Meet Penny and River

Posted 9 months ago in the Our partnerships category

Penny was partnered with her second canine partner River in July 2021. This is her story.

Penny was partnered with her second canine partner River in July 2021. This is her story.

My name is Penny and I have Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3, also known as Brittle Bones, which means I can break a bone without trauma and dislocate very easily. I have fractured my bones over 200 times so need to be careful in my day-to-day activities to avoid injuries. However, I have accepted that with this type of condition, I will fracture regardless of what I do or don’t do.

I applied to Canine Partners after always wanting a dog and the independence I could see that they bring. As a child I saw other people with my condition who had assistance dogs and in my head, as that young impressionable child, I said “One day I’ll have an assistance dog”. I saw how much independence they had and that they would come to conferences on their own without needing a human carer. My plan was that I would apply for an assistance dog when I bought my own property, as I’d be living on my own.

Meeting Imogen

In 2017, I received a very exciting phone call to say I’d been matched with a dog. She was a 20-month-old Golden Retriever named Imogen, who I nicknamed ‘Immy’. In my heart, I had really wanted a Golden Retriever but I didn’t want to limit myself as it had to be the right dog. When I heard my match was with a Goldie, I was beside myself with excitement. My heart absolutely melted when I first met Immy, she looked stunning and had sweet, gentle, soulful eyes.

Immy was a really funny dog with the typical Goldie traits – I knew after every walk I’d be coming home with a wet, muddy and happy dog! She loved to work and would get so excited to do tasks so every training session was certainly fun! Sadly at the end of 2020, she had to retire due to medical reasons. I was heartbroken and made the very difficult for Canine Partners to rehome her as neither myself nor my family could provide her with the level of care that she required.

At the time I decided that I would like a successor dog and I re-joined Canine Partners’ waiting list and was so excited when I received the exciting call again to say I’d been matched with a two-year-old yellow Labrador X Golden Retriever.

Then along came River

When I met River for the first time I went in feeling quite different. I was full of trepidation about going through the process again and still healing from a broken heart after saying goodbye to Immy. As soon as River came through to meet me all my feelings eased and River instantly leaned as far into my wheelchair as possible to cuddle up to me.

It was much easier to settle into the new partnership the second time around as I had a better understanding of what to expect and how to meet the needs of a dog. I also gave myself breathing room, knowing that it takes time to build up a solid working relationship. River made my transition to a successor dog easy as she’s such a tactile, loving dog. She is very easy to communicate with and understand, so I have got to know her likes/dislikes and what motivates her quickly.

River is an absolute dream to work with as she is a very chilled dog that goes with the flow – if nothing is happening then she’s more than happy to snooze, yet ready to get going in an instant whenever she needs to. She absolutely loves cuddles so she makes a wonderful hot water bottle, even when she does think she can fit on your lap!

Life with a Canine Partner


Both my dogs have made a huge difference in my life. I wasn’t expecting Immy to come into her own as quickly as she did because within 10 days of bringing her home, I fractured my arm and my leg. This was the first time I fully understood how much of a lifeline a canine partner would make to my life.

I had to move back to my parent’s house for my recovery and had carers coming in three times during the day. Recovery before having a canine partner was very different. It was stressful being on my own, stuck in one position and worried that if I dropped the TV remote or my mobile then I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it until the next care visit. I remember having Immy lying next to me, having a sense of relief knowing that if I did drop something she would be able to pick it up for me – this gave me a sense of independence when most of my other independence had been taken away.

Teaching Immy to tidy up her toys was something I was able to do whilst I was recovering. It really helped pass the tedious time as typically my fractures take much longer to heal than 6 weeks. For me, it really is the little things that make a big difference. I’m sure both my dogs have helped stop many fractures because I’m no longer having to try to reach down or over-stretch for things.

When I used to be a call handler for the police my canine partner was able to accompany me, so both dogs have supported me at work. It was always so beneficial emotionally to be able to reach down and give my dog a little stroke when things were very stressful. I’ve now moved jobs within the police and River is a hit in my new office. She provides a bit of stress relief to myself and colleagues – her cheeky character makes us laugh! It’s so nice for River to do little things under the desk for me such as discreetly picking up things I drop rather than having to rely on my colleagues.

Before having a canine partner, I would frequently get patronised when I was out in public as people either saw me as a child or they would infantilise me, patting me on the head and displaying all sorts of bizarre behaviours towards me. When I’m out with River most of my interactions with people are positive and definitely less patronising. People either leave us alone because they know not to distract a working dog or are interested in learning more about Canine Partners. This has had a huge impact on my mental health, as I finally feel seen for myself rather than being treated like a child. River gives me the confidence to take my four-year-old nephew out by myself. He adores River and loves feeling responsible for keeping her ‘safe’ and ‘brave’ when we go out.

I have always enjoyed having my sidekick next to me on my adventures. Immy accompanied me on many hotel visits and a flight to Scotland. River has crammed just as much in, including road trips, Crufts, and conferences. We also have plans to go to Paris next year to watch the 2024 Paralympics. Everything feels a little bit better when I have River by my side, even simple things like eating in a restaurant on my own or chilling at home.

Having a dog will completely change anyone’s life but having a canine partner is extra special.

Will you donate towards the next generation of canine partners? To find out more about how you can support us this winter, please visit our Winter Appeal.


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