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Support Dogs

by Neil Ewart FBIPDT

A unit on an industrial estate in Sheffield may seem an unlikely location for a charity which exists to train dogs to improve the lives of people with epilepsy, physical disabilities and children with autism. But it is the home of Support Dogs and from this small unit they train dogs to work in all parts of the UK.

Wherever there is a need Support Dogs will endeavour to help. It’s been that way since 1992 when co-founder John Rogerson returned from a visit to the Unites States.   He was  so impressed by the ’Top Dog’ programme over there that he linked up with Val Strong and Support Dogs was born.

The charity grew fast and these days there are three areas of training.  

Seizure Alert Dogs:

Support Dogs is the only organisation in the UK to train dogs to the onset of an epileptic fit and their remarkable powers can give an owner up to 45 minutes warning.  They do this in a number of ways thus giving the owner time to locate a place of safety.  This can be incredibly valuable if, for example, the owner is in the throes of cooking a meal, about to take a bath or planning to go for a drive!   Currently the first seizure alert dog for a child is being prepared.  The intention is for the dog to react when the child has a seizure and will fetch the parents-even in the middle of the night!  

Disability Assistance Dogs:

These are dogs trained to carry out tasks tailored to their owner’s needs, such as:
  • Opening and closing doors.
  • Picking up objects.
  • Raising the alarm.
  • Operating control buttons.
  • Switching lights on and off.
  • Loading and unloading a washing machine.

Autism Assistance Dogs:

In 2008 they began training dogs with the aim of providing both parents and child with a degree of predictability in social settings.  

Readers will certainly note that there is often an over lap in the work carried out by the various ‘’Assistance Dog Charities’’ but to help get this in perspective research has shown that some 72500 families could benefit from an autism assistance dog alone.

Then all the other disabilities need to be considered then it is obvious that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK for whom an assistance dog would be life changing.

Rightly, strict conditions govern who can apply for a dog trained by Support Dogs
And coupled with the intense training programme means that only around eighteen dogs a year complete a course.  This creates a problem meeting the demand!  One dog recently in the Autism Awareness programme was the subject of over 400 applicants.

Since its inception Support Dogs has trained over 180 successful partnerships.

Dogs vary in size and breed, from Jack Russell’s to a St Bernard, from pedigree dogs to cross breeds from rescue kennels.

Some disability assistance dogs can be the owners own dog but seizure alert and autism assistance dogs will be obtained and trained by Support Dogs.
However, they like all Assistance Dogs have one thing in common.  They must have good, steady temperaments.  Something every dog owner and breeder should be aiming at!!

To qualify as an Autism Assistance or Seizure Alert dog requires a sixteen week intensive training course at the Centre followed by many weeks with its new owner. Training to become a Disability Assistance takes place at the Centre and the person’s home.

Dogs are finally assessed using the giant Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield.  They are expected to walk to heel, pick up dropped objects, pass a short re call test.  They are also checked for their reaction to lifts and escalators and social behaviour in cafes.

The future is full of challenges.  Each dog costs about £12000 to train and Support Dogs receive no Government help.  They remain fully committed to a policy of not charging the disabled person for their services.

They, like other Assistance Dog groups, have to cope with ‘’pet’’ dogs out on the streets.  Recently, ‘Grant’ was nearing the end of his training when a dog attacked him.  They are waiting to see if he will fully recover and whether his character may have changed.

Their current premises are not really suited to the work they do as they really need somewhere with its own grounds.  But that is going to cost BIG money!!

To find out more, the details are listed below.

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Please follow the link to our website to learn more about us and find out how you can help You can write to Rita Hobson, Support Dogs, 21 Jessops Riverside, Brightside Lane, Sheffield, S. Yorks S9...
Support Dogs
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