I was lucky to have been introduced to Lizzie Owen and the fabulous Frodo at Crufts. Few people really inspire me, but Lizzie is amazing. Funny, brilliant and totally dedicated to spreading the word about Dogs for Disabled, the Charity that provided her with Frodo, her second assistance dog. Frodo adores his mum, loves his job, they are an inspiring and amazing team. They work tirelessly for others.
Dogs for the Disabled
I guess most of you with dogs will agree that your dog is a great ice-breaker. How many more people do you get to talk to when you are simply taking your dog for a stroll in the park? Dogs can be pretty effective at helping to relive stress. How many times have you cuddled to your dog, and discussed a horrible day at work with him? Dogs are also great at encouraging us to exercise. The dog needs walking, and so you go and take him for a lovely long stroll. Well, my dog is pretty awesome – he does all of these things, AND enables me to live independently!
I’m Lizzie – I have Osteogenesis Imperfecta, more commonly known as Brittle Bones (http://www.brittlebone.org/about-o.i.html). Both my femur (thigh bones) were fractured when I was born, and I’ve had about 200 fractures in my 32 years of life. However, as I’ve had more than 10 fractures so far this year, I guess I may be nearing the 300 mark! I’ve had over 20 operations, and have metal rods in most of my long bones. I’ve been a ‘full-time’ wheelchair user since I was seven years-old.
I first found out about the Charity ‘Dogs for the Disabled’ (http://www.dogsforthedisabled.org/) when I was in the sixth form at a mainstream secondary school – a lady came in to talk to the lower school about the Charity. I was amazed when I learnt what dogs could be trained to do. My biggest problem is that, when I bend down to pick things up, I fracture ribs. However, if I applied for one of these dogs, it could pick things up and prevent quite so many rib fractures!
I was partnered with my first Dog for the Disabled in 2000. Bella was a little Golden Retriever. She was a very delicate, sensitive, pretty, little girl (not particularly good at her job, though)! When I got Bella, I was an undergraduate at the University of Leicester – I was studying for a BSc in Biological Sciences (Physiology and Pharmacology). Once I got Bella, I made a lot more friends! People would come up and talk to me in the SU Bar, and tell me about their parents’ dog. Without Bella, I don’t think I would have graduated from University – she helped me to ‘believe’ in myself. We graduated in 2004.
I had to make the very difficult decision to have Bella put to sleep in December 2007. She had a rapidly spreading, and inoperable, cancer. I discussed things with our Vet, and we decided that there really was no alternative. Normally, you’d go up to Bella and would get the gentle ‘swoosh’ of the tail, and the ‘Goldie grin’. But, in the last few days – nothing. She was even refusing to eat chicken. She’d had enough.
I was so devoted to Bella. I didn’t think I could bond with another Dog for the Disabled. If I couldn’t bond with another dog, how could I work with it? But, if I didn’t have a dog, what did I have to live for?
I first met Frodo on Valentine’s Day 2008. I really wasn’t sure about him when I first met him – Bella was a delicate, mature, 24kg Golden Retriever. Frodo is an assertive, mad, 30kg Labrador Retriever. He stayed at my house the following weekend, just to see if it could work. When I was awoken by enthusiastic Labrador kisses at 7am, I realised this was the dog for me! We did our training together in March 2008, and are now inseparable! I just love everything about him! He is very handsome! He’s great at his job! He can be a little bit mischievous! I feel Frodo is bringing out another side to me. He IS more confident, adventurous and, sometimes, naughty. But he certainly keeps me on my toes (or should that be ‘wheels’?)! I had my own car until a couple of years ago but, unfortunately, my health has deteriorated and so I can no longer drive. I’d never been on a train before on my own, or stayed in a hotel on my own. But Frodo is a more confident and ‘easier-to-please’ dog – we’ve been to Banbury on our own six times, a couple of Conferences and even been to Crufts! These are things I’d never dreamt I’d be able to do before I met Frodo! If I hadn’t got a Dog for the Disabled, I’d probably lie in bed all day, and wallow in self-pity. But, when I wake up and look at Frodo wagging his tail so vigorously his whole body wags, it makes me smile and gives me a reason to get out of bed! Frodo also enables me to live independently. If I didn’t have a Dog for the Disabled, I’d probably need 24-hour care. But Frodo is there to pick things up, raise the alarm if I have a fall, help me to undress, open doors, empty the washing machine, etc.
It costs about £20,000 to train each dog and disabled person, and support them throughout their time together. If you can, please support this amazing Charity (http://www.dogsforthedisabled.org/support-us/donate/sponsor-a-puppy-2/). Thank you!