When canine-loving Barnsley couple Simon and Hayleigh Webb realised they couldn’t commit to owning a dog because of their work commitments they decided on the next best thing.

The husband and wife from Darton became foster carers for  Support Dogs instead, and over the past three years have provided a loving home at weekends and evenings for a succession of assistance dogs in training.

Support Dogs trains and provides assistance dogs for children with autism and adults with epilepsy and physical disability, enabling them to lead safer independent lives. None of its dogs live in kennels while training, but instead stay with local families.

Two of the pups fostered by Simon and Hayleigh have now qualified as assistance dogs for disabled clients while a third has qualified as a seizure alert dog for a client with epilepsy.

“We always wanted a dog, but couldn’t commit due to the care that’s need during the day, as we didn’t work near home,” explained Hayleigh.

“Being a foster carer with Support Dogs gives us the perfect opportunity of adding a pet to our family, with all the convenience of the dog needing to go to ‘school’ at the charity’s training centre during working hours. And because the training centre in Brightside is near where Simon worked, it was ideal as he could drop off and pick up the dogs in the mornings and evenings.”

Adds Simon:

"Ultimately we’re the dogs’ ‘play family’ so we get all the downtime and fun time!

We get regular tips and advice from the trainers if they want us to concentrate on a particular skill. The charity provides everything a dog needs including food, leads, bedding and food bowls, so we’re not out of pocket.”

They even have a former support dog living next door. Blue, a black Labrador, didn’t make the grade as an assistance dog but the couple’s next door neighbours fell in love with him and promptly adopted him.

Simon and Hayleigh are now massive advocates of the benefits of foster caring. “Most people we know are fed up of us talking about it, but it really is a great thing to do if you like dogs,” adds Simon. ”I’d really encourage people to think about fostering.

“When the times comes for the dog to leave us it’s difficult, there’s no denying it. But the rewards you get form watching a dog develop new skills that in turn will mean someone can live a life that so many take for granted is priceless And then you can look forward to fostering another one!”

Simon and Hayleigh have become big supporters of the charity, attending fundraising events, and even donating money raised from their recent wedding.

Danny Anderson, fundraising manager for Support Dogs, says:” We’re always looking for foster carers near our training centre in Brightside. We have dogs that need fostering for anything from a few weeks to a few months and occasionally up to a year. We’re also looking for people who can volunteer as puppy socialisers when we start take on puppies from a much younger age.

“Our dogs make a massive difference to many people’s lives but without foster carers to look after them while training, our work would be impossible. We’re incredibly grateful to Simon and Hayleigh and all our foster carers for their support.”

Support Dogs provides all equipment the foster carer will need including food, vet care, flea and worming treatments, and offers full support and a 24-hour emergency phone line.

Foster carers must have a secure garden, commit to exercising the dog, are able to attend training days, willing to follow training advice, and can offer a loving environment for the dogs.

March 2018