Meet Alan, from Hampshire
Posted 6 months ago in the Our partnerships category
Alan has Parkinson's disease, and was matched with canine partner Hamlin in July 2015.
Alan was partnered with golden retriever Hamlin in July 2015. This is his story.
I have Parkinson’s disease, which affects me in that I shake quite a lot and find it hard to walk properly sometimes. My coordination in the right hand side of my body is very poor. I also experience depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
I first noticed symptoms when I was in my late 20s and early 30s but it took quite a while to work out exactly what the condition was. It started with lack of coordination in my right arm and right leg and a slight tremor, but I was familiar with these symptoms because my dad had it as well.
When I get up in the morning before I’ve had my medication I find it very hard to move with any sort of fluidity, I stumble a lot and I find it hard to get my medication out of the bottles. Once they kick in after the first hour of the day, I can begin to move less rigidly and clumsily. I also get more energy, as I feel quite sleepy from the moment I wake up.
Life before Hamlin
Before I was partnered with Hamlin I was very depressed and very isolated. I had become a bit of a hermit really; I used to stay at home as much as possible. I didn’t really feel brave enough to venture outside as I was too anxious and would get panic attacks.
I was looked after quite a lot by friends and family. They were always checking up on me and making sure I was okay. They would encourage me to go out with them but I would always find it quite taxing being out in the open, particularly when I was shaking, as I would find it quite embarrassing. I thought people would be staring at me, which I now know they probably weren’t and they probably didn’t even notice.
Discovering Canine Partners
We discovered Canine Partners on the internet after encountering some canine partners being trained in Petersfield. I checked out the website and decided to go to one of the information sessions because we had lost our pet dog recently.
From that I was encouraged to apply for a canine partner, which I did immediately. It seemed to take forever but it was only two years, although it’s all such a distant memory now. It seemed like a long time at the time but now we’ve been together longer than I had to wait.
Life with Hamlin
Life with Hamlin now means I’m more confident, I’m happy to go out of the house, I can talk to people in public and I don’t feel that self-conscious any more. He acts as a buffer between me and the outside world as everybody is so interested in him rather than in me, which is fantastic because I can remain anonymous behind his antics. He’s a very friendly boy.
One of the main things Hamlin does for me is that he keeps me walking straight. It’s having a constant point of reference next to me, which gives me something to focus on otherwise I would stagger and stumble a lot more. I occasionally freeze, which doesn’t mean I can’t move but everything seems to shut down for a second. When this happens, Hamlin just head-butts my leg, which brings me back to attention. He wasn’t trained to do that.
He picks up my keys and wallet of course, which I constantly drop. I’m very careful not to drop my phone, as I don’t want teeth marks in that! He loves closing the dishwasher door, which saves me bending down because I can get quite dizzy. He loves opening the washing machine and dragging the washing out of there. There are countless other things he helps me with.
Now that I have Hamlin with me constantly, if I am feeling depressed or anxious he will come and put his chin on my knee. He can tell that I’m feeling low. If I’m feeling panicky he will give me a hug by launching himself on to my lap and staying there while I calm down. He’s made me more confident in myself and he has made the depression less of an issue most of the time.
He’s given me more independence, people don’t have to check up on me quite so often because they know I’m safe and being looked after. He gives me the drive to get out of the house and he makes me do things, whereas before I would just stay in and watch TV or sleep in late all the time. Now he wakes me up every morning at 8 by grumbling by the bed until I get up and give him his breakfast. He gets me started every day.
I think my friends and family are relieved that I’ve got Hamlin as well as very impressed with his overall performance. They feel that I’m safe and that I’m being looked after. They offer to help but less so because they know Hamlin is in charge most of the time. I think they appreciate my independence as well, because I don’t have to rely on them as much.
We’ve become a unit over the last three years or so. We don’t necessarily read each other’s thoughts and sometimes we both just go blank and stare at each other waiting for one or the other to do something. He’s just always there. He’s resting on my feet at this moment and that’s just such an important contact between us. I think if I were alone still, I would just be depressed and watching rubbish TV all day.
Having Hamlin has genuinely changed my life for the better in all ways. He’s got a cheeky character, which just makes him even more appealing, and he’s always happy to help from the moment I get up. I can’t sneak out of a room without him noticing, although I have tried! He’s just amazing.