“You have two choices,” says the 32 year-old. “You give in or you get on with what you’ve got. There’ve been ups and downs, of course; the ‘why me’s and the anger, because you can’t do things. But then you realise that there’s usually a way round things.
Mandy’s ‘way’ came in the form of Woolfie, a German shepherd dog trained to empty the washing machine, open the door, pick up the phone, take items from the supermarket shelf, hand Mandy’s purse to the cashier and carry bulky items home, such as toilet rolls and kitchen towels. The clever canine has also learnt to help Mandy undress and provides a sturdy haunch to lean on when she gets out of her wheelchair and into bed.
Bonnie Bergin, a PhD graduate from California, first came up with the idea for assistance dogs in the 1980s. She realised that as well as helping deaf and blind people, guide dogs could greatly improve the lives of people with other disabilities, including paraplegics and those living with autism and Alzheimer’s.
Bergin’s training techniques have since been learned and applied by trainers across both America and Britain. Today there are around 500 assistance dogs working in the UK – a number that could be significantly increased with more awareness and funding.
The best dogs for the job tend to be either German shepherds, or Labrador-retriever crosses. The dogs are given as puppies to a volunteer known as a ‘puppy socialiser’, who will spend 14 months familiarising them with shops, trains, buses, restaurants and other public places. At 14 months, the puppies are handed back to the charity and trained for 6 months to carry out all of the tasks necessary for caring for a disabled person. After the dog has been matched with a suitable owner, both dog and owner will spend 2 weeks at a residential unit getting to know each other, and the owner will be taught how to handle the dog.
Mandy Ireland believes her dog Woolfie has given her a new lease of life. With Woolfie’s help, she can go outside whenever she likes and do things she could never do by herself. The dog can even sense when she is about to have an asthma attack 15-20 minutes before it happens, and will bark a warning so she knows. “He knows me inside out,” she says.
We believe everyone should have access to the support and guidance they need. Dealing with disability is incredibly difficult, both for the people effected and the people who love and care for them. Our network of counsellors is available to help right now – simply visit our search tool. To read more about caring, please visit our Carers Support page.
View and comment on the original Telegraph article here.