The number of British troops injured in Afghanistan who are applying for assistance dogs has contributed to a severe shortage of the trained animals. The dogs are trained to help with a range of practical tasks both inside and outside the home, like switching on lights, fetching the phone, picking up items from the floor, unloading the washing machine, collecting the post, and flushing the toilet.
Cerebral Palsy sufferer Lorna Marsh, 34, was unable to do any of these things
Partners matched her with Eli. Eli - a cross between a Labrador and a Golden Retriever - carries out
approximately 306 different tasks for Lorna, and his training has been
specifically tailored to her needs. Ms Marsh said: "He's my best friend. He's the door to independence,
to a level I never thought I was going to reach. He means the absolute world to
me because he means I can do more stuff on my own, which, as a disabled person,
is gold dust. I never thought I'd be able to do half the stuff I'm doing and I never
thought I'd be able to feel as close to Eli as I do.
"I think every disabled person who wants an assistance dog has the right to
apply for one and see how far they get. It's just really sad that money gets in
the way of somebody being that little bit more independent than they were
before," she said. Over the course of its life, each assistance dog costs £20,000 to train and
support but with 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, it's impossible to
provide for everyone. Those who are paired with a dog are not charged a penny, so the help does not
depend on a client's financial ability to pay.
Canine Partners relies solely on donations from the public. The charity's main training facility near Midhurst, West Sussex, is at full
capacity with 25 dogs being schooled there at any one time, each on an 18-week
course. Jenny Moir, from the charity, said: "We've got as many trainers and probably
as many dogs as we can train from here, but because the demand is increasing -
not least because we place dogs with service people coming back from Afghanistan
- we've decided to purchase new premises in Leicestershire which we are
developing as we get money in." A new premises is currently being developed as and when money comes in, at an
estimated final cost of £3m.