My dog Elmo has changed my life! Canine partner can even ‘pick up phone’

A 63-YEAR-OLD, who has a disability that has left her wheelchair bound, has told of her story of how having a ‘canine partner’ changed her life.

National charity Canine Partners provide trained assistance dogs for people living with disabilities to assist them in their daily lives.

They are trained to help with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches and fetching help in an emergency. They can even help people to get undressed and remove a card from an ATM.

More than twenty years ago Stephanie Flower, from Southend, was diagnosed with progressive hereditary spastic paraparesis, a degenerative condition of the nervous system that has left her in a wheelchair.

Her three children also have the same condition in varying degrees. Her life however changed when she contacted Canine Partners many years ago.

She said: “After successfully applying for a canine partner, I was partnered with Frodo who has spent eleven years helping me with tasks such as getting up in the morning, getting the post, answering the phone, doing the washing and much more.

“Frodo retired and fortunately we were allowed to keep him on as a pet. However, the next job was to find me a new partner.”

Frodo has since passed away.

She continued: “As soon as I met Elmo, I knew it was going to work. It was clear to me, my husband John and the trainers at Canine Partners that Elmo had chosen me. He is a gorgeous little dog with a great personality, totally different to Frodo but they both got on so well.”

Each canine partner is trained in a large number of commands, but when they are finally paired off with their partners, they undergo training for that person’s specific needs.

Elmo pulls Stephanie to a sitting position in bed, picks up her crutches, raises and lowers the footplates on her wheelchair and stairlift, pulls the washing basket though the house and much more.

Mrs Flower continued: “Having a canine partner allows me to be more independent and means I don’t have to rely on family members to help me all the time.

“This is a weight of their shoulders and mine, plus they have peace of mind I’m never on my own as Elmo is always with me. What’s more it changes the way people react to me in a wheelchair. Having a canine partner encourages people to say hello, as they generally stop to ask what he does etc.”

Volunteers from Essex are being sought by Canine Partners to take puppies into their own homes and begin their early training to be assistance dogs for people with disabilities.

Canine Partners is specifically looking for volunteers, known as puppy parents, who can take a pup into their home from the age of eight weeks until they are around 14-months-old.

They will need to have time, commitment and patience.

Emily Lawrence, Essex puppy satellite trainer, said: “Puppy parents teach the assistance-dogs-in-training basic obedience. Although previous experience with dogs is not required, a puppy parent will need to be home most of the day, have a secure dog-friendly garden and have the stamina to manage an active young puppy.”

Canine Partners will provide food and equipment for the puppy and cover all veterinary costs for the duration of the puppy parent relationship.

If you would like to play a vital role in training an assistance dog, call the puppy office on 01730 716017 or email