Meet Lauren, from Tyne and Wear

Posted 3 weeks ago in the Our partnerships category

In 2011 Lauren was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a degenerative condition affecting the immune system. Devastated at losing her mobility and independence, Lauren's determination to rebuild her life became possible when she met canine partner Fliss.

Lauren was partnered with canine partner Fliss in October 2017. This is her story:

Life before Fliss was very different. I used to be a fiercely independent dance teacher – passionate about helping others and living life to the full. Fast forward a few years to the night before my final teaching exam, where I was rushed into hospital for the first time without any understanding of what was to come. At the time it was assumed that I had overexerted myself, causing my immune system to crash, when in fact I had a rare genetic condition that would cause my quality of life to rapidly decline.

Since then my life has become a constant rotation of hospital admissions, appointments, treatments, medication trials, pain and sickness. I also had the difficult task of accepting the fact I could no longer dance and I now depended on full-time care and the use of a wheelchair. It caused me to feel as if my life suddenly had no purpose and that I no longer had any dignity or privacy, due to the fact I had to have a carer with me at all times.

Life with Fliss

After seeing something about Canine Partners on TV, I decided to apply in the hope that I could finally regain some independence. Nothing can prepare you for the joy a canine partner will bring into your life. I initially thought that it would take some time to see the benefits of having a canine partner, but I was overwhelmed with emotion when I didn’t have to call my carer to take off my socks the day after bringing Fliss home. The On Site Training Course that each partnership has to take part in at the very beginning of their partnership was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was certainly worth it!

Now Fliss can physically help me with so many things such as helping me get undressed and fetching my medicine bag. To my amazement, she has also learnt to save my life by waking me up in the middle of the night to alert me to an allergic reaction. This is something that wasn’t taught by Canine Partners, but Fliss has taught herself through our strong bond. It is something that brings a huge amount of relief to my carers and me!

I actually never expected Fliss to have such an impact on my whole family, as I naively assumed she would only help me. But thanks to Fliss my family can now leave the house, knowing that she can raise the alarm if an emergency occurs. They can go to sleep in their own bed instead of sitting beside me, as they know Fliss can alert them if needed. They can also count on Fliss to help me if I faint or fall, meaning I don’t need someone to watch over me 24/7. Because of all these amazing qualities, Fliss has given me the confidence to leave the house on my good days, whilst having a fluff ball to cuddle on the bad days. My partner, who is also my carer, has been able to set up his own company, where he no longer has to worry about getting a call from me to say I’m stuck on the floor or waiting for an ambulance. We have also been able to enjoy our first holiday, along with many trips around the UK for business and pleasure and because Fliss was able to join us, we no longer had to worry about my partner taking sole responsibility for my care. Instead, Fliss was able to assist me with my daily routine, despite being away from home. I also got to enjoy the simple pleasures of being able to independently look around a shop for the first time without panicking about being on my own, or being able to enjoy parts of the UK that I wouldn’t have necessarily visited if it wasn’t for Fliss’ exercise! Obviously, I will always need some help from my carers, but not having to rely on them for every little thing is priceless.

The Covid-19 pandemic

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, my whole household isolated since the beginning of March 2020. This means my sister has been unable to continue working and we have been relying on friends to deliver things like food and medication. I am more at risk to Covid-19 as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome causes a lot of problems that all massively flare up before, during and after contracting any form of virus or infection. I also have an undiagnosed condition that has weakened my immunity and has triggered life-threatening allergic reactions. It is terrifying to think about how the coronavirus could potentially impact my disability and whether I will catch it when visiting A&E after using my Epipen.

The lockdown and isolation meant I was starting to physically struggle due to the fact all of my outpatient treatments were stopped, which caused my symptoms to slowly spiral. However, I am used to spending a lot of time in hospital and/or isolated from family, making the emotional side to the current crisis a little easier to deal with. The fact Fliss is able to physically help me on so many levels has allowed both me and my carers (my mum and my partner) to have some space despite isolating in the same household. Something that is vital for our mental health! In addition to this, whenever I am feeling down or scared, Fliss gives me something to focus on as opposed to letting my thoughts take over. Even just taking her into the garden to master a new task that we have been working on does us both the world of good! Even though I didn’t think it was possible to further our develop the bond Fliss and I have, the shakeup in routine paired with my increased dependency levels has provided us with an opportunity to lean on one another in different ways. I also have a whole new level of appreciation for the fact I am lucky enough to have Fliss by my side during such a hard time.

I think the Covid-19 crisis will give the general public more of an insight into how life can be for people with physical disabilities in terms of isolation. I’ve had more messages from family and friends in the past three months than I have in years, purely because they can’t believe I cope with such struggles on a regular basis. I also think businesses will be more open to hiring employees that would normally be unable to physically work in a regular work environment, but can work from home on a schedule that suits their needs. Which is something that so many organisations had to organise in a matter of days when the pandemic hit!

If I had to summarise my partnership with Fliss in three words, I would choose happiness, independence and pride. But none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the incredible work that Canine Partners does! Because of this, I have thoroughly enjoyed using my platform to raise awareness for the charity and attend events in the North East. Before being matched with Fliss, I used to hate thinking about the future because my quality of life was so poor. But now I want to plan adventures so that I have something to look forward whilst sitting in the hospital, to help my partner grow his business when I have the energy, and to continue appreciating the bad days, even if it’s just for one moment when Fliss brought a smile to my face!

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