Support dog Casper - the perfect match for former soldier John Former solder John Newcombe is not the sort of man to sit around feeling sorry for himself. John was injured in a bomb blast during a tour of duty in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, and has since developed multiple sclerosis which has left him needing a wheelchair. But despite the inevitable restrictions imposed by his condition, John has refused to lead a sedentary lifestyle, and happily has found the ideal support dog to keep him active and able to get out and about – Casper the energetic golden Labrador. “I’m the sort of person who doesn’t want to be sitting around doing nothing, and Casper is a very lively dog – we kind of egg each other on,” says John. “I had an instant bond with Casper – it was just one of those moments when I knew he was the dog for me.” John, aged 56, who lives with his partner Clare in Preston, spent 22 years with the Devon and Dorset Infantry regiment, and later enlisted in the Territorial Army as a member of the Royal Engineers’ bomb disposal squad. Now medically discharged and unable to work, he has thrown himself into his new life with his much-loved canine companion. Casper is John’s second dog to be trained by Support Dogs. His first, black Labrador Blue had to retire early on health grounds. John then bought another dog, Teddy, also a golden Labrador, whom he hoped would become his second disability assistance dog, but a diagnosis of arthritis put paid to that, and Teddy remained as John’s pet dog. “I taught him the basic toolkit of what I learned from working with Blue, but Teddy’s now happy to sit back and let Casper do all the work,” explains John. “Both dogs get on really well – you’d think they’d been together all their lives.” John attended a ‘meet and greet’ session at Support Dogs’ training centre in Sheffield met Casper, was matched with him. The rest is history, with the pair qualifying as a partnership earlier this year. As well as offering invaluable practical help around the house, picking up dropped items and pulling of socks and jackets, John says the best thing about Casper is his company. “And the social aspect – he encourages me to go out and socialise. When you’re in a wheelchair people tend to ignore you to talk to the person you’re with. With Casper people come up to him and we start chatting.” John and Casper spend a lot of time fishing, and going for walks. “Casper allows me to be independent, and that’s very important,” says John. “I’m very dependent on other people but I don’t want to be. I’ve got a friend in Teddy, but Support Dogs have given me the ability to go out and do things. I wouldn’t go out as much if I didn’t have Casper – he gets me out. I wouldn’t be without him.” Support Dogs’ instructor Kate Breen adds: “John never stops smiling, no matter how bad a day he’s had. He’s been on a tough journey but now he and Casper are a great partnership. They’re like peas in a pod!” John is pictured above with Casper and his Partnership of the year award 2019 and as a young man during his days as a soldier.