Courtney has Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscle disorder more common in boys than girls. She recently qualified with her assistance dog Lexie, a Labrador. Lexie was trained by DM Thomas Foundation for Young People charity partner Dogs for the Disabled at the charity’s Northern centre in Wakefield, and now lives with Courtney and her mum Amanda in Rotherham. Lexie helps Courtney on a daily basis by opening and closing doors, helping her remove items of clothing such as her jacket and socks, and retrieves dropped and out of reach articles.
As well as providing practical help, Courtney has noticed that when out in public with Lexie she receives lots more attention. People stop to speak to her, to ask what Lexie is trained to do. Courtney’s mum says that since being partnered with Lexie, Courtney has grown in confidence, particularly around new people.
Courtney has chosen to take on the responsibility of looking after Lexie at home, so every day she must feed her, walk her (with the support of her mum) and groom her. In doing so, she is learning valuable life skills and gaining more independence.
Those making it happen
Dogs for the Disabled is the first assistance dog charity in the UK to train dogs specifically for children. It is a pioneering and innovative organisation that professionally trains assistance dogs to help physically disabled adults and children in their daily life. The Foundation awarded £162,074.80 to the charity in support of the Children’s and Autism Assistance Dog Services programme. This money was raised at the Foundation Ball at London Hilton on Park Lane to enable the charity to continue to train assistance dogs for both physically disabled individuals under the age of 25 and families with a child with autism. As a result of the funding, 30 dogs were trained for these services and paired up with young people.
The dogs help physcially disabled children with practical tasks like opening and closing doors, dressing or undressing and retrieving dropped or out-of-reach items, thus enabling greater personal independence. The dogs also help with social integration and play, and provide clear physiotherapeutic and psychological benefits. For children with disabilities, dogs are great ice-breakers and open the gateway to communication with others. For children with autism the dog acts as a ‘bridge’ to learning social and emotional development. Seeing an assistance dog working in public allows the child to be perceived more positively, resulting in better social inclusion.