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Paralympic swimmer tells us how her dog supports her

For the 376 people who are currently supported by a canine partner – their dogs are not just pets – they are their reason to get up in the morning, their independence and their lifelines. Canine Partners’ assistance dogs are trained to help disabled people with a range of everyday tasks – they open doors, fetch items, press buttons and can fetch help in an emergency. Jennifer Orpwood who lives in Forest Gate, London, tells us why she can’t live without her canine partner Flanders, a five-year-old black Labrador cross golden retriever.

Jennifer and Flanders

Jennifer has used a wheelchair since she was diagnosed with polio at three years old.

The swimmer who won medals in the Paralympic and Commonwealth Games in the 70s and 80s worked for the RNIB and had friends with Guide Dogs.

When she found out about Canine Partners’ assistance dogs for disabled people she was keen to apply and she was matched to her first dog, Geordie in 2000.

Geordie, a black Labrador cross golden retriever, died in 2012 and Jennifer was then matched to her successor dog, Flanders, who provides continued support.

Helping around the home

Flanders will help take things between Jennifer and her husband Dan Hudson. He will also pick up anything Jennifer drops, open and close doors and help her hang washing out to dry. He even helps Jennifer make jewellery in her spare time, picking up any small beads and other items that might fall on the floor and passing them back to her.

She said: “One of the main things Flanders does for me is picking things up. Before I had a canine partner I was getting a lot of back ache from bending over to pick things up and now I’m older I need more help with that.

“Flanders knows when I have finished showering and he comes in and picks up the bath mat for me along with anything else I might have dropped.”

Flanders’ help with these tasks mean Jennifer suffers from less back pain and she has more energy for other parts of her daily life.

Increased social life

Jennifer said: “I’m meeting lots more people and dogs and I have become part of the community. Before getting a canine partner I was just going out my front door, into my car and off to wherever I was going.

“Flanders is well known and I’m well known. I’m no longer the woman in the wheelchair, I’m the woman with the dog and that’s very different.”

Best friend

“I just like having him there. It’s nice if I’ve been poorly, even if I’ve only got a cold, he will come and lie next to me,” said Jennifer.

“Flanders is my best friend. If I’m having a bad day and can’t be bothered to wash my hair it doesn’t make a difference to him.

“An assistance dog learns about you and you learn their behaviours. He will notice small changes in me before I do and change his behaviour.”

Find out more about Canine Partners and they great work they do in supporting people with disabilities.

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