How the popular pooch is lightening the life of client Charlotte, who has MS.

After many years of being laid low by the debilitating effects of MS, Charlotte Gannon made a decision that would completely change her life.

She and her husband Leo decided to buy a Labrador, with a view of getting him trained as a disability assistance dog.

“We bought Jack in the hope that would be a support dog, although we’d have kept him as a pet dog even if he hadn’t been accepted onto the training programme,” says Charlotte, now 48.

Charlotte applied to Support Dogs when Jack was 18 months old. Two years later, the pair have now qualified as a partnership, and Jack is providing essential day-to-day support, helping Charlotte to continue to run her craft shop, and enabling her to lead a life independent of her family.

Charlotte’s MS started to develop in 2008 and she was diagnosed two years later. “By that time, I’d lost all the feeling all the way up to my waist, so it was well advanced by the time I went to the GP,” she recalls. “I was in my mid-30s, had two young children, and I could not walk further than a couple of meters.”

As well as being a young mum, Charlotte was earning a living quilting and fabric making, and spent a lot of time at craft fairs. “That involved lots of lifting and shifting heavy gear setting up a stall, and I could no longer do that,” she says.

“Pretty much everything stopped. My sons Benedict and Daniel, who are now 24 and 19, were youngsters then. I couldn’t go out, and I basically spent all my time at home. I could still use my hands and sew and make things, thankfully.

“This carried out for about eight years. I had to bite the bullet and use a mobility scooter. My husband was always very supportive, but he worked full time.  It was a tough time and I got very low.”

A visit to Crufts sparked off the idea that Charlotte might benefit from an assistance dog, and the Gannons bought Jack from the daughter of one of Charlotte’s friends from her sewing group, who bred Labradors. He was put through puppy training and then accepted onto the Support Dogs’ disability programme.

“Training went very well, and Jack did very well – it was a bit of a nerve-racking rollercoaster at each stage of the training hoping he would pass, but it was also fun,” explains Charlotte.

“The main thing I wanted Jack to do for me for to pick things up when I drop them, which happens a lot. When I open up my shop, I usually drop the bolts from the shutters, so he picks those up. He also takes off my socks and cardigan at the end of the day when I’m exhausted, and gets me the remote control.

“I’m not using my scooter all the time at the moment, and Jack helps me balance and to walk in a straight line. I don’t need to use a stick when I’ve got him with me.”

For the past seven years, Charlotte has run a small craft shop called Quilters’ Corner in Evesham. She has built up a loyal customer base and Jack is a constant presence in the shop. Charlotte says: “Jack lightens the mood, and if I’m feeling down, he is great for a cuddle.”

Jack is also well known in Evesham.  “Jack is daft. He loves everybody and wants to say hello to everyone,” says Charlotte. “He loves going to the pub because they all love him. He is well-known in the town; he’s a very popular dog. Lots of people have offered to re-home him if I found I couldn’t look after him.”

Given the success of the partnership that seems an unlikely possibility.

Charlotte’s remitting/relapsing MS is currently fairly stable, although Charlotte always has to pace herself. After a day at Support Dogs’ training centre, she was wiped out with fatigue and pain for a week.

But for Charlotte, Support Dogs has been a hugely positive experience.

“I’m definitely in a better place now, and Support Dogs have been fantastic,” she says. “They have made me more sociable with people and I can go out more without my family because I have Jack. There is less pressure on my partner, and I have more freedom.”