Pint-size pooch Ruby is proof that when it comes to be a successful support dog, size doesn’t matter.

Newly-qualified disability assistance dog Ruby causes quite a stir in the streets of South Shields when she goes out with her owner Kim Phillips.

The tiny Border Terrier - who fitted in the palm of Kim’s hand when she was just a week old - doesn’t fit the stereotype of what an assistance dog looks like.

“Ruby is such a cute looking dog and everyone is amazed when they see her in her Support Dogs’ jacket,” says Kim.

“People are so used to seeing Labradors and Retrievers, and have never seen a Border Terrier wearing a service dog jacket before!”


Ruby is Kim’s first support dog, and is helping her to get on with the independent life she has craved for the past 30 years, since a motorbike accident robbed her of both her health and a promising career.

“I was the first  female deputy  master carpenter to  work in West End theatre and was on track to really do well, when  I had my accident while I was back home in the North East, on holiday,” recalls Kim, who was in her late 30s at the time.

Kim injured her back, legs feet, and particularly her shoulders, and for months and then years after struggled to regain her health.

“It was just one thing after another. Until the accident I’d never seen the inside of a hospital, but afterwards I was in and out all the time, being passed from pillar to post, as they tried to find out what was wrong with me,” she says.

“I was in great pain, lost all my mobility, and I couldn’t even stand up – the harder I tried the weaker I got. It was an awful time.”

After a two-year spell as a hospital inpatient, in 2000 Kim was finally diagnosed with ME or myalgic encephalomyelitis, a chronic condition that cases extreme muscle pain and exhaustion. She also has dystonia, a condition that leads to uncontrolled and painful muscle spasms.

She had to move from her flat to a council bungalow, and once she had more space she and her carer Sylvia decided to get a dog. She adds: “I grew up with dogs and have always loved them. When the last dog I had died back in the 1980s I was heartbroken and said I’d never have another one and took me almost 20 years before I did.”

Unfortunately the first rescue dog she took in proved to be vicious and had to be sent back. But with Ruby, Kim struck gold. “Because of my circumstances I really needed a puppy that I could bring up, and we got Ruby at eight weeks; she was gorgeous little thing. Then I found Support Dogs after searching on the Internet. I’ve always liked training dogs and I liked the idea that they involved you in the training – they didn’t do it all for you.”

Ruby showed a natural aptitude for working, being quick, intelligent and quick to learn and absorb new tasks. ”She’s dead keen to learn and she’s blossomed as a working dog,” says Kim. “It’s the little things – for example my shoulders are very bad, so when she picks things up for me she puts her paws in my knee so I don’t have to lean forward. She makes life easier for me; more bearable.”

Ruby’s support for Kim inside and outside the home has also made life easier for Sylvia.

“Since I’ve had Ruby I’m more confident in going to the shops on my own; people make way for me and move out of the way. It’s a completely different experience, and as a result Sylvia is a lot happier for me to go out by myself,” says Kim. “And Ruby will pick up the post and help me take my jacket off, which frees Sylvia up to have more time on her own. Ruby acts as her deputy.”

With Ruby by her side Kim has plans to do more than she was previously able; she is a life-long Buddhist and is planning to set up a meditation group in the area. And she hopes to be able to give talks about her favourite charity and raise awareness of its work.

“I’m so grateful to Support Dogs for what they have done for me. They’ve been invaluable,” she says. “Not only are they interested in and love their dogs, but they are also very aware of people with disabilities, and adapt to your needs. Their attitude is a breath of fresh air.”