Life looked bleak for Kevan after a massive stroke drastically changed his life. But that was before the arrival of super-dog Georgie…

When Kevan Farrell had a stroke almost six years ago at the age of 57, his life changed dramatically.

Kevan, who previously travelled the world for his job designing computer systems was left completely paralysed down one side of his body, without 50 per cent of his sight, and with significantly impaired speech.

For weeks, Kevan hovered between life and death, but after weeks in intensive care, months of rehabilitation and with the support of his partner Jan and four grown-up children, Kevan fought to survive.

“We didn’t know if he would live or die, or if he would be able to speak again, but slowly he came back,” says Jan, a former landscape architect, who gave up her job to care for Kevan.

The couple have since married, but Kevan, now 63, was keen to find a source of support which took some of the caring responsibility off Jan’s shoulders. And they decided that that support should be four-legged.

They applied to a couple of assistance dog charities but were told that Kevan’s disability was too severe for a dog to be trained for him. Determined to find a solution, they set about getting their own pet dog – an 18-month-old gundog-trained yellow Labrador called Georgie, that they hoped they could train to help them. As they began socialising Georgie, they then learned about the charity Support Dogs.

According to life-long Manchester United fan Kevan, she is called Georgie, after Georgie Best, because she is the best! Certainly, Support Dogs’ instructor Hollie Morrall agrees, saying she is the smartest dog she has ever met. Georgie was readily accepted on to the charity’s disability assistance programme and took to training brilliantly, with the pair qualifying as a partnership in September this year. She has learned an extraordinary number of tasks to provide vital daily help for Kevan.

Georgie helps with so much, including dressing, undressing, picking up and fetching items, opening and closing doors, pulling Kevan’s legs on and off the footplates on his electric wheelchair, and moving the footplates up and down as Kevan needs them. It is all these relatively small, regular tasks that that allows Kevan to be that bit more independent.

Because Kevan’s speech is severely limited, Jan had to first learn the commands for Georgie, and slowly Kevan did the same. Initially Georgie was taught sign language with Kevan giving her visual signals, but it was a struggle for Kevan - if not for Georgie! And as his speech improved, he became able to give the dog brief commands like: ‘Settle, come, pick up, remote, nudge.’

“And even if he gives the wrong command she will understand; she is a very intuitive dog,” adds Jan.

Says Kevan: “Support Dogs have been brilliant and made the seemingly impossible, achievable. They did a fantastic job; they support us and are always ready to give expert advice when we need it. Having instructor Tracey on the end of the phone during lockdown encouraged us to keep going and she helped us learn new tasks via remote training, like getting Georgie to nudge up the wheelchair plate and pull my leg out of the way.

 “I really enjoy our walks together, the companionship she brings and she's so much fun to have around. It gives me so much pleasure when we work together; I like learning the commands and the responsibility of looking after her. She loves to join in everything, and she makes me more independent.”

Says Jan: “With Support Dogs you get special people who know about dogs and what to do, and they were prepared to work with me and Kevan, which the other charities - who have a much more rigid approach - hadn’t been prepared to do.  They work to the client’s individual needs and requirements – and made the training specific to us.”

The couple now live in Northwich in Cheshire in a house in that is adapted for downstairs living. Kevan still needs and always will need the support of a team of carers but thanks to Jan and to Georgie, he copes well and stoically with his altered state, and his life is worth living.

Kevin says: “Initially, it was very difficult, but I’ve accepted my new life, which to me in infinitely better than the alternative – ie no life.   My relationship with Georgie is very important.  She’s central to our lives now, and I can’t imagine her not being around.”

For Jan, the difference Georgie has made both to her and to Kevin’s life is huge.

“She helps around the house but the biggest difference she makes is to Kevan’s speech and personal happiness,” she says. “They interact with each other, and that’s massive. It’s not just picking things up. She makes a difference to his wellbeing. It’s like having a new dimension to his life. That partnership between them has grown, and Support Dogs has accelerated all that.”