It will be a very happy Christmas for Betty Williams and Little Ern, a former rescue dog who has been trained to react in the event of a fire alarm sounding.
He is the very first emergency response dog in the UK to be homed as part of an innovative project organised by the Fire Support Network charity.
The terrier cross has been given a new home and a new lease of life with 74-year-old Betty, from Eastham in Merseyside, who is wheelchair bound.
Two-year-old Little Ern will be a loyal companion and potential lifesaver. If Betty's smoke alarm sounds, he will shut Betty and himself in the room, put a cloth against the bottom of the door to stop smoke entering, alert Wirral Partnership Homes' Control Centre to the emergency, and bark when the emergency services arrive so they can be located easily.
He is one of three emergency response dogs being placed in the community in a bid to protect some of the most vulnerable residents. The project is a joint initiative between the Fire Support Network (a charity that supports the work of the Fire Service), Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and Sheffield-based charity Personal Assistance Dogs.
Betty read about the initiative in her local paper and thought she would be a suitable applicant, having had her legs amputated a couple of years ago.
Linda Mitchell, Manager of the Fire Support Network, said: ‘I knew immediately that Betty would be an ideal person to benefit from our emergency response dogs. She had limited mobility and was socially isolated.
‘Little Ern will do so much more than just help with fire safety, he will give Betty a friend. And with the network of volunteers who are involved in the project, she will get regular visitors and support. Of course, Little Ern will be getting a loving home, so everyone will benefit.’
Betty was delighted to be accepted and Little Ern has already been settling into his new home. Betty said: ‘He's a lovely little thing. I love dogs and used to have my own before I was in a wheelchair. Dogs know when you are feeling down and give you love, I'm looking forward to having Little Ern about, he will be a great companion for me.’
Little Ern and the other two Emergency Response Dogs have all come from animal shelters and have gone through a series of stringent assessment and training programmes. There will be continuous follow up by Personal Assistance Dogs throughout the dog's working life.
The project has received funding from the Radio Merseyside Charitable Trust and Liverpool Echo Sunrise Fund. The alarm package has been installed thanks to Wirral Partnership Homes and dog food provided by Purina.
The Fire Support Network is looking for other organisations who may be able to offer funding to help provide more Emergency Response Dogs for other vulnerable members of the community.
They are also appealing for volunteers to help with the dogs and other projects they are involved in. To respond to either appeal, call Fire Service Direct on 0800 731 5958.