Meet Steph, from Essex

Posted 3 months ago in the Our partnerships category

Steph Flower, who has Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, has had three canine partners since 1999 and is one of the few partnerships who has been able to watch the charity grow from near the beginning.

In 1999, Steph was newly divorced with three disabled children to look after whilst having the same disability herself. Her life was transformed when she was partnered with her first canine partner, Frodo. This is her story:

“My neurological condition is called Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP) and it is exceedingly rare. I had late onset, so we didn’t initially have any idea what it was. I also had spinal problems that forced me to have surgery and retire early from my job as a Social Worker. HSP is a rare progressive neurological condition that is like Multiple Sclerosis, so I have good days and bad days as well as issues with my balance.

“All of my three children have the same condition and looking after them on my own wasn’t easy. My life just revolved around disability, trying to deal with day-to-day life was hard and I was finding it to be increasingly difficult. I was always relying on someone to do something as I could not manage by myself. I had to have carers in for my personal care and for my eldest daughter, as well as to help me around the house.

“I had heard that there were dogs out there that helped people with physical disabilities, so I went to the library and found information about Canine Partners.  When I first applied for a canine partner there were only about 20 partnerships in place, as the charity was in its infancy. Since then, I have had three canine partners and I’ve watched Canine Partners grow from strength to strength.”

Meeting Frodo

“My first canine partner, Frodo, was a huge bear of a chocolate Labrador, and his coming into my life was phenomenal. We had such a connection, he transformed my life, won lots of awards, and gave myself and my children their lives back. They knew that Frodo would look after me which meant that they did not have to worry about me all day. Because of Frodo I met John, now my husband, as having a canine partner gave me the confidence to sign up to a dating agency. Frodo instinctively knew John was the right person and took to him immediately, settling down across our feet. He changed my life totally.

“Frodo was ring bearer at our wedding, with a matching waistcoat and bowtie to the groom. He was my canine partner for 10 years before he retired for some more fun with John for two years and he then passed at the ripe old age of 14.”

Then along came Elmo

“Frodo changed my life so much that I could never change back to being without a canine partner. When Frodo retired I was partnered with Elmo, a yellow Labrador X Golden Retriever. Frodo kept a close eye on him for six months until he was happy Elmo knew how things were done for me! The short time of not having a canine partner between Frodo and Elmo was horrible, as I had to ask a person to help me again, but it made me realise how having a canine partner makes such a huge difference.

“I had very mixed emotions when I met Elmo but my feelings grew and we developed a really strong bond, it just took a bit longer as I was so used to Frodo being there and he was my first. Elmo was quite a different character to Frodo, very laid back and calm but always there for me and doing what Frodo did but with his own style. He was very focused on me and was never distracted by people trying to fuss him. Canine Partners supported me through the transition with aftercare when needed. Elmo retired at 10 and is currently living with my daughter.”

Introducing Wisteria

“In June 2017 I met my current canine partner Wisteria, affectionately known as Wisty. She is a yellow Labrador and is the smallest dog I have had but she is so full of life. She just loves everybody, and we have a really close bond. She’s very pretty and very keen to help, with a super fun personality. All of the dogs have tended to my needs, but all in their own way, they are not robots and have individual personalities which makes them special.

“Wisty will get my crutches, put the washing in and out of the machine and will then pull the washing over to the tumble dryer and then load the washing and shut the door. When we come in from her walk she helps me get undressed, unzipping my boots and tugging them off. Then she takes my padded trousers off and opens the cupboard, puts the boots in and pushes the door shut, after bringing me my slippers. In shops she’ll pass my purse to the cashier, take my card out of the card reader, get things off the shelf and put them in the basket. She also picks things up for me when I drop them, wherever that may be. A carer will get fed up after the tenth time, but a canine partner is happy to pick it up every time.”

Life with a canine partner

“Each of my canine partners have had their own special qualities, but they have all given me my independence back as with a canine partner I haven’t got to wait for someone to help me.

“I don’t know where my life would be if I hadn’t had a canine partner, as they change and enrich your life for the better. Being independent again and having that emotional support is priceless. It’s been one of the best things that I have done in my life. If you are having a really bad day, there is nothing better than having a cuddle with your dog. Each of my canine partners have been happy to cuddle with me and if I am unwell in bed that is where they each would stay until I was ready to get up. It’s not because they have to be there, it’s because they want to support you.”

Like Frodo, Elmo and Wisteria, our amazing dogs have been a lifeline to their partner, and never more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic. Please click here to donate today and help us to continue transforming lives like Steph’s.

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