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Ability Dogs
4 Young People

A few facts and figures:

  • The population of the Isle of Wight is just 150,000 of whom about 26,000 people are registered disabled or have long term illness.
  • There are over 700 children and young people (under the age of 24) with a disability living on the Isle of Wight.

Ability dog will give Christina a new independence

Article published in yoppul on April 8th, 2013 by Emily Scotcher

Ability Dogs 4 Young People is a new charity that launched last year, focused on providing helper dogs for young people on the Isle of Wight, aged 16 and over, to help them with tasks as everyday as picking up dropped keys to accompanying them on shopping trips.

I caught up with Christina Loosemore, 16, who is on the Ability Dogs 4 Young People's waiting list, on the eve of her two-week trip to Disneyland, Orlando, with her friends and teachers from Christ the King College, to find out exactly what having a dog will mean for her.

“I love dogs,” said Christina. “I've always wanted one, so when I found a charity that I could have a dog from it was really exciting.”

Carol Court is the founder of Ability Dogs 4 Young People, which has been featured before on yoppul. The puppies are trained and move between ‘puppy parents’, who socialise the dog and help train it to become a capable ability dog for a young person.

But there's more to it than that.

“Every person is different and every dog is different,” said Carol. “So we have to match dogs to people very carefully, to make sure they'll be compatible and suit each person's individual needs.”

The focus for Carol is on targeting the age group most often overlooked, the young adults.

She said: “At 16, you're responsible and old enough to be out, so we wanted to target that age group - we're not doing anything new in the UK, but there's no-one on the Island focused on this age group. The ones who really want their independence.”

Christina is one such young person; she has cerebral palsy, and uses a wheelchair or sticks to move around. This clearly has no effect on her enthusiasm, energy or drive, but it can be limiting.

“When you're on sticks or in a chair, people do stop and look at you with a sort of ‘What are you doing? What's wrong with you?’ look,” said Christina. “A lot of people talk to you like you're really little, or they ask my friends ‘Can Christina do this?’ when I'm right next to them, rather than asking me.”

Her mum, Julie, added: “It's even more frustrating for Christina because she's a teenager. When you're 16, you're not quite in one camp or the other - you're not an adult, but you're not really a child, and that's difficult at the best of times.”

This is another way in which Ability Dogs 4 Young People will be able to make a difference to Island young people, not only by giving them a friend and helper, but also by giving them the perfect ice-breaker.

“I'm quite shy,” Christina told me. “A dog would help me to talk to people.”

Julie added: “It's a lot to do with the confidence that having a dog will help Christina to build - she'll be able to have a sort of independence she hasn't had before.”

Someone who is overflowing with confidence is Christina's younger brother, James. He's 12 years old and also has cerebral palsy, but he and Christina are like chalk and cheese.

“On paper, the diagnosis is identical,” said Julie. “But you couldn't meet two more different people if you tried!”

“James does everything really fast,” Christina added: “If James was going to have a dog, it would be telling him its legs were tired!”

And so the importance of matching dogs with their owners is once again made clear. James and Christina get along brilliantly, working together to bring about changes for young Islanders with disabilities.

“James and Christina have made videos in the past, about what they wanted for young people,” said Julie. “They like to work to make things better, but not in a complaining sort of way. They help each other and they're so different that they complement what each other can do.”

Both Christina and Julie agree that she is lucky, with a solid friendship group, work as a volunteer at Amazon World once a week, a love of and talent for horse-riding and a place on the Isle of Wight College's Animal Care course later this year.

Still missing, though, is that innate independence all young people are so desperate to have, and that's the aspect of owning a dog that Christina is most excited about:

“I'll be able to do a lot more on my own, rather than having to ask Mum for help all the time, and I'll be able to go out with my friends at lot more, too,” she said.

Christina will receive her dog, hopefully one of the puppies currently in training, in March 2014 at the earliest. There are seven people on the Ability Dogs waiting list and four puppies in training with another soon to start, but demand is set to rise as word gets about about this remarkable charity, and that means they need all the support they can get.

“We're always desperate for puppy parents,” said Carol. “And for people to help with fundraising. If anyone can do anything to help, however little, it's always appreciated.”

Having met Christina, there's no disputing the importance of the work Ability Dogs 4 Young People is doing, and we'll be keeping up-to-date with the charity, Christina and the puppies over the coming months.

A huge thank-you to Christina, her family and Carol, especially since Christina had to be up at 3am the following morning to catch a flight to America!

About the Author:

Emily Scotcher, Em is a 23-year-old English graduate from Shorwell, who is happiest with an instrument, book or pen in her hand. She's a writer, singer and actress who has recently appeared in the feature film version of Les Miserables. She possesses the rare ability to be in several places at once, and will try her hand at anything in the name of entertainment!

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Ability Dogs 4 Young People IOW          Registered Charity No. 1154896                               Patron: Danny Briggs

Training assistance dogs for disabled young people on the Isle of Wight