Seventy-three-year-old Sheila Craik credits her two support dogs with helping her through some of the worst times of her life.

Despite looking healthy and her outgoing, cheery personality, Sheila, a retired Church of Scotland parish minister, has lived with a number of conditions for many years – diabetes, asthma, severe heart disease, the auto-immune condition Sjögren’s syndrome, agoraphobia, labyrinthitis and fibromyalgia. Not to mention encroaching deafness and sight problems.

At one particularly low point Sheila rarely ventured outside her home, despite the presence of her pet German Shepherd Jenna. At which point her psychologist suggested that a well-trained dog might help her build up her confidence and venture beyond her garden gate.

The result was Shadow, a black Labrador and re-homed Guide Dog, who became Sheila’s first canine confidante. She applied to Support Dogs to have him trained, and the result was a successful ten-year-long partnership.  By then she had taken early retirement from her role in the church, but despite her ongoing health problems, made a conscious decision that with the help of  Shadow, she would make the most of life.

“After my heart attack I thought life is too short to sit around the house; you have got to live it,” says Sheila, who lives with husband David and has three grown-up children.  “So three friends and I go out and about a lot. We go to the theatre, the cinema, for coffee, and even a keep fit class in a chair – I’m never in!”

A diagnosis in 2011 of Sjögren’s, which causes extreme fatigue and joint pain, compounded an already difficult situation, but thanks to Shadow, and when he retired last year, his replacement support dog Mitch, Sheila is still able to lead an active life. Mitch, a yellow Labrador, does all the usual domestic duties such as emptying the washing machine and tumble dryer and picking up the phone and papers from the floor. When Sheila lost her voice for six months Shadow quickly adapted to understand her hand signals, and Mitch is now learning them.

But like most Support Dogs’ clients, Sheila credits him most with giving her the confidence she lacked. “When I see someone in a wheelchair I always want to say to them: ‘get a support dog! They give you so much confidence’,” says Sheila. “I am quite shy about meeting people, but with Mitch I don’t mind where I go because people always speak to him first, and that makes such a difference.”

Sheila has now built up as good a relationship with Mitch as she did with Shadow, and the pair graduated as a partnership in November 2017. She adds: “He’s a brilliant dog. I attend three churches and when he was ill earlier this year they all prayed for him because they think he’s wonderful!

Support Dogs are a fantastic charity and the dogs make such a difference to your life.”

  • Sheila’s grandson Joe became Support Dogs’ first autism assistance client at the age of just two and a half in 2009.