Meet Paul, from Hertfordshire

Posted 2 years ago in the Our partnerships category

Paul has a spinal cord injury and was partnered with Ralph in October 2016.

I was an ordinary 20-year-old lad enjoying my life and working in my dream job with a kitchen fitting company. I had a long-term girlfriend and a wide range of friends.

On the 10th November 2012 my life changed forever. I was driving my new car late at night when I crashed and broke my neck. I spent two long months in intensive care, fighting for my life. When my family spoke to the doctors they were told I have a high-level spinal cord injury and would be paralysed from my neck down.

Once I was finally well enough to be moved out of intensive care I spent another seven months in the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore getting specialist care and learning how to live with my injuries. I was taken off heavy medication and was beginning to learn to breathe without a ventilator when I started to get movement back in my left arm. Eventually, after a lot of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and hard work I was able to move both my other arm, but I cannot use my hands. However, with good control of my left wrist, I have learnt to use my finger and thumb to pick up small objects and use a splint on my index finger to type on a phone or tablet. I now need 24 hour support from carers.

I also suffered severe depression due to the accident and life changes. The matron of the ward allowed my family’s two pet dogs to come into the side room to see me in order to help my low mood. Our cockapoo would sit on my bed so I could stroke him. This would always brighten up my day. Some months later, on my 21st birthday in July 2013, I was discharged.

It was decided I was best to continue living with my parents until I got used to my new life. When I came home I wasn’t sure what life would be like and very quickly got bored. All my family and friends work so during the week I had nothing. Because I had nothing to do I found I would sleep until late afternoon then get up and play computer games. I also had a lot of hospital appointments as my health wasn’t great and I was in and out of hospital for various reasons.

In July 2014, a year after coming home, I went on a multi-activities course in the Lake District with a charity that supports people with spinal cord injuries. During the course I was shown that my life wasn’t over, as I once thought, and there is still plenty I can do. I went sailing, swimming and used specialist equipment to go off-road and up a mountain. This course was a wake-up call for me and I started trying to get my life back on track. I volunteered to do speeches in secondary schools about road safety. I decided I wanted to look at my experience in a positive way and try to help others.

I also got a membership to watch Arsenal football matches and started trying to get out more. I started taking our pet dogs out with my family and really enjoyed the fresh air. This was something I had missed. I was lucky to have an indoor/outdoor wheelchair so I could get out on paths but found it difficult off-road. I then found an all-terrain wheelchair on the internet and I’m now able to go anywhere I want in any weather, which is great.

While at an Arsenal match I saw someone go past in a wheelchair with an assistance dog. I did some research and came across Canine Partners. At first I thought I was too disabled to have a dog. The more I started thinking about it the more I wanted to at least apply and see what happens. I started looking through Canine Partners’ website again and was reading about someone who has an assistance dog. I realised he had a spinal cord injury and our level of disability was roughly the same. After getting all the relevant paperwork together and sending it off, I had a phone call about an assessment day. It was a great day. I got to work with lots of different dogs and could tell instantly I’d benefit from having one.

Around 18 months later I met Ralph. As soon as he saw me he came straight over and licked my face. There was an instant connection and I knew he was the dog for me. He stood beside me so I could stroke him and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. A few weeks later I went back for a two-week training course. I was really excited to see Ralph again and he seemed just as excited to see me. The training course was very tiring and, at times, hard work but it was also fun and the more we were practising tasks together the more excited I was about my future with Ralph.

When we got home after the course I let Ralph have a look around. Once he had settled down in the garden with a toy we let our pet dogs say hello. They immediately played and got on well.

Ralph and I practise tasks on daily basis and he has already made an immediate impact on my life. He presses an alarm that calls the carer if I need of help and can’t call them myself. He picks things up and gives them to me like my phone and finger splint. He takes my jacket off and my gloves in the winter and he helps remove my blankets if I get too hot at night. He also opens and closes doors for me on a daily basis and he sometimes presses the controller to my electronic assistive technology for me, turning on or off lights, fans, heaters and my TV and also helping me phone people if I need to. He’s also been practising pressing the buttons at traffic lights.

Having Ralph by my side has not only made me more independent, he has made me a lot healthier. Since having Ralph I am no longer anxious or in and out of hospital constantly. I don’t know if it’s the fresh air I’m getting or the fact I now have a purpose in life and someone else to worry about. I can be at home on my own and I take Ralph out for a long walk on my own every day – I enjoy every second of it. Being able to be on my own is quite a big thing for me. For the last four and half years I haven’t been able to be on my own, even for a ten minute wander round the block due to ill health or the fact that if I drop something I can’t pick it up.

Ralph is also great fun to have around and he keeps me motivated. He also makes me laugh a lot as he can be quite cheeky – he sometimes brings me the house phone or remote control even if I don’t need them just so he can get a treat.

In just a few weeks I will be moving out of my parents’ house and into a specially adapted flat. This is to give me more independence and start a new chapter in my life as I’m now 25 years old. If I didn’t have Ralph think I would be very nervous and not looking forward to it but he gives me the confidence I need to know that I’ll be fine on my own.

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