Before getting Toby my daughter was in a dark place. She has Autism and can suffer badly with anxiety, depression and behavioural problems. Becky desperately wanted a friend, she has so much love to give, but finds socialising really hard. When we got Toby our expectations were low, all we wanted was a loyal friend for Becky.
Amazingly, he exceeded our only expectation very quickly. He is so much more than a friend. And what I didn’t realise was how much we all needed Toby in our family.
We were introduced to Helpful Hounds very early on and quickly met Nicola and Matt who took us under their wing. We started the Owner trained programme. They have at times almost held my hand through Toby’s training. Training him certainly has required lots of time, commitment and patience.
Every step of progress with his training has felt like an incredible gift, a dream come true for my family. Not only have we all got a best friend in Toby but, he actually helps Becky when life feels gets too much for her.
Now, without being asked he will go to help her. He is like a switch, able to stop Becky from spiralling out of control.
The main ways he helps are:
• Deep pressure therapy (climbing on her and lying down).
• Allow her to gently blow his fur to help her focus on calming her breathing.
• Stroking his belly (he loves that one!)
• He licks her or paws her hand.
• Climbs all over her (she loves this)
• He rests his head on her lap.
• He amazingly maintains her focus in a shop, along a busy road and walking into school. These were big challenges and seem ‘easy’ now thanks to Toby.
This last year has been Becky’s best at school. Her behaviour has been incredible. She has friends. She can go shopping (she likes shopping!). She has started an after-school club. Her confidence has grown so much. We go out as a family on walks, to parks, pubs, BBQs. Before Toby this was not our life I genuinely believe that the love he has shown Becky has been exactly what she has needed.
We would be lost without him now. For me the greatest gift he has given me is the sound of so much more laughter in my home.
Toby is a well-loved Helpful Hound.
“Leeson is my lifeline. Before him I was scared to leave the house. He gives me the confidence ands support to be sociable and get involved with everyday stuff. I used to get really anxious about talking to strangers because I didn’t know what they would ask me or how I should respond. I was worried I wouldn’t say the right thing or wouldn’t know what to do, but Leeson not only helps calm me down when I get worried, overwhelmed, or worked up, but he also grounds me by giving me something to focus on and a conversation point I can fall back on if I start to worry.
He has not only changed my life but also saved it. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been there to show me the way forward. He makes me want to try new things because he wants to try new things. He loves me and I love him more than anything and that’s the best thing in the world”
Carmela has a progressive muscle wasting disease called LMNA Congenital Muscular. The nature of this disease and regular hospital appointments causes anxiety and sadness. There is a great need for emotional and independence support.
Carmela’s Toy Poodle puppy, ‘Tinker’, joined the Pet to Assistance Dog programme. Already, Tinker has helped Carmela focus more on Tinker and less on her disease. Tinker comforts Carmela when she is feeling lonely or poorly. She, sits with Carmela, watching TV, and goes on adventures in her wheelchair. Tinker also provides l support during difficult and emotional changes in Carmela’s disease.
As a long-term benefit having Tinker, we hope she can provide independence for Carmela by picking up dropped items, fetching items from other rooms, open doors at home and alerting parents at night if Carmela is in difficulty.
Since we have had Rufus, he has bought sun and laughter to the house. Grace has been able to share her time and love with him. She takes responsibility for him and his training and she can see how her actions affect him and others. She has a companion to take with her everywhere. He is also a great support for the rest of the family too and he loves to snuggle up with us in the sofa. He gives, us and, Grace confidence to go out and about together without an adult being present.
It’s lovely to see how attached they are and how he follows her around.
Helpful Hounds have changed my life whilst helping me to train my dog Luna to become my assistance dog. The advice and direction towards her training has been invaluable. Luna is now just 2 years of age, and I am amazed at the level of tasks she has already achieved.
She wakes me up from my nightmares and distracts me during panic attacks by interrupting my behaviour. She has learnt to get the phone if I ask her to and she also get it when it rings. She seems to wait excitedly for the mail man to arrive each day bringing me my mail, and even parcels that are small enough to go through the letter box. Whilst at home and out and about she will pick up things that I drop, she will then get up on to my mobility scooter and deposit it in my hand.
At times during my better days, I am able to walk short distances, and during those times she will put her front paws on my knee and place the item in my hand. If I am feeling unsure whilst in a shop, I ask her to come close, she will then walk behind me to stand between my legs until directed that she is free to move.
Having her so close alleviates my panic, which can happen at times whilst I am waiting in a queue with my shopping.
I know that I would not have been able to achieve so much without Helpful Hounds assistance. Luna has changed my life for the better in so many ways. There were so many days before Luna that I was unable to leave my home I just did not feel safe alone. Luna has given me the strength to embark on adventures I would not have contemplated before, she keeps me calm by her presence, and just seems to know when I need her to touch my hand with that cold little noise. I am no longer a prisoner in my own home, I have my little hero right there beside me helping me to face the world.
My daughter Ella has autism, ADHD and recently been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome which massively impacted on Ella’s quality of life.
She was unable to attend school, her anxiety levels were so high that she could rarely leave the house and when she did her tics were so bad she was using a wheelchair. We contacted Helpful Hounds as Ella has always had a real love for dogs and we’d heard such positive things about assistance dogs. They were so helpful and the training started a week after Ella’s puppy Ziggy came home.
Katie from Helpful Hounds has been fantastic with Ella and Ziggy, she has gone above and beyond. Ella hadn’t been able to see family and friends or engage in any activities, but Katie was able to build trust with her. With Katie’s help, Ella has been absolutely amazing with the training of Ziggy. Ziggy is just 15 weeks old and is already helping Ella get out into the community and getting her to do things she didn’t believe she could do again.
Ella is able to walk with Ziggy, concentrating on the training focuses Ella’s mind and knowing Ziggy is there with her keeps Ella’s anxiety levels down. She is so much calmer and ticcing less when with Ziggy. She has walked around shops, sat in cafes and been to parks, all things that I wasn’t sure would happen again.
Ziggy has given Ella a reason to get out of bed, previously Ella didn’t see the point in living, she now wakes up excited to see Ziggy. He has given Ella hope for a more positive future, we have even gone out as a family! We can’t thank Katie enough for all she is doing for Ella and Ziggy.
Having had Scoot at Toynbee school has made a very real difference to the lives of many pupils in a variety of ways. Scoot is based in the resource provision for pupils with visual impairment and this in itself has enabled all the pupils to become very familiar and comfortable with having a dog around.This is great preparation for the fact that many pupils with visual impairment will go on in their future lives to work with guide dogs.
Scoot visits many lessons and supports the pupils and teachers in a number of ways. For example, nervous pupils who feel anxious when presenting in front of their peers are more than happy to present to a non-judgemental and tail wagging dog. Additionally, some of our developing readers have made monumental leaps in both their reading and spelling, and literacy in general, by being comfortable in reading 1:1 with Scoot.
Pupils, who for a variety of reasons, have found the transition to a busy secondary school challenging, feel a lot more relaxed and open about talking about what is troubling them when Scoot is present. Our last cohort of exam takers had pupils who were able to get exam ready by having some quiet Scoot time prior to taking their exams and thus improve their outcomes.
Our Helpful Hound Henry has made a huge difference to the wellbeing of both our students and staff here at Beaucroft Special School. Every day he helps our students transition from one place to another calmly and safely. He is always happy to greet people with a ‘Henry Hug’ and puts a smile on the face of everyone who meets him. Having made such a huge impact to our school in just one term, we look forward to seeing the positive effects he will bring over the coming years.
Due to the Lockdown Henry was based in our Post 16 Unit with me. He has proved invaluable in working with our student’s mental health, both of those students with Key Worker parents and recently those who were incredibly anxious at coming back in after months off school. These students strike and play with him every morning before they go to their classes. Henry has just recently begun work again in Portland class (middle school) on Monday mornings and walks with highly Autistic nonverbal students around the school woods twice a week. He daily walks students to and from their minibuses and meets S. every day for a Henry Hug before he goes home to a difficult social care situation.
We also wave off all the buses as they leave, and this has helped every child see that Henry is still very much part of our school. He loves going to school and misses the students during the holidays. During the holidays Henry loves nothing more than a beach run and dip in the sea.
(Neil Palmer, Henry’s Guardian and Teacher at Beaucroft School).
Boo has made such a huge difference to Emilia’s life. They have an incredible bond. Boo helps Emilia with her emotional regulation and also with her anxiety. Boo’s presence helps Emilia to remain calm in situations that would otherwise be overwhelming. Emilia’s life is richer and easier as a result of having Boo.
Thank you, Helpful Hounds and all your amazing trainers.
I have Parkinson’s. Molli gives me something to get up for, she makes me laugh, gives me confidence to go out and she alerts someone if I fall.
I suffer great anxiety and am forgetful. Molli is training to help with these issues, and this will give me much more confidence and a better quality of life.
She will continue to help me Never, Never, Never Give Up.
Whisper has changed so many things for the better. She has been life Changing for us all. We can no longer imagine life without her by our side. Without Helpful Hounds we wouldn’t have our yellow bundle of joy and love (not to mention the hair on everything!). I cannot thank Helpful Hounds enough for allowing us to have Whisper as Phoebe’s Assistance Dog.
I had read all about Assistance Dogs, and after many years of chasing children in all directions I imagined a dog could help me track a missing child. I explored the idea of an Assistance Dog, the more I read about how they helped nonverbal children to talk and that they help calm anxiety, the more excited I felt.
A friend really believed that an Assistance Dog would help us, so was on a mission to find us one! A few weeks later Clare emailed about a charity called Helpful Hounds, and that she had spoken to them, and we could join their programme. I questioned if I had the time and energy to train my own assistance dog? I did not want to appear ungrateful. ‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas’, I really wanted this, but I had no idea what I was taking on!
I asked the family how they felt about having a puppy…. they were excited and wanted a boy puppy called Alfie, I explained I could not promise them a boy! I arranged to visit Tina, a local Breeder, and her 5 ½ week old puppies. They were sleeping when I arrived, but one little pup sat up and came towards me, he was our puppy! Tina felt his name should be Alpha for new beginnings! They say a dog chooses his family and he certainly did! His Canine surname is ‘Tambetae’ Latin for well blessed. He and his name were perfect, I felt certain this was meant to be! We arranged for Matt & Nicola from Helpful Hounds to meet and check that Alpha was suitable for his task!
We took the boys to meet Alfie. As Isaac is timid, we explained he probably would not show interest in the puppy to begin with. We carried Isaac as 7 puppies and 3 big dogs excitedly circled our legs, but to our surprise our non-verbal little boy said ‘down’ and began laughing, running around, and playing with the dogs, and tried to instruct the dogs to sit just like his brothers!
I felt like I had had a concealed pregnancy, we were so unprepared for a puppy! It was just over a week between our first email and Alfie actually arriving! Alfie fitted in well to our family. 10 days after Alfie joined our family Isaac mounted his Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Horse, Poppy, for the first time. Previously, he had been too frightened. After RDA, a little voice said, ‘poppy fun!’. I did not recognise the voice, ‘drink’, or ‘cake’. Isaac had just spoken for the very first time to express his feelings. I looked at Isaac and he said again ‘mummy poppy fun!’.
His voice was different, it was calm. Isaac had never spoken anything other than a single highly motivating word such as ‘Ice cream’, Isaac and Alfie have partnered well. Issacs confidence and speech has developed rapidly as he has learnt to instruct Alfie to ‘sit’, ‘lie down’, ‘wait’, ‘stay’, ‘eat’, and ‘drink’. If Isaac begins to cry with frustration, Alfie will come to Isaac and sit with him. Isaac will wrap himself around Alfie. Alfie, now alert’s me if Isaac or my boys need help or are in danger. All my children enjoy snuggling up with Alfie, he is as described on the box, ‘very comforting and calming’ for our family.
Alfie has four exams before he fully qualifies as an Assistance Dog at approximately 18-24 months of age, Puppy foundation (which we have completed), Bronze, Silver & Gold and finally public access. Helpful Hounds Assistance Dogs are really supportive, they come to us regularly to check on Alfie’s progress.
Attending puppy training classes has even inspired me with new ways to train my children, our sweet jar at home is now called kiddie Kibble!
Dexter is a retriever, who we have owned since he was 8 weeks old. He was introduced to our home with a view to training him to assist my autistic son. Having a friend, who asks nothing of you, other than cuddles and belly rubs, has been invaluable to my son, and his meltdowns and anxiety have decreased dramatically. It is hoped that once Dexter has completed his training, he will be able to assist my son in accessing situations that others take for granted, such as using public transport, or going shopping.
Since joining Helpful Hounds’ Owner Training Programme, Dexter is learning new skills, under their guidance, and has become a bit of a local celebrity. Their support has been constant, and they are always available to offer support and advice.
Hi we are The Spicer family. Barnum joined our family in July 2019 as an 8week puppy. He is now very much ‘one of the family’& we can’t imagine him not being here with us (Jan 2020). Barnum has become a brother to our 2 sons both of whom he is ‘in training’ for. Alfie is 10 & has Down Syndrome, George is 7 & has autism. Barnum has already made a difference to our household, not just the mess, the noise & the smell !!!!! but in valuable ways too. While he is currently training as a ‘good puppy’ & has not started his ‘specific needs’ training he has himself positively reacted to George’s meltdown episodes & instantly wants to be with George when these are happening – he stands next to him licking and nuzzling him. In return George cuddles with him and the screaming eventually becomes laughter – who can resist a tongue up their nose????? Barnum has also given George more confidence when we are out & about.
We hope ultimately that Barnum will also allow us to be able to give Alfie a level of independence when we go out. Alfie has no road safety awareness – he will stop look listen & then carry on crossing the road even if a vehicle is coming towards him. We hope that in the future Barnum will be trained to not let Alfie cross the road in these situations much in the way that a Guide Dog does with a blind person.
Leeson (The early days!)
Both my husband and I are not dog lovers, so it was with very careful consideration that we took the daunting steps into getting a dog for my daughter and embarking on the “Owner Trained Programme” with Helpful Hounds. Our 9-week ball of fluff arrived home in May. I can’t say it’s been easy. There have been major changes to our daily routines with exercising, feeding, training etc….don’t mention the muddy paw prints, the chewed post, the wanting to go for a wee at 6am!!!!
Nicola and Matt have held our hands from the get-go. There is still a long way to go but our ball of fluff is now a 9-month furry friend that doesn’t leave my daughter’s side. He is slowly learning the tricks of his trade and we couldn’t imagine life without him.
In Leah’s words “Leeson makes my heart sing”. We couldn’t do it without Nicola and Matt’s expert guidance and unending support. Their care and patience on the other end of the phone is like a much needed hug.
Henry is 16 years old. He has a diagnosis of ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder. As a family we are so grateful to Helpful Hounds Assistance Dogs and Cambian Somerset School for providing Henry with this amazing opportunity to train Lucky as Henrys assistance dog. Lucky is slowly giving Henry the confidence to access the world around him.
Esther Corrick is Henry and Lucky’s trainer, she has built a positive relationship with them and has been a huge support for Henry, our family and school. Within the training Esther provides regular plans, visuals and guidance. Esther’s consistent support has enabled Henry and Lucky to pass the Good Citizen Bronze Award. They are now working towards Silver, Gold and Public Access.
Lucky is Henry’s best friend, they have such a special loving relationship and together they can achieve so much.
We have come to live in the UK from another country and had difficulty in getting support for Anna and Mochi because the Charities we approached were not geared up to provide the help we needed.
Even though Helpful Hounds is a small Charity, we have found that you provide a much thorough support than, say, charities that support just physical disabilities. You are placed to guide people to train their puppy and thus the person with a disability (that can be both mental and physical which as is the case for Anna) is supported for longer and without delay. A puppy for the blind is trained for up to three years where they are paired with a human Partner which is quite late in the training process and thus emotional and personal relationship are an add on. This may not be crucial for Guide Dogs, but it is crucial for someone with a mental or emotional illness.
It is unfortunate that people with a combination of emotional, mental and physical problems can be left behind by the standard approach to assistance dog training.
Your charity has very clearly shown that it is the disabled person who has the right of access to premises with their Assistance Dog and not the dog, itself, which is a crucial point for the health and safety of a disabled person who are often marginalized and excluded .This has been of special value to Anna when travelling abroad, and your help in dealing with the airlines, last year, was appreciated. No other charity that I know does this as clearly and effectively as you do. This is vital and unique and surely merits special support.
There is much greater inclusion for the client /disabled user/handler and also a greater fostering of independence as the client practically guides the process and the training is tailored to the individual needs which will vary greatly from person to person.
This is, perhaps, to add to the point of your fostering greater community support and inclusivity of people who are otherwise a very vulnerable minority. These vulnerable people, who face lack of social inclusivity or, as is the case for Anna, are a suicide risk due to the previous and many other problems, can benefit greatly from the emotional and physical support that an Assistance Dog, as part of the Helpful Hounds programme, provides.
Witnessing the Magic
I just wanted to say a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I met your beautiful dogs on Friday morning in Portsmouth’s Cascades Centre.
That morning had been awful & I had an epileptic seizure. Your beautiful retriever, Raffi, just seemed to give me a feeling that I should sit down for a cuddle & I was happy to oblige: But it was as if there was an understanding of what had previously happened & that I was still not quite emotionally ok.
I can’t really put into words what happened & how your dog made me feel.
Unfortunately, my Nan wanted to go home after her hot chocolate, otherwise I would have liked to have spoken to the handlers about it although it was a very emotional experience, not like one I have ever had before.
For the first time I felt like someone understood me & what I needed. A few times I said for him to go & get some water, but it was only when Raffi realised, I was in a better state that he actually moved to greet other people.
I’m not sure how Assistance Dogs work or if I was just lucky to have such a beautiful moment & cuddle. But for me after such an awful morning. I can only describe it as how children see Xmas: it was magical. I hope that doesn’t sound silly.
I made a donation that morning, but it really wasn’t enough for such a priceless moment. I hope I get to see you all again soon.
Helpful Hound Margot is already making a big difference to Charlie’s everyday life. Charlie has quite a few medical conditions but also suffers from extreme anxiety. Since Margot arrived , she has been able to attend school and is getting out the house a lot more, which in turn has a positive impact on the whole family . Well done Charlie & Margot.
Hope: Test Valley School
When we found out that Hope would be coming to Test Valley School to work as a wellbeing dog we were so excited. We knew that she would be a very welcome addition to the support we already have in place for our pupils.
However, we have been absolutely blown away by the positive impact she has had on our pupils, parents and colleagues.
From the minute she arrived at the school she brought joy and happiness to so many people. She greets our pupils every morning as they get off the bus and she sees them off at the end of the day. She accompanies pupils to lessons and helps them with counselling sessions. We have noticed a real improvement in the mental health and wellbeing of many of the people who have close contact with her.
We love having Hope at Test Valley School just as much as she loves being her – she cannot wait to jump in the car every morning to come to school. We are so grateful to Helpful Hounds for giving us the opportunity to welcome Hope to the Test Valley School community.