Dog of the Day
Sailor - The Amazing Assistance Dog
by Carie Broecker
Photos Courtesy of Canine Partners
London resident Eileen Hobson had lived a full life before falling ill and becoming disabled. At 17 years old, she joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps and then joined the Royal Signals and became a cipher operator. transmitting and receiving sensitive data to and from units worldwide. Over the course of her career, she was able to spend time in Germany, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Greece, Australia, India, the Philippines and New Zealand.
When she was 32 years old, she became very ill and was diagnosed with stiff-man’s syndrome, which affects the muscles, breathing and limb movements. She spent over five years in a military hospital and then another 14 years in a hospital in Surrey where she was expected to live out the rest of her life as an invalid.
Eileen has a tough resolve that has helped her stay positive throughout her illness. Coping with a disability was a challenge she was determined to overcome. She was determined to get out of the hospital and be able to live in a house with a caregiver. The hospital staff did not think she would ever be well enough to leave, but she proved them wrong. In 2003, at the age of 52, she was able to leave the hospital and move into a bungalow with a caregiver.
While in the hospital she had seen a demonstration by Canine Partners. She watched in amazement as trained dogs picked up things from the floor, opened doors and took off people’s hats and scarves. Six months after leaving the hospital, she applied for an assistance dog, and 18 months later she was matched with Sailor, a two-year-old Golden Retriever. Sailor was not bred specifically to be a service dog. He came from a long line of champion show dogs, but this handsome pup was more than a pretty face. The puppy assessor from Canine Partners recognized from the time Sailor was seven weeks old he had that special quality that would make him an excellent assistance dog for someone in need.
Sailor brightens Eileen’s days with his funny antics, which she loves; but he also performs numerous tasks that have totally changed her life. Eileen says, “In the mornings, when I’m in the shower, he goes and picks out my clothes from the drawer. At night, he helps me take my shoes off and brings my nightgown to me.
“When we’re at the shops, he hands over my purse to the cashier and returns it to me when the money’s been taken. And when I can’t get something from a shelf, Sailor is right there to get it for me. Sometimes you can feel useless having to ask a caregiver to do something over and over again. But with Sailor, it’s totally different. He is happy to do it! He doesn’t even have to be in the room to know when I’ve dropped my glasses – he hears them fall and goes in to get them for me. When he hears the post arrive, he goes out to get it and brings it to me. One time he came over to me with a strawberry in his mouth that he’d picked from a bush in the garden. There wasn’t a mark on it - even the green crown was still intact.
Having Sailor in my life has made me less reliant on carergivers and helped me to feel more independent.
“Thanks to Sailor, I have stronger arms, too. I used to throw a ball back and forth with my caregiver, which was OK, but it’s so much more enjoyable to do with Sailor. In fact, most things are more enjoyable to do with Sailor. He has given me a life. It feels like I’ve always had him and I couldn’t bear not to be with him. He gives me a reason to get up in the morning.
“People often have a fear of approaching people in wheelchairs, but because I have Sailor, they’re always coming up to us to have a chat. One woman even said she didn’t feel sorry for me because I had such a lovely dog. And she’s right. Sailor’s amazing! He may not have pulled me from a burning building, but he has saved my life in so many other ways.”
The mission of Canine Partners is to assist people with disabilities to enjoy a greater independence and a better quality of life and, where possible, to help them into education and employment, through the provision of specially trained dogs for the disabled, whose well-being is a key consideration. For more information, go to www.caninepartners.org.uk.