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Canine partners stride onwards and upwards

Seven month-old "Folly", one of the latest recruits
to be trained as a Canine Partner

IT’S A busy time for Canine Partners. Not only has the charity recently taken a starring role in the BBC documentary ‘The Dog House’, but also they are working hard to move forward and expand the service they offer to people with disabilities.

At Crufts this year there was the usual eye-catching stand promoting the charity’s work, and of course Allen Parton and Labrador Endal in their ambassadorial roles showing all the benefits of the partnership between man and dog.

In the past 12 months 20 dogs have been trained to work as canine partners and, as Andy Cook, Director of Operations for the charity told OUR DOGS, they hope to double this number in the coming year. Other innovations are moves to train up the dogs that people already own to take on some of the roles a Canine Partner Dog is currently taught to fulfil. Alongside this it is hoped to move to a more peripatetic training method so dog and handler can learn in their own home instead of having to travel to headquarters in Sussex.

A new state of the art training centre has been developed in Heyshot, at a cost of approximately £2 million, and this will be at the centre of the charities aim to continue to grow at a rate of 20% exponentially year on year. Terry Knott, Canine Partners’ CEO told OUR DOGS how proud he was to see the strides forward the charity had, and was continuing, to make since it’s conception by two ladies just 15 years ago. As well as the Heyshot centre there are also satellite sites around England, including ones in Hull, Southampton. Dartmoor and Bedford.

In another move some dogs are now being recruited from rescue groups such as RSPCA, Blue Cross and Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home. One of these is Folly a Labrador/ Golden Retriever cross , who at seven months old is in the early stages of training and came from the RSPCA in Cheshire.

As well as the work being show cased in ‘The Dog House’ Canine Partners has also developed a successful programme in conjunction with the prison service where inmates are trained to be qualified dog handlers. The benefits of this are multiple for the dogs, the charity and the prisoners who are able to learn a skill that will be useful to them on release and also develop communication and interact ional skills via the work with the dogs.

A Canine Partner is so much more then ‘a doer of tasks’. Dogs can help their person with everyday needs such as dressing, using a hoist harness, shopping, picking up and carrying etc, but unlike a mechanical aid a dog can sense emotions and differences in mood or skill levels so is able to adapt it’s behaviour to suit the ups and downs in the persons abilities. They also provide companionship and are on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The name of the charity aptly reflects this element of partnership with both dog and handler giving and receiving to achieve a perfect balance.

Although Canine Partners is still relatively small compared to some of the other charities, e.g. Guide Dogs for the Blind and Hearing Dogs, it has its sights firmly set on bigger and better things. It costs over £20,000 to train a Canine Partner, a bargain compared to care costs paid out by many local authorities and the NHS in home care and nursing, but no money is received from the government to fund the work of the organisation. Sponsorship for puppies, volunteers for puppy walking or hands on help at the centre, and other donations are always needed and welcomed by the charity in order for them to continue with the excellent work they have started.