The thing is, a dog is so much more than a cane, and the help it gives you does not end when you get home safely. I have no idea how it feels having to depend on someone or something else in this way, I really hope Yon won't need to learn how to either.
But after that conversation I did some checking on guide dogs, and when Bolt Burdon Kemp contacted me and offered to write a guest post to explain about all the good guide dogs can do and the wonderful ways in which they can help, of course I said yes.
Guide dogs aren’t the only type of man’s best friend that can provide aid, support and relief to those who need a helping hand. Increasingly, specially-trained dogs are being used in cases beyond visual impairment, to work with people whose conditions may not even have overt physical symptoms. Instead, people who have suffered from traumatic brain injury, epilepsy or seizure victims, as well as those who need assistance with mobility, can also reap the benefits of having an assistance or companion dog at their side.For those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury, the side-effects can be extremely wide-ranging, and as such they may need both physical and emotional support. In these cases, assistant dogs are ideal, as they can be trained to not only perform routine tasks and assist with practical chores, but can also provide a level of emotional help as well as potentially, in the case of those at risk of seizures, alert their owners of an impending episode.
Traumatic brain injuries could result in the victim becoming wheelchair-bound due to reduced motor function. This in turn would require them to receive the same assistance as someone seeking a mobility assistance dog, and the dog's help could revolutionise their life. The dogs are rigorously trained to give practical help for the everyday lives of someone who is not as able to move around. For example, they may assist in small actions that we may take for granted - opening or closing doors, picking up dropped items and turning lights on and off. However, they can also help with more complex tasks such as dressing and undressing, and even loading and unloading the washing machine – making them invaluable for the tasks necessary to live an independent life. Physically instructing the dog with small movements can also help to develop coordination and muscle functions in a gentle way.A traumatic brain injury could also result in the victim being prone to fits, or epileptic seizures. Fortunately, some assistance dogs are also trained to support those with this condition, either as a result of a TBI or otherwise. It has been said that these dogs can alert their owner of an impending fit at least 10 minutes prior to it occurring, and can assist them in finding somewhere safe before it occurs. There are also dogs that are being trained specifically to alert diabetic people about the same issue. Finally, many people who have experienced a TBI will be left with emotional issues. An extreme head or brain injury can leave the victim feeling isolated and lonely, perhaps because they are self-conscious of the after-effects they may be experiencing (which may include speech difficulties, memory problems or a lack of concentration.) In these cases, a companion dog can make a world of difference by providing them with a loyal companion to help them overcome their loneliness.Having this company can also improve confidence and communication skills, as it provides an ice-breaker for conversations as well as the need to communicate with the dog to instruct and guide it, which all helps with developing speech. The presence of the dog can also be extremely calming for someone who may feel anxious or stressed during their recovery, and having them there can help to ease these feelings. Therefore, the after-effects or symptoms of disabilities, brain injuries or epilepsy diagnosis can be eased or improved as a result of the presence of these dedicated animals. Those who need support due to serious illness or injury, which can range from help with day to day activities or companionship and distraction from their condition, can benefit from an assistance or companion dog in a variety of ways.
Life isn't always what we expect. Sometimes it goes in ways we can't predict, and some times we find ourselves in places and roads we never thought existed. I know that for me, this road we walk on with Yon is one of those unexpected-never dreamed of roads. And one of the hardest lessons for me was to ask for help. Sometimes this help is in human form. Some times it can be a dog.
This post was written in collaboration with Bolt Burdon Kemp.