Meet Boris, the assistant dog

  

An Assistance Dog helps someone with a disability complete essential tasks, so they can increase independence and improve their quality of life. The Assistance Dog acts as a constant companion and allows owners to gain confidence while bringing peace of mind to their loved ones. To coincide with Assistance Dogs week, we asked one of our HALTI Walking Brand Ambassador Dawn Hart a few questions about how her life with her dog Boris. 

1.    What is your disability and how does it affect you?
I have Osteoarthritis in my back, knees and hands which causes my joints to swell and become painful, stiff and weak as a result it makes doing everyday tasks extremely difficult like picking up dropped items and bending to do anything like emptying the washing machine. I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety and Panic Attacks which makes leaving the house alone very difficult.
 
2.    What made you decide to get an assistance dog and what did the process involve?
I never consciously set out to get an assistance dog, when Boris came to me aged 8 weeks he was a pet dog and company for me as I'd recently been Medically Retired from my job of 13 years and I was feeling very down and lonely. As time evolved a special and symbiotic bond developed between us. People were noticing a big difference in me with Boris's help and it was suggested by a good friend that maybe it would be possible to register Boris as an Assistance Dog.
My research soon found out that there's no actual register for assistance dogs in the UK, there are however some charities and non-profit organisations that can potentially help you train your pet dog as an assistance dog, providing a dog can mitigate your disability and you meet their criteria, there is also the option to owner train your own dog yourself, but I didn't feel confident enough to go down that route.
We applied to join Canine Generated Independence www.cgidogs.co.uk who are members of the IAADP when Boris was approximately 18 months old, our application was successful, and we started our journey of learning and proofing tasks to help me, whilst filling out weekly logs documenting all of Boris's training. We undertook several assessments over the next 16 months including a Public Access Assessment at the end.
The assessments were to ensure that Boris and I both worked well as a team and that his tasks to help me were fully proofed, they also ensured that he was of sound temperament, calm around people, children, other dogs and was happy to work in a busy environments and situations dogs don't usually come across without showing any fear or stress.
 
   Boris assistance dog
3.    How does Boris assist you and how has he changed your life?
Boris has changed my life massively as I no longer have to rely on people to help me with so many everyday things, like dropping a pen, my purse or just about anything as Boris is there to pick it up and hand it right back to me, because of Boris there's so much that I can do independently now.
Boris has a natural alert to tell me when a panic attack is starting to build so we can remove ourselves from a stressful situation, on top of this, Boris has been trained to either find us a quiet spot in a crowd or to seek out my partner, depending on which command I give. Boris empties both the washing machine and tumble dryer for me and it's one of his most favourite games, all of Boris's trained tasks are taught using a clicker and treats with lots of breaks for fun and games, because of Boris's help I no longer have to ask my partner or friends who visit me to empty them for me anymore.
Boris's most important tasks for me are the Block and Cover where he puts himself between myself and other people or situations I find stressful so that they can't invade my personal space and get too close. As a result of my medications, my nights used to be spent awake because of Restless Legs and I'd be exhausted during the daytime, but Boris is trained to lay across my legs which offers some relief for a short while enabling me to get some sleep on the nights Restless Legs torment me.
Because I have to exercise Boris and meet his needs, I have fewer panic attacks about leaving the house with him by my side and my OCD is greatly reduced at present which is because of Boris's calming personality and him breaking up my repetitive thoughts and actions. Boris has changed my life so much for the better, it's really hard to put into words exactly how much he's changed it.
 
4.    What, if any, are the challenges of having an assistance dog?
For me personally (and this will differ from person to person) there are several challenges:
a) People seem to think it's ok to ask me deeply personal and private questions about my medical conditions, sometimes even getting upset when I refuse to answer. I don't mind explaining about Boris's tasks to people and how he helps me, but I will never answer any deeply personal questions about my medical conditions, doctor’s records are confidential for a reason and I'm entitled to my privacy as much as the next person.
b) Being the centre of attention with people wanting to stroke Boris and distract him from his job can be very frustrating especially if we're in the middle of doing something important or we're in a hurry, it's amazing how many people think I should make an exception for them because they love dogs or have their own. If a handler says no, the dog is working, please respect their answer, it can be potentially life-threatening to distract an assistance dog from its job as they may miss an important alert and endanger the handler.
c) People allowing their dogs to wander over and sniff at Boris whilst he vested and working, Boris has been taught to ignore other dogs and continues to work, Boris was recently attacked in town whilst working by a loose dog, thankfully his chiller coat protected him and took the main damage but frustratingly the police weren't interested in pursuing it even though assistance dogs are now protected under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Boris required 2 weeks off work to rebuild his confidence again, which left me trapped in the house as I couldn't go out without him.
d) Some businesses are being unaware of the law and refusing access.
 
5. What would be your advice for others who are considering getting an assistance dog?
Having an assistance dog has improved my quality of life no end and I wouldn't change it for the world, but before getting or training an assistance dog you need to think very seriously of the positives and negatives of having an assistance dog. An assistance dog attracts a lot of attention and questions from Jo Public, are you able to deal with the attention, you will generally need to allow a lot more time to run even short errands to allow for interactions and questions. Know your rights and learn to speak confidently in case you should ever need to explain them to a business or employee.
To find out more about Boris, you can follow them on
https://www.facebook.com/whatborisdidnext/,
https://www.youtube.com/user/solarangles