Increasingly, we see how support from assistance dogs goes beyond practical support, and can bring huge benefits to people’s mental health, forming an incredible friendship and partnership in the process. In my work, I know that practical support can be life-changing, but I’m also told how the benefits go far beyond help with everyday tasks. In the same way animals can give a sense of daily purpose to the elderly, assistance dogs simply make our clients feel better, from motivating them to try new activities or confronting daunting situations to boosting confidence and self-esteem. The dog acts as a bridge to the wider world, enabling people to fulfil their aspirations and potential.
Chase Patterson, 26, is partnered with Rio, who’s been trained as an autism assistance dog.
“When Dogs for Good came to meet me the first time about setting up a pilot partnership, I remember being asked what I thought I’d get out of having an assistance dog,” she explained. “I said I wanted to be more independent. To be able to go places without my parents. I wanted to go to London, because I hadn’t been able to face it for years. I wanted the freedom to do things, knowing I was safe.”
The friendship and partnership between the pair meant Chase was able to pursue her passion and achieve her dream of attending a convention for fans of comic and TV series The Walking Dead. It had been “years” since Chase had done anything without someone being with her or nearby, but the presence of Rio changed all that.
“This time we were on our own, so if anything went wrong, it was just me and Rio. And he was a complete pro. I talked to endless strangers about my amazing boy, I met cast members and was able to hold a conversation with them. When I got a bit stressed, he’d stand so close to me so I could stroke his ears and calm down. When I needed a moment of quiet, we went off to their Quiet Room and he fell asleep against my chest so we could both recharge.”
Assistance dogs like Rio unlock potential and enable ambitions to be reality, which is far beyond assisting with practical tasks. In this way, I think we have underestimated the therapeutic value of assistance dogs.
We tend to focus on the practical tasks they can assist with, but no two people are the same, even if they have the same disability. We need to look beyond the neat service boxes we’ve created in the assistance dog sector and to think differently. By understanding the practical and emotional needs and life aspirations of every individual, we may be able to go further in helping them lead the lives they want to lead.
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