Essi the dog is friendly, handsome and obedient – and he will provide a vital lifeline for a disabled person.
The labradoodle has been living in Potton with Ray and Julia Bylett for the last 18 months. The couple have been training him to be an assistance dog for Canine Partners.
A regular dog about town, he is greeted by everyone he meets as the Byletts go about their day to day lives. Ray said: “He’s well known around the town and wherever I go he’s a star.”
And now Essi is preparing to leave the town as he will go on to his next stage of training on Monday, October 29.
After further training he will become the perfect partner for someone with a debilitating illness such as MS or Parkinson’s. They are also used by servicemen and women as well as other people who have sustained injuries.
Essi can pick up dropped items such as a phone, wallet or a bunch of keys, collect the post and even empty the washing machine. And by the time his training has been completed he will be able to add more tasks to his already impressive CV.
Ray, of Baker Avenue, said: “We lost our own dog about two years ago and we always said we’d like to do something like this. We were in Sainsbury’s shopping in Biggleswade and we came across a couple who had a little brown labrador that belonged to Canine Partners and it started from there.”
Julia added that the reason they do it is the thought of him being such a help to his eventual owner.
Lorraine Lotan, puppy satellite trainer for the Bedford branch of Canine partners, which covers this area, said: “We are always looking for puppy parents. The difference between puppy parents and foster parents is that puppy parents have the dog with them and attend a training class once a week and are responsible for its training while foster parents are deputy carers for holidays.
“We get to meet the disabled person the dog ends up with and they all say what a difference the dog makes to their lives. It’s a lifeline to a lot of people if they are depressed with the illness. The dogs are a reason to get up.”
The Bedford branch currently has 15 dogs in training ranging from Essi who is the oldest at 18 months down to Lulu and Leanne who are 20 week old golden doodles, crossed between a golden retriever and a poodle.
The charity uses labradors, golden retrievers, labrador and golden retriever crosses and these breeds crossed with poodles. The poodle crosses are particularly good for people who cannot cope with a dog that sheds its fur. Some of the dogs are donated but others have to be bought. They can cost from £400 to £800. The dog’s gender is random as this does not affect the ability to be a suitable partner.
Of the dogs who begin training for Canine Partners 75 per cent go on to help someone. Others are found alternate homes if they prove unsuitable. For example they could have health problems, be of an inappropriate temperament, have a chase instinct or be nervous around traffic.
Lorraine added: “Essi will now spend four or five weeks in assessment to see if he’s got what it takes. If he passes, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t, he will go to further training. They will look at the type of person who will benefit most from him.
“There are disabled people on a training list and hopefully there will be a lightbulb moment with the dog – quite often it boils down to chemistry.
“Once he’s matched the rest of the training will be tailored to that person’s needs. He could be trained to hit an alarm button or to help someone get out of bed.”
Essi was put with Ray and Julia because he was rather shy of people. Their quiet household seemed ideal and they have successfully brought him out of his shell. He is their first Canine Partners dog.
Once Essi leaves the couple will become the puppy parents for a seven month old labrador, whom they have already met a few times. Ray said: “Obviously we will be upset when he goes but on the other hand we know he’s going to make somebody a terrific partner.”
Canine Partners is looking for more puppy parents. Anyone can take on the task but they need to be at home during the day to train the dog. They will also need an enclosed garden and they will have to be willing to follow the charity’s guidelines.
Prospective puppy parents will be interviewed and there will be a home visit. They will also be asked to attend a few training classes to see how they work.
Other pets in the household will not present a problem, although any other dogs should be more than 18 months old. And puppy parents do not need to have any particular experience with dogs as they will be given training. Many people start out as foster parents and progress from there.
The charity also needs more people to help with fundraising.
To find out about Canine Partners visit www.caninepartners.org.uk
Anyone who may be able to help should call Lorraine on 07787 114447 or email firstname.lastname@example.org