you so much.’
Surely no one could argue with what Daniel says Yogi has done for him and his family.
I rest my case!
For further information about Dogs for the Disabled visit www.dogsforthedisabled.org or call 01295 252600