Nick, now 68, has had progressive MS for the past 19 years. The once-active newspaper sales manager is now reliant on wife Maggie, a team of carers, and just as important, his support dog Poppy.

The yellow Labradoodle has been Nick’s constant canine companion for the past five years. Before that, previous support dog Labrador Molly performed the same, vital role.

Poppy accompanies Nick in his electric wheelchair on trips to the shops, and sleeps in his ground-floor bed room, which has been converted from a dining room.

She’s always by his side, picks things up that he’s dropped, and is trained to fetch help or sound the alarm if and when required. Although Molly is now retired, she still lives with Nick and Maggie as a pet, and gets on very well with her successor.

And, as most Support Dogs’ clients attest, the dogs’ most important role is providing companionship, and giving Nick much-needed confidence when they leave the house.

Research tells us that three million people with disabilities rarely leave their homes, lead isolated lives and are chronically lonely. On a typical day, one in eight disabled people have less than 30 minutes interaction with other people.

 “With both dogs, Molly and now Poppy, people come up and speak to you, which they wouldn’t normally; they are marvellous ice-breakers,” says Nick.

”The dogs give you confidence from that perspective. People are so much more helpful if you have a dog, and they realise you can actually speak!”

As MS has taken hold, Nick is now no longer able to get out so often. But he remains as active as he can, and loves the company of his three grandchildren – who adore Poppy and Molly. He also gives talks to schools and local groups and clubs about Support Dogs, and the difference the charity has made to his life.

For Nick, who now only has the use of his left hand, having an assistance dog is all about keeping him connected to the world. “One of the biggest benefits of having a support dog is that it draws people to you,” he says. “You wouldn’t have that pulling power without one. You would feel a lot more alone. These dogs have provided me with a lifeline, and for that I’m immensely grateful to Support Dogs.”