Black Labrador Dave is reaching the parts that owner Kathy Wylde’s previous dog was literally unable to reach.

Big Dave is providing invaluable help  for Kathy, who has been in a wheelchair since having both legs amputated above the knee almost 30 years ago, and has a number of related health problems.

For many years after the accident that led to the amputation, Kathy, who had previously led an active lifestyle, struggled to care for herself and her two young children.

In 2008, with her children grown up and moved away, she decided to get a dog as a companion.  That dog was Baby, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and for more than a decade Kathy, with tiny support dog Baby perched on her lap in her wheelchair, was a popular sight at the Support Dogs’ stand at Crufts and dozens of fundraising events.

Baby was trained to sit tight on Kathy’s knee as the warmth and pressure of her small body relieved the phantom limb pain.

But time catches up with the best assistance dogs and now Baby has retired Kathy has exchanged her small pooch for a more traditional support dog.

“Baby was slowing down and I really appreciated that Support Dogs realised that,” says Kathy, from Liverpool. “I always wanted another dog after she retired but it was strange having a new dog, and at first I had reservations about trying to build a relationship with a dog I hadn’t had any contact with.

“Now of course it’s like I’ve never not had him! I’ve had Dave since November last year and to be honest at first he was a bit of a pain; he wasn’t in tune with me properly. We’d go for walks and he’d be running off and not coming back. Since then he’s come on in leaps and bounds and is a completely different dog.”

Kathy and Dave qualified as a disability assistance dog partnership in May this year, after six months of training.

Partly due to his size, Dave is more able than Baby to carry out practical tasks for Kathy. “Baby was good for what she was trained to do, but Dave is bigger ad has more strength and can do more than what Baby did,” adds Kathy.

“It’s a progression. If I need heavier jobs doing – such as picking up bags of food – he can do that. He’s better at opening doors, taking off clothes in seconds and emptying the washing machine. Baby could do those things but it took longer. So that makes life easier for me.”

Not that Baby has gone anywhere. Kathy says that previous and current support dogs are as thick as thieves.

“She doesn’t try and do things for me now, and she’s happy that Dave’s here. They always snuggle up together and he misses her when we’re away.

“Baby still sits on my lap when we’re at home. Dave gets on the sofa and Baby climbs over him and gets onto my lap and they sit there with their heads together.”

Kathy has always been active in attending fundraising and awareness raising events for Support Dogs – happy to put something back to a charity that has given her so much.

“The service they give is invaluable, especially to disabled people, because it gives them a better quality of life and the confidence to do things they didn’t or couldn’t before,” she says. “I can’t praise Support Dogs enough.”