Looking after a puppy can help change a life
WHEN Ruth Breading first set eyes on tiny Gooch she knew he was special.
And with her love and devotion he would go on to change lives when he gets one of the most important jobs a dog can have.
The dog-lover signed up to become a volunteer puppy parent for assistance dog charity Canine Partners’ East Sussex group in September 2011 and was asked to care for Gooch.
Now her first pup has grown up, flown the nest and graduated as a fully-trained assistance dog – and she is calling for more people to sign up as volunteer puppy parents so that the charity can train even more amazing dogs like Gooch.
It comes as the charity prepares to host a puppy party where people can find out more about the role, meet the charity’s puppies and watch demonstrations showing the skills they learn so that they can go on to help someone with physical disabilities – boosting their independence, confidence and sense of security.
With support from her husband Adrian, Ruth spent a year teaching Gooch the basic skills he needed for his important job while ensuring he was always well-behaved.
The 48-year-old from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, took him on busses and trains and visited supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, shopping centres, parks and banks. And they made sure they met lots of other people and animals.
Ruth and Gooch also attended puppy training classes and had home visits from their East Sussex satellite trainer Ruth Narracott who gave her guidance on the charity’s reward-based training techniques, praising the puppy and giving it lots of treats, toys and playtime when they get something right.
Then when he was 12-months-old he left Ruth to begin his advanced training at Canine Partners’ Southern Training Centre in West Sussex where he developed the skills he had learnt with his puppy parent.
It was there that he was matched with Karen Donald, 54, who has brittle bone disease and the two of them have been inseparable ever since.
The five-year-old Labrador cross golden retriever helps her with tasks including picking up anything she drops, opening doors and he can fetch help in an emergency.
Ruth, a former administrator, said: “Following the loss of my elderly golden retriever Bobby and my grandmother, who I helped care for, I found myself with time on my hands and was keen to find something to keep me busy.
“Then I found out about Canine Partners and heard how they have classes nearby and give you lots of support so I was keen to be part of it.
“I had never had a puppy before but it was something I had always wanted to do and as Canine Partners had a local support group I knew I wouldn’t be on my own. It was very challenging to begin with but it’s really rewarding.
“Because there was so much that a puppy has to learn while it’s with you, I learnt at the same time.
“As they start to show progress you really start to feel a sense of pride in yourself and in your puppy.
“Then, as you become more experienced you don’t worry as much. You start to realise that eventually all of a sudden they will get what you’re teaching them, even if they hadn’t got it at first.
“One of the most valuable things for me as a new puppy parent was meeting partnerships because you understand why you’re doing it.
“People always ask how in the world we can part with them so they can start their advanced training. First of all you know they’re going to help someone and also, by the time they go you have done everything you can do to train them so it’s time to get the experts in so they can get the best job in the world.
“I think of it like sending a child off to university. It’s a head over heart thing. Your head is saying it’s time but your heart doesn’t want to say goodbye.
“When you hear they have succeeded and if you get the chance to meet their human partner you can start to let go.
“It doesn’t get any easier but after you have done it once or twice you know you will get over it.
“Being a puppy parent is probably the most challenging but rewarding job you will ever do. I would highly recommend giving it a try.”
Ruth has now looked after seven puppies for Canine Partners including Jupiter, Blake, Yvie, Kingston, Wizal and Fennel.
Now, as she prepares for her eighth puppy, she is calling for more people to sign up and become volunteer puppy parents which are urgently needed by the charity so that they can train even more life-changing dogs.
Puppy parents receive full ongoing support, both at their homes and at puppy training classes. Food, equipment, vet bills and temporary holiday care is provided.
People can find out more and meet the charity’s Sussex team at the charity’s puppy party from 10.30am-12.30pm on May 21 at Upper Dicker Village Hall.