Meet Richard, from Aberdeenshire

Posted 4 weeks ago in the Our partnerships category

Army veteran Richard’s spinal injury and arthritis meant he was prone to falls, and combined with the debilitating effects of PTSD, he used to fear leaving his house. Now, two years after being partnered with canine partner Ace, Richard is regaining his confidence.

Richard was partnered with canine partner Ace in October 2018. This is his story:

Before I was partnered with Ace my life was full of endless hospital appointments, which were often the only time I got out of the house as my wife was working. I was scared to go out of the house because of my PTSD and my physical difficulties. I would often fall over and people wouldn’t help – they would just walk around me. This increased my anxiety about leaving my house.

I found busy places difficult for a variety of reasons, but not least because of my physical difficulties as I can’t move quickly or easily move out of the way of other people. I felt closed in by other people and claustrophobic. I couldn’t go to the shop on my own as I couldn’t reach the items on the lower shelves. I loved going to the cricket, but I would have to wait for my friend to come and visit so that we could go together.

Discovering Canine Partners

I was at a Veteran’s event in Plymouth and someone did a talk about assistance dogs and what they can do to help. They recommended Canine Partners to me because of my emotional and physical needs. I decided to apply as I have always loved dogs so thought it seemed like a good way forward and to try to improve my quality of life.

The applications process was fairly straightforward and it was mainly just a matter of waiting for things to come together. Once I had been matched with Ace, I attended an On Site Training Course (OST). I was apprehensive at first but then I was overwhelmed by how amazing Ace was – we instantly bonded. The OST was tiring but it became easier once I became used to the routines, and when Ace and I got used to each other.  With the kind support of our Advanced Trainer, we were able to overcome any fears I had of going into busy places.

I was nervous about going home as he had to fly up to Scotland with the Advanced Trainer, but it was so lovely to meet them both at the airport and to see he was as pleased to see me as I was to see him. Ace settled in really well at home and, despite any concerns I had about him being in a new environment, he just seemed to take it in his stride. I also have an amazing Aftercare Instructor who has been able to support and reassure me along the way.

Life with Ace

Ace helps me in so many ways and enables me to be more independent. I don’t have to constantly ask my son and wife to help me to get up, get dressed or undressed, fetch things for me, or to even just shut the door. Ace takes the pressure off me physically, as I don’t have to bend to take off my socks, to get my shoes, or twist my back to put on my coat. My mental health is also better as I feel more confident and safer. He gives me a purpose, which makes me get out of the house on days when it would have previously been easier to just stay inside. I feel more confident going out on my own with Ace, as he can help me in the shops, help me to get up if I fall down, or will go to get help if I need it.

Not long after I got home with Ace, we went to a Veteran’s Breakfast and one of the guys there said to me ‘Wow, you seem so much more relaxed’. Having him there reduces my anxieties about the situation. He also acts as a visual sign to other people that I have difficulties and they are therefore more considerate than before too.

Since bringing Ace home, I have joined Fraserburgh Men’s Shed and I have accessed a college course through them, which I never would have had the confidence to do without him. I have also been doing a Cricket Coaching course through the Fraserburgh Cricket Club, so that I can help with training sessions. I certainly wouldn’t have done this without Ace by my side.

The Covid-19 pandemic

During the current Covid-19 pandemic I am shielding as I am more at risk due to my various conditions. It makes me feel very apprehensive and worried about the future. I don’t think people understand that if I catch it I could die, and that’s very scary. I haven’t been able to go out, at least not very far. I think being stuck at home has made me dwell on the bad things from my past more than before. After getting Ace my world had started to open up again and now, sadly, it has shrunk again. But Ace has still helped, as he gets me out in the garden or in the fields for a walk, and helps me emotionally by just being there unconditionally for cuddles. In fact, our bond has grown stronger over this time.

Because of our strong bond, Ace is amazing at anticipating what support I need including retrieving items, such as my walking stick to assist me to stand up, or helping me to get undressed. During the pandemic, we have also spent time learning new skills, such as helping to zip and unzip my wellington boots.

I don’t think being in the current crisis will give the public more of an insight into how lives can be for people with physical disabilities in terms of isolation. For many people, it has been a time to make the most out of the spare time they have or they’ve been able to go out for more walks, but for me it is just another anxiety to add to my ever-growing list of fears. I feel more shackled now than ever. For people shielding, it is a crisis of body and mind. I just can’t concentrate on other things. Lockdown has further increased my isolation, it hasn’t equalised us by everyone else being isolated too.

Going forward, I think my bond with Ace will just continue to grow. He will continue to be able to support and help me in even more ways. I am incredibly grateful to Canine Partners and I think it is an amazing organisation as it offers such life changing support.

Our amazing dogs make a huge difference to the life of their partner, and never more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic this year. Donate today and help us to continue transforming lives.

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