Diana Davies and her Labrador Retriever Lennie qualified as a disability assistance partnership despite starting their training in unpromising circumstances.

The Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown was a gruelling time for most of us, but for Diana Davies, who has severe arthritis and fibromyalgia, there was a silver lining. Her beloved pet dog Lennie, who had just started training as her assistance dog as lockdown hit, was there to provide crucial support.

And since then, she has been invaluable in helping Diana, who has seriously reduced mobility, cope with her multiple health issues by helping her manage day-to-life life, as well as providing important psychological, four-legged assistance.

Diana was one of Support Dogs’ first clients to start training her disability assistance dog via video link and Zoom – which was a great success.

“Lennie went to the Support Dogs’ centre in Sheffield to start her training for a month and as she came back lockdown started,” says Diana.

“So we then had about a month of learning tasks via video with instructor Hollie. I found lockdown very hard, so it provided me with something to do to get through the mornings. It was really good and gave me something to focus on every day.”

Diana, aged 54, who lives in a village in Monmouthshire, South Wales, has had severe arthritis for many years She is waiting for two replacement knees and a new elbow joint. She has problems with her arms and shoulders and has degenerative disc disease in her back. Diana also suffers from anxiety and depression and fibromyalgia and is in constant pain. She uses crutches indoors and an electric wheelchair outside, and not worked for many years.

Diana has always loved dogs and got Lennie initially as a pet. But when she heard about Support Dogs, with the encouragement of her GP, she applied successfully to the disability assistance programme. Despite the inevitable hurdles and setbacks of lockdown, Lennie has done brilliantly.

Says Diana: “Lennie is lovely, everybody loves her. She is very, very friendly, has a lovely nature.

“She picks things up for me which I really need in a wheelchair. She fetches the phone from upstairs, she opens cupboards, fetches the post, she loads and unloads the washing machine, helps me take my socks and jackets off and picks up items from low shelves in the supermarkets.  I’ll probably need her to do more of that if I have knee surgery.”

Venturing outside for the first time was daunting as Diana has had agoraphobia in the past, but with support, she conquered her fears.

“I was nervous about going outside with her but with Tracey and Becky with me I felt much more confident. I now have the confidence to go into a busy supermarket. When I stop, she settles; she is just very calming and really, really good in shops.”

Lennie has also helped Diana with her general health. Thanks to Lennie’s loyal support, on the advice of her GP who told her she had pre-diabetes, Diana managed to lose seven stone through dieting and exercise, so avoiding developing the chronic condition and reducing the impact on the NHS.

Diana, who with Lennie, qualified as a disability assistance partnership in September last year, is full of praise for the way Support Dogs’ training team have worked with her, tailoring the training to suit her particular needs.

“Support Dogs have been brilliant. Really helpful, and very reassuring. It’s been a good, positive experience. I thought it would not be practical for me because it was a long way away but although I’ve found the travelling difficult it’s been worth it.

Instructor Becky Cochran reciprocates. “Lennie is a lovely girl who is always willing to please,” she says. “Diana and Lennie are a fantastic partnership who are continuing to grow in confidence together.”

Diana adds: Lennie makes a big difference to me. I She makes me feel more comfortable and just feel more confident going out with her. It’s a big help. She’s also a wonderful companion and seems to know if I am feeling down. I would not be without her.  Thank you, Support Dogs.”

Support Dogs’ chief executive Rita Howson says: “In 30 years of operating we have never had to train dogs in such challenging circumstances. Lockdown was incredibly difficult for us, and it made the qualification of Diana and Lennie after such a tough time very, very special.”

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