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Canine Partners

Poet and entertainer Pam Ayres makes an appeal on behalf of Canine Partners, a charity which trains dogs to help disabled people gain greater independence.


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I like dogs, a lot.

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When I was little, my dad stunned

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our family by bringing home

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a seriously ugly stray dog on a length of string.

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And I loved her, I thought she was magic.

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And, ever since then, I've loved dogs for their loyalty

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and their friendship and for the way they make you feel

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like somebody, even if everybody else thinks you're a nobody.

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I've even written the odd poem about them.

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'I always like a dog at home, it makes it nice and hairy.

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'And if a burglar calls your dog will make the place sound scary.

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'Your dog will idolise you and his love will never stop,

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'you only need some food and drink, a bucket and a mop.'

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Now, I'd do anything for my dog.

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But, have you ever wondered if circumstances were different,

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what your dog might be able to do for you?

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Dogs can learn to the most incredible things,

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if they're given the right expert training.

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And, over the next few minutes, I'm going

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to show you how dogs like these can transform the lives of people

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who desperately want their independence back.

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And I'm hoping to persuade you to do whatever you can to help.

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In April 2000, Jenny Timms collapsed in pain

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and was rushed in for emergency surgery on an ovarian cyst.

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Complications followed and she lost the use of her legs,

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leaving her completely reliant on others to perform even simple tasks.

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I was just this lump, either lying in bed or sitting on a chair,

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and that's all I could do.

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I felt like, not only had I ruined my life, I'd ruined my husbands life.

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Because he became my full-time carer. I lost my role, you know?

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My role, as a wife.

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Once it was clear her disability was permanent, Jenny fell into a

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deep depression as she struggled with the loss of independence.

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I just lost my life.

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And I hated everything about my life

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and I just didn't want to be here anymore.

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Thankfully, there's a charity whose whole purpose is to help

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people like Jenny who find that, due to a disability,

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they've lost their freedom.

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It's called Canine Partners,

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and I've come here to the National Training Centre in West Sussex

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where they train dogs to help disabled people to have a much

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greater independence, and a better quality of life.

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Dogs are put through a highly specialised training

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programme where they learn tasks tailored to the

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needs of the person they've been matched with.

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After graduating, they'll join over 280 Canine Partners,

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assisting people with disabilities all around the country.

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People like Lorna Marsh, who was born with quadriplegia,

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a form of cerebral palsy.

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Since birth, she's been reliant on 24-hour care,

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until a Canine Partner came into her life, called Eli.

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Part of my disability is that I drop things on the floor,

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all the time, and I can't help it.

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And before it was like, "Oh, please can you help me,"

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and then someone would come and help me.

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Five minutes later, or not even that long sometimes, it would

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happen again, I'd be going, "Sorry, I've done it again.

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"Sorry, sorry, sorry." All day long.

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And now, I feel guilty if I don't drop something.

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Because he enjoys it.

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Excellent! Good lad!

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So, he's made my disability into something positive for him,

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which makes me look at it differently.

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-Eli can do all sorts of useful tasks.

-Good boy! Good boy!

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It would have been great if all he did was pick up things

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off the floor for me, you know, I would have been happy with that.

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That's enough. But he does 306 different things for me.

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He just gives me a look.

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If my drink's on the table he'll just go over,

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pick up the drink and give it to me.

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It just takes away some of the disability.

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I'm a lot less disabled than I was before.

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Can you get my hairbrush from the bathroom?

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But having a Canine Partner is about more than just help with

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practical things.

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Good boy!

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All my life, I've been the one being looked after.

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And now I have him to look after.

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And that's a really nice feeling, for it not to be all about me.

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But I've got a responsibility, just like anybody else.

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And that's really lovely, I love it.

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Canine Partners put their dogs through 18 months of the most

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rigorous training so that they really can transform lives.

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And they don't just help with practical things,

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in many cases they do something much more fundamental.

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They give someone back a reason for living.

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Jenny will never forget the moment she first met her

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Canine Partner, Bliss.

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It was, like, just love at first sight.

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I'd not felt that happiness for such a long, long time.

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It was an amazing feeling, it really was.

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Before Bliss arrived, Jenny rarely left the house.

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-But now, her world opened up.

-Boots, get it!

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Before, I wouldn't have gone out on my own at all.

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With Bliss, we go all over the place.

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When we go shopping, Bliss will pick up items off the lowest shelf,

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like tins, packets and things, and then, when we get to the cashier,

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I will pass her the purse and she will then pass that to the cashier.

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Ready? Up, up, up! Take it, bring it to mummy. Good girl!

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That is a real big help for me because, otherwise,

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I wouldn't be able to go out and do the shopping.

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And having Bliss means that Jenny is able to do many more

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things around the house.

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She can get things and bring them to me,

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so that means that, again, I'm not having to disturb somebody else.

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I know that, if I fall on the floor,

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she will go and get a pulley that we've got on the wall,

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she'll get that she she'll pull me up so I'm sitting up.

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Tug! Tug! Tug!

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Yay! Good girl.

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Jenny suffers from whole body spasms that attack without notice.

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It had meant that she was too afraid to go out but, amazingly, Bliss

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can sense when one is coming on and warn Jenny 20 minutes in advance.

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I can get myself somewhere that's safe, take my medication,

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and, you know, not be embarrassed in the middle of a shopping mall.

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So I can just go and hide somewhere, which have been, you know,

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a really big, big help to me.

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The independence Bliss has given Jenny has taken a huge

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strain off her relationship with husband Daniel.

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It does make a big difference, having Bliss in our lives.

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We are now more of an equal and, you know,

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it's lovely just to get back to how we used to be.

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I'm just amazed at what she can do and how talented she really is.

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And she's, you know, she's my little star! Really. She's amazing.

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In the UK, there are more than 1.2 million people who use a wheelchair.

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And many of those would benefit hugely from a Canine Partner.

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Sadly, at the present time, Canine Partners only have the

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resources to place between 75 and 80 dogs a year.

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But they would love to reach more people who need

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one of their beautiful, clever dogs.

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And you can help them to do that, please,

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by sending a donation to Canine Partners.

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Please go to the website...

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..where you can donate.

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If you haven't got internet access, please call....

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Telephone calls are free from most landlines.

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Some networks and mobile operators will charge for these calls.

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You can also donate £10 by texting...

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Texts cost £10, plus your standard network message charge,

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and the whole £10 goes to Canine Partners.

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Full terms and conditions can be found at bbc.co.uk/lifeline

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Or, if you'd like to post a donation,

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please make your cheque payable to Canine Partners and send it to...

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Writing Canine Partners on the back of the envelope.

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And, if you want the charity to claim Gift Aid on your donation,

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please include an e-mail or postal address

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so that they can send you a Gift Aid form.

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Thank you.

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Poet and entertainer Pam Ayres makes an appeal on behalf of Canine Partners, a charity which trains dogs to help disabled people to have much greater independence and a better quality of life. A dog-lover since childhood, Pam visits the charity's HQ to find out about the astonishing feats our four-legged friends can learn when coached by the right experts.

Jenny Timms was left without the use of her legs after surgical complications. She became completely dependent on others to perform even simple tasks and fell into a deep depression. But Jenny's life turned around completely when she was paired up with a golden retriever called Bliss. Bliss can help with all sorts of practical things from emptying the washing machine to posting a letter. But more than that, she's given Jenny back a vital sense of independence.