Labradoodle Teddy started life as a pet puppy for Diana Smith’s young daughter, to help her get through a family tragedy.

But shortly afterwards, Diana, aged 50, who has a rare neurological condition which has left her using a wheelchair, decided that Teddy would make an ideal assistance dog.

And now as her son has left home and her daughter prepares to go to university, Diana will be relying even more heavily on Teddy to keep her independent. He will also enable her to continue in the job she loves, working with children with special educational needs at her local primary school.

Teddy is already popular among children and staff and provides practical help for Diana as she manoeuvres her wheelchair around the school, where he has been trained to push buttons to open heavy school doors, and press lift buttons.

Teddy came into her life at its lowest ebb.

“I have a medical condition called functional neurological disorder (FND), a little-known disorder of the brain and nervous system, and suffered two strokes, the first one in 2013, and a second a couple of years later,” explains Diana, who came to the UK 22 years ago from Ukraine and now lives in Woolwich, south-west London.

“In between these two events my husband Steve died of heart failure at the age of 50. It was a rollercoaster, and initially we got Teddy as a puppy for my daughter Anna because we were all suffering.”

Diana was working as a music teacher and also a teaching assistant working with special educational needs at a primary school in Plumstead but had to give up work for nine months after the first stroke.

Intense physio helped her to get back on her feet, but after the second stroke she needed speech therapy to repair her slurred speech and struggled with headaches and memory problems. After rehab Dana eventually went back to work in a wheelchair on reduced hours and with reduced responsibilities.

At this point she started to think about getting Teddy trained as an assistance dog.

“I was struggling with tasks around the house which I really couldn’t do or had to call my son or daughter to help with,” says Diana.” My son Pavel is now at university and my daughter was due to go in September so I knew I would be on my own and needed extra help.”

Diana started searching what help might be available and found Support Dogs’ disability assistance programme. Initially she thought she lived too far away from its training centre in Sheffield, but the pair successfully passed all the assessments. Diana and Teddy were among the first disability partnerships to qualify since the pandemic.

Teddy now provides invaluable practical help and support around the house as well as at school, picking up dropped items and loading the washing machine. Diana lives in a house that has been specially adapted for her needs but has doors that are hard to open and close, so Teddy helps with that. He has also been trained to help her get out of her mobility scooter into a wheelchair by pushing the wheelchair towards her.

“We work together very well,” says Diana. “Teddy is our soul, a family member – in fact he is the head of the house, the boss! He is also very sensitive; he knows when I don’t feel well and comes and lies on me to comfort me. He has a very soft nature and is very clever; he understands everything.”

Cute Teddy is also a big hit with pupils and Diana’s colleagues at school. “He is very good around children. He comes with me to the staff meetings and with his loud yawn lets the headteacher know that he talks a lot and it's time to finish – and everyone appreciates that,” she says.

Diana says her experience of working with Support Dogs has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s amazing how the whole team works together. When we came up to Sheffield it felt like a family, and everyone was so happy to see Teddy. And we had balloons and cake when we qualified!”

Diana’s FND, whose symptoms can include limb weakness, paralysis, seizures and walking difficulties and can be stress and overwork-related, may or may not get worse over time. But with adored dog by her side, she can face the future with more confidence. She adds: “Teddy is a lovely dog, and the light of my life. I’m so grateful to Support Dogs for training him to meet my needs.”

  • For more information about Support Dogs’ disability assistance programme go to