Meet Abbie and her canine partner, Alfie

Posted 4 weeks ago

Abi was partnered with canine partner Alfie in October 2020 and the pair completed their partnership training in early 2021. They were the charity’s first full partnership of 2021 following partnership creation being paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is her story.

I live with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. All of these conditions are completely invisible, so on the outside I look ‘normal’ but on the inside my body tells a whole different story.

Life before my canine partner Alfie was pretty dull and every day was a huge struggle. The pain, fatigue and general weakness made getting out of bed an incredibly difficult thing to do. I had no reason to get up, or to get dressed and ready for the day. I allowed my body to take over, which in turn made some of my symptoms a lot worse. I have a very limited amount of energy and my body can become worn out very quickly. Staying in bed almost every day and depriving myself the simple things in life that have a positive effect on both the mind and the body, such as going out in the fresh air, was actually making me far more symptomatic and I experienced some very ‘dark days’ as my mind began to follow suit.

Life before Alfie 

Before Alfie came along, I relied on my mum and my carers 24 hours a day to pretty much do everything for me, especially on the bad days due to another sleepless night or a decline in my condition. Relying on other people to enable me to have a better quality of life made me feel as though I had been robbed of my independence. On the good days I would be able to do some things for myself, such as getting myself dressed and ready for the day, but on the bad days other people had to pretty much do everything for me.

Every time I dropped something on the floor or needed my bedroom door closing and my light switching off, I would have to shout for my mum or my carer to come and pick it up for me. At the end of a particularly long day out, I would come home and be so depleted of energy that my mum would have to help me get undressed and into my pyjamas ready to get into bed. I also lacked motivation to do anything unless I really had to do it, because staying at home and in bed felt like the safer and easier way to spend my day. I was also paying £30 a week to go and see a therapist, as life began to feel too much and I would have episodes where my anxiety and depression would spiral so out of control that I needed those weekly sessions just to get myself back into a better head space and a healthier state of mind.

“Amazing Dogs. Transforming Lives.”

I came across Canine Partners via a good old google search! Having spoken at length about the subject regarding getting an assistance dog with my mum, I decided to look more into it. I instantly warmed towards Canine Partners because of the way the process worked alongside the charities tag line “Amazing Dogs. Transforming Lives.” which is 100% spot on! I decided to apply for several reasons but the main one was the possibility of me regaining some of my independence and feeling more confident, safe and secure when out in public. I also knew that building up and creating a strong bond with the dog I was going to be matched with would be of great benefit towards my mental health and well-being.

Meeting Alfie

I remember the first time I met Alfie as if it were yesterday and that day will always be up there with some of the most magical and life changing days of my life! As soon as I set my eyes on him I knew ‘this was meant to be’! His tail was wagging and he was clearly just as excited as I was. Straight away I could see that he was this big bundle of joy and energy, and that his personality pretty much matched mine. I was originally matched with Alfie in February 2020 and we were due to do our two week onsite training in March, which I was super excited about. Three days into our OST we had to be sent home, sadly without Alfie, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. I had bonded with Alfie so much already within those three days and so it was so difficult having to go home whilst leaving him behind.

“It has to be one of the proudest days of my life!”

In October of 2020 I went back to do a ‘mini OST’ as the charity had to change the way they trained, matched and partnered the dogs due to the pandemic and restrictions. I arrived on the Wednesday and came home with Alfie on the Friday. Those three days were full on and we had to pack in a lot of training, which I found very tiring and it all became a bit too much for me physically and emotionally. However, with the incredible support from our Advanced Trainer, who then came out to my house every day for two weeks to complete the training, I managed to get through the process. Our Advanced Trainer helped me to make those two weeks a lot less pressured and lots more fun. She then said her goodbyes and passed me and Alfie over to the Aftercare Team, who have and continue to be a fantastic support for both myself and Alfie. After about a month of more advanced training with Aftercare, Alfie finally received his official Canine Partners jacket and successfully became a fully-fledged assistance dog. It has to be one of the proudest days of my life!

New found independence

Alfie has given me back so much of the life I thought I had lost. He has given me back some of my independence, as I am now able to go out to the local shop or for a street walk on my own – just me and my boy. When we venture out to a variety of different parks and open spaces for his off-lead exercise, I will go off with Alfie on my own whilst my parents spend some quality time together walking around the park and playing with our pet dog, Cookie. When I go out for social time with my carer, I am now able to go and look around the shop on my own with Alfie. It is during these times when I actually feel like a 30-year-old woman who is able to do so much more than I thought I could do before Alfie came along.

We have a buzzer system in my house, so that if I need my mum or my carer they know I require their help. Before Alfie, that buzzer would be going off pretty much all day, every day. But now, I only have to buzz them if there is something I need that Alfie cannot do like make me a cup of tea – although he is so clever it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t go and make me a cup of tea one of these days! Alfie will also do other everyday tasks such as opening doors, turning lights on and off, or fetching the post. He is also trained to find and bring a human to me if I need human help and will fetch my feeding tube bag so I can change my dressing on my own.

Practice makes perfect

Alfie loves to work and whilst he is super confident in carrying out all of these tasks, we practice them most days so that he continues to remember all of the commands. We both also find him learning new tasks super exciting and rewarding too.

Having Alfie has had an incredibly positive effect on both my physical and mental health. Alfie motivates me to get out of bed every day and to make the most of that day. He gets me out in the fresh air, which makes me feel so much more alive, and he encourages me to play with him which in turn has helped to strengthen some of the muscles in my arms. It is great for my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and having to get out of bed every day to tend to his needs has really helped me to gain much more body strength. I haven’t had to see my therapist at all this year because Alfie seems to sense when I am feeling anxious or ‘down in the dumps’, something which he wasn’t trained to do, and he is amazing at calming me down.

A brighter future

My future now that I have Alfie seems so much brighter than ever. I see myself and Alfie living together more independently, in supported living, and knowing that I will have Alfie there with me makes me feel much more content and less worried about this. My future with Alfie is going to be filled with so much love, loyalty, companionship, and I know we are going to create some amazing, precious memories together that will last for a lifetime.

The need for assistance dogs like Alfie is increasing every day. The pandemic disrupted our activities for many months. Our waiting list is under pressure and more puppies than ever are urgently needed to start their specialist training with us.

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