If you have not already been formally introduced.
This is Angus…
He is my constant companion, with me out and about, laughing me out of my lows and snoring noisily by my feet while I attempt to be creative!
Angus has one more very special role…
He is a mental health assistance dog for me- strictly speaking we are a qualified assistance partnership. This has been demanding and strictly run stuff so we have both had to work hard and with no garuntee of passing. Thanks to Julie and David for their patience, understanding and enthusiasm. After a year of searching the internet and refusing to accept that it was and impossibility in the UK and after a further two gruelling years of training… we are fully qualified!
Not heard of mental health assistance dogs? Neither had I until I encountered Darwin Dogs CIC. Suddenly there was a glow of hope:I read about the fantastic support given by canine mental health service dogs in the USA and felt so frustrated as it seemed an impossible dream as it appeared not to be recognised in the UK. However, thanks to tireless effort from Julie and David Wassel, professional dog trainers who spend a lot of their free time promoting and fundraising for this enterprise the first small steps have been made. On writing they have already trained, registered and changed the lives of a small group of individuals and their families. Please note that to qualify for assistance status the registered dog must be able to perform a number of physical (rather than emotional ) assistance functions for their human partner.
I am over the moon to say that on 24/04/2017 Angus joined their list of successes! This process took just under two years.
see more about Darwin Dogs at https://darwin-dogs.squarespace.com
Angus on duty:
1) beach buddy
2)as a long suffering painting muse? (no Angus – your bottom does not look big in this!)
3) he helps out the rest of the family as artistic director
and gets immersed in his own creativity- mud
and sand art in particular
Most importantly– he is always there. In the dark times he nudges me back to reality, in the good times I see the wonder of the world through his eyes…and if it goes wrong, so what? Give yourself a good shake, wag your tail and off we go again just looking for the next adventure!
Hilights and deep thoughts since I have started this blog:
Hi I am proud to say that Angus and I have just passed our ‘basic’ training assessment… Only two more exams to go. That means lots of training and treats Angus!
“Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard…”
I am enthusiastic, determined to the point of stubbornness, too soft hearted and a beginner at understanding doggie ways. He is playful taking every opportunity to have fun, cheeky and strong willed, but loving and up for everything… Ho hum!
To quote the words crooned by Coldplay and others ” nobody said it was easy “. Never having lived in a doggie household I knew it would be a steep learning curve to achieve the standard of discipline and training that would enable a girl and her best doggie friend to go on adventures together. On the other hand my soft nature and Angus’s exuberance and laid back attitude to life sometimes lead me to the next line of the song.” No one ever said it would be this hard. ” Each step in the training process takes patience and so,so much practice! People say retrievers should be easy to train due to their gentle nature and intelligence. However, they are either experts or more likely, have not owned a Goldie and are unaware of the side effect of their intelligence- extreme stubbornness! If Golide does not see the point of a comment, Goldie will not do it!
Don’t get me wrong training has been great. We have both benefited from Julie’s direction. One thing that really made a difference was to eventually realise what she meant about being a team. As I began to understand more about Angus and he about me so much suddenly clicked into place. Nowadays everyone remarks on how much Angus has calmed down and most of the time listens well to direction. Truth be told – we have started to grow into each other.
I have gained lots of confidence in understanding basic canine instruction which has enabled me, accompanied by Angus, to achieve more that I could have dreamed of out there in the big world. Recently we spent six happy hours at an event with my daughter. A huge step for me made possible by his comforting presence. He behaved beautifully and I would be rich if I had a penny for all the positive comments he received! I really appreciate what it is now for us to work together and try to think as a team. When we do things seem to flow better and commands are easier for me to give appropriately and Angus finds it easier to concentrate. It is fun and there is nothing to beat the feeling of being in tune with your dog!
However by the nature of my mental health issues there are too many days when I find it difficult to remain upbeat, concentrate and encourage Angus. Especially during training sessions when I pile added pressure on by feeling the need to prove we have been practicing and live up to perceived expectations. Not surprising I suppose for a serial depressive! Of course this starts the downward spiral and sucks Angus in too.
Just as well my wonderful coach is so adept at sensing this and calling time out for a cuppa! Each day is a new day and we start again with renewed determination and Angus with a doggie grin large enough to crack any frown! I know that we will get there and sometimes I give myself the benefit of stepping away far enough from the current challenge to see that really we have come a long way and the rewards to be gained by carrying on are truly worth the effort!
Angus has now passed level two training. Things are getting exciting. With kind permission local shop owners have allowed us to begin work acclimatising Angus to a whole range of shops. We are also practising hard his special tasks to help me. I am already benefiting . Life is getting interesting. Training includes lots of ‘work’ walking through shops to acclimatise him to a range of situations. He has become expert at waiting quietly at tills while I pay and sitting under tables while we drink coffee and eat biscuits- to prove he is not distracted by food of course!
A dream come true!
After almost two years of hard work today is a very proud day and opens the door to a new chapter in our lives.
Thanks to the patience and encouragement of Julie and David Walsal from Darwin Dogs and the tremendous support from my darling husband. Angus and I are now officially an assistance partnership! What difference will it make? Well, the answer will be in what we get up to now! For me it is not just the reassurance that he brings having him by my side when anxiety sets in and I need to end a day out or to lessen the all too frequent effects of a panic attack in the supermarket. I don’t want a ‘furry crutch’. I want to feel enabled to be brave and tackle more than I ever thought possible. Angus adores exploring- so here we go… off down the ‘golden path’ to adventure!
(Photo by bigwoofa)
Wonderful news, Darwin Dogs CIC has been accepted as a candidate programme- the first step in accreditation with ADEu a chapter of International Assistance Dogs.
Julie and David gave irked so hard to make this happen- well done to them !
I am delighted to report that Angus and I have successfully passed our first annual reassessment to make sure that we are maintaining the high standards required to keep him qualified as an assistance Dog.