Angie Stananought’s first support dog gave her the independent life she craved. Her second assisted at the birth of both her daughters. Now Angie, who has had severe epilepsy since childhood, has just qualified as a partnership with her third dog, Ushka.

The harsh reality of life without a support dog was brought starkly home to Angie Stananought last summer. Her much-loved canine companion Venus, who was being prepared for retirement, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of ten, leaving her without a lifeline.

Venus had been Angie’s seizure alert dog for the previous seven years, giving her a 100 per cent reliable warning of an epileptic seizure.

All of a sudden Angie had no means of predicting oncoming seizures, leaving her, as the mother of two young children, particularly vulnerable.

Angie was particularly worried that she would have a seizure while she was with her two daughters, Elisha, aged eight, and 18-month-old Seren. And Elisha was also extremely upset about the loss of a dog that had been part of her family all her life.

“It was terrible to be without a dog,” recalls Angie. “Seren wasn’t walking, and I was so worried about having a seizure and falling on her. Elisha had to take some responsibility and help out, despite being devastated about losing Venus. It was not the easiest of times.

“It was especially hard to have no dog as I was used to having two dogs – Venus, and her predecessor Juno, until quite recently. I was just lost not having that alert. And because of the worry I was having a lot more seizures.”

Happily, after three difficult months without a support dog, Angie was partnered with her third support dog, Ushka, a black Labrador Retriever cross.

“Support Dogs brought over two dogs to see me and I liked them both, but Ushka was calm, very laid back and easy, and very good with the children, “ says Angie. “She lay down and rolled over and let them stroke her and seemed the one who would fit in better.

“Getting Ushka was a huge relief. She was very quick at picking things up, which made it easier. And it was also a relief because you’re never quite sure if it’s going to work. You have got to have that bond with the dog.”

Angie first experienced a bond with a support dog back in 1999, with Juno, after her social worker introduced her to the charity. Angie’s epilepsy had started at the age of 11 as the result of a brain tumour, and despite successful surgery, her seizures continued as she grew up, limiting her independence and making normal life difficult.

“Juno was the special one because she was my first support dog, a lovely chocolate Lab, and she was the one who started making a big difference, and giving me the confidence to go out alone,” she says. When Juno retired there was Venus, who continued to enable Angie to live a more independent life.

Venus was a vital part of Angie’s life while she was pregnant, giving her a 40 minute advance warning of a seizure - as falling over and injuring herself at that time could have been disastrous for her and her unborn baby. Angie suffered from pre-eclampsia before Elisha’s birth and Venus travelled to hospital with Angie in the ambulance, staying with her until 30 minutes before Elisha was born, and visiting her every day in hospital.

And Venus was there again when Angie gave birth to Seren, again by Caesarian section. In the intervening years attitudes to assistance dogs had changed and this time Venus was allowed to stay in hospital with Angie overnight. “When I had Elisha there wasn’t so much understanding of what a support dog could do, but with Seren the hospital staff saw the benefits of having Venus around and it made life easier for them too,” says Angie.

Unsurprisingly, Elisha was distraught at losing the dog she had spent her entire young life with. “Elisha was devastated as she grew up with Venus, she went to playgroup with her, and then school, and basically enabled us to have a proper family life,” adds her mum.Elisha has remained committed to the charity that has made such a difference to her mother’s and her own life, and despite her young age has been raising money for Support Dogs by making craft items and cakes and selling them to family and friends. She is  giving her Christmas money to the charity too, and has a collection tin with a picture of Venus on it in which she pops all her coins and loose change.Her efforts have won Elisha the accolade of Support Dogs’ Young Fundraiser of the Year award at last year’s awards and graduation ceremony.

Angie and Ushka have now built up a partnership to match that of Venus and Juno.

“I’ve had her at home for nearly a year now and feel very at home with Ushka,” says Angie. “It’s just about getting used to her ways and her personality. She’s quite a sensitive dog – more so than Venus, and she likes to be with me all the time. Her favourite thing is to lie with you in front of the fire. She is with me all the time and has her own bed in my bedroom.”

Like Venus before her, Ushka gives a 40-minute alert of an oncoming seizure, nudging Angie with her nose, and if she doesn’t respond straight away Ushka will jump up and make sure she knows.

Angie and Ushka now go out walking a couple of times a day in the countryside round their village of Trefnant, near St Asaph. And Ushka goes out with Angie and the children, takes Elisha to school and goes to parent and toddler group with Angie and Seren - where she is very popular and very welcome.

“I would be lost without her, “says Angie. “I have that bond with her that I had with my previous dogs. 

I wouldn’t have a life if I didn’t have the dogs. I would just be stuck at home all day. They have made my life normal, and that’s all because of Support Dogs.”