Meet Rosie, from Exeter

Posted 4 months ago in the Our partnerships category

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a lot of new challenges for our partnerships, including Rosie and canine partner Barnabus.

Rosie was partnered with canine partner Barnabus in February 2013. This is her story:

Just before I turned 12 years old I was diagnosed with a very painful, rare and debilitating condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), and a neurological disease called Dystonia, which contorts my body into awkward and painful positions from muscle spasms. My diagnosis followed a year of agonising uncertainty, hospitalisations and horrible unknown symptoms. After getting these rare conditions, I lost friends and fell into a deep depression as I was left as a full-time wheelchair user and dependent on 24 hour care. I felt as though I wasn’t living, I was just existing.

My condition worsened and it started to affect my whole body. By the age of 13 I could not move voluntarily at all. I was bedridden and had to be tube-fed. I felt trapped in my own body – it had become a cage from which I could not access the normal teenage life that I so longed for. Three years later, when I was just 16, I underwent experimental brain surgery in the hope of regaining some movement and reducing my pain levels. I needed a lot of recovery time after the operation, as CRPS sufferers don’t do well with any type of surgery, but after about a year and a half the treatment gradually started to work and I began regaining tiny amounts of movement.

After a long time struggling, and being determined to be independent, I applied to Canine Partners for an assistance dog. I was told I was being placed on a waiting list but this gave me the time and motivation to work on gaining enough movement to be able to look after a dog. Before getting my canine partner, I had to be washed and dressed by carers and if I needed, wanted or dropped anything other people had to help me. I never went out by myself due to fear and the thought of having spasms or something going wrong. I felt stuck. My confidence and self-esteem were at rock bottom, and  the very thought of being alone outside terrified me.

Being inside so much at home and knowing that I needed more movement to be able to care for a dog, I spent a lot of time doing physiotherapy. The hard work paid off as gradually I gained more movement in my upper body – something I would not have had the motivation to do if it wasn’t for the possibility of getting a canine partner, as the pain was excruciating.  Knowing I’d soon have help from a canine partner gave me the confidence and incentive to apply to Falmouth University. My life was brightening up with just the thought of being partnered with an assistance dog – little did I know how much actually having a canine partner would change my life.

Life with Barnabus

It was late 2012 when I got the call I’d been longing for – Canine Partners had found a dog for me, a handsome chocolate Labrador called Barnabus. Since that moment we have been inseparable. Barnabus helps me so much. Besides picking up anything I drop and giving it back to me, he also opens and closes doors, drawers and windows; he helps me dress and undress, and he gets my medication bag. He will wipe the floor with a cloth, get items off a shop shelf, and will bring me the phone when it rings. He undoes the foot straps on my wheelchair, takes off my socks and shoes, and will flush the toilet. He will bring me anything I ask him to, will put things away for me, and he uses the ATM. He enables me to be so much more independent and gives my family peace of mind that I will be okay when I’m on my own.

In 2014, a few months after I had moved into my own flat and I was alone with Barnabus, there was a gap before my next PA arrived. I started to have dystonic spasms which can be extremely strong. On this occasion, the restraining strap on my wheelchair broke and I was thrown onto the floor. It was really scary and Barnabus lay on top of me to stop me hurting myself, something which he does instinctively and has not been trained to do. As soon as the spasms stopped he ran to the phone and gave it to me so I could call for help. By this time I was panicking and in extreme pain. My body was slumped awkwardly on the cold, hard floor and my right foot was twisted and still attached the strap on my wheelchair footplate. I couldn’t undo it but Barnabus could without a problem. I then asked him to fetch cushions from the sofa, my medication bag from the bedroom, and a drink which was on the work-surface behind my wheelchair. It was made even harder by all his treats that had spilt out of my lap-bag when I had fallen, but he did it! He then lay by my side until help came. The situation would have been a lot worse if Barnabus hadn’t been there to help me.

Adapting to life during the Covid-19 pandemic

I am currently shielding due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as I am high risk because of my conditions and extremely vulnerable as I take immunosuppressant medication. I find it worrying that I am high risk, but know that the people around me are very caring and sensible so I feel safe. I am finding it hard to be shielding as not being able to go out is very frustrating. Barnabus is helping me get through it with a smile on my face most days, and he always cheers me up when I am finding things difficult. I am so grateful for his unwavering support.

Shielding has stopped me from being able to go to get my shopping, but I have priority delivery from supermarkets, I get food parcels, and my carers can go out to get emergency supplies if needs be. I am safe with Barnabus at home because with him I can be left alone without human support. Some days I feel quite trapped in my home. Barnabus is my best friend, my confidant, my independence and my world. He has physically enabled me to have a much better quality of life, but emotionally he has made me realise that I still want that life to live.

Barnabus has made me whole again and he loves his job wholeheartedly. Now, instead of being the one who is cared for, I have a responsibility to care for Barnabus. I feel as though I have a purpose in life again – I feel useful not useless. I haven’t had the paramedics out for my spasms for years because of his devoted support. Having a canine partner has turned my life around, from being a place where there seemed to be no point in living, to living a life that feels full and has a future where anything is possible. I am not exaggerating when I say that Barnabus has saved my life.

We need your support now, more than ever to train amazing assistance dogs for people living with physical disabilities across the UK. Help us to train the amazing dogs of the future, so they are able to be a lifeline, whatever challenges lie ahead. Please donate here.

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