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 until Canine 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 told Sky News: “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.
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