Tributes and thanks to the team behind Support Dogs

A unique celebration of Sheffield's life-changing assistance dogs has been held to mark the charity's 25th anniversary.

Wednesday, 29th November 2017, 5:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 6:58 am
Support Dogs Graduation and Awards Ceremony, on November 19 2017

The graduation and awards ceremony, which was held earlier this month at the Holiday Inn Royal Victoria, was held to celebrate the successful completion of the training of human/canine partnerships, as well as to thank to charity’s many supporters, clients and volunteers for their continued support.

Awards were handed out in a number of categories, including fundraiser of the year, and client partnership of the year. The ceremony was attended by over 150 people, including the Lord Mayor of Sheffield and the High Sherriff of Sheffield. Dog behaviourist and trainer Sian Ryan, who co-presents Me and My Dog on BBC 2, was a guest speaker.

Support Dogs Graduation and Awards Ceremony, on November 19 2017

Among those honoured was South Yorkshire woman Angela Cooke, was took home the client fundraiser of the year award.

Angela, who has a number of health issues caused by diabetic complications and hypermobility, relies on her support dog Freya to enable her to lead an independent life. But although she struggles to walk and often needs a wheelchair to get out and about, with

the help of family and friends Angela managed to complete 28 miles of the Taff Trail in South Wales earlier this year, raising almost £400 for the charity that has transformed her life.

“My health is getting worse and worse and, as it’s the 25th anniversary of Support Dogs this year, I wanted to do something special,” explains Angela, who lives in Doncaster.

Support Dogs Graduation and Awards Ceremony, on November 19 2017

“The Taff Trail runs for about 50 miles and I knew I couldn’t manage all that so I thought I’d start as near to my old home as possible.”

Supported by husband Peter, son Daniel and carer Angie, Angela started the trail at Merthyr Tydfil, walking and being wheeled for 28 miles in just four days – a massive achievement for someone with her limited mobility.

Angela says: “I’d never managed to raise a decent amount for Support Dogs before, although I’d done coffee mornings and table top sales, but never a major challenge – so this was it! I had a real sense of achievement.

“Freya and I had a great time. I’m still buzzing although I still haven’t recovered from it.”

Support Dogs Graduation and Awards Ceremony, on November 19 2017

Yellow Labrador Freya is her second disability assistance dog from Support Dogs, giving her confidence and independence, and helping with everyday tasks and activities. As well as being a long-time client of Support Dogs, Angela is also devoted to the charity,

and currently has her hair dyed the same blue as the dogs’ jackets in a bid to raise awareness.

Fundraising manager for Support Dogs, Danny Anderson, said: “We’re really grateful to Angela for her fantastic fundraising efforts on our behalf. She knows better than most the difference our dogs can make, enabling them to live more fulfilled, independent lives.”

It’s been 25 years since Support Dogs launched in the city. Back then, the Sheffield charity had just three dogs, and its home was a small hut in the grounds of Lodge Moor Hospital, on the outskirts of the city.

Support Dogs Graduation and Awards Ceremony, on November 19 2017

Today, Support Dogs is unrecognisable. Now a national charity, its staff of 25 has successfully trained and supplied hundreds of assistance dogs to people all the way from Portsmouth to Dundee.

The special partnerships it has helped to create, between canines and clients, have completely transformed the lives of hundreds of people with epilepsy and autism, as well as those with physical disabilities. Through its three training programmes – for disability support dogs, autism dogs and seizure alert dogs – the charity uses an entirely reward-based system to teach special dogs to carry out a wide range of tasks that make life safer and easier for its clients. These include giving a 100 per cent reliable alert before an epileptic seizure, keeping a child with autism safe and happy, loading and unloading washing machines, opening and closing doors, fetching medication and going for help if required.

Earlier this year, The Star launched its three-month ‘Pounds For Pups’ campaign, to highlight the excellent work Support Dogs is doing in the city, and across the region. Over the course of the campaign, you, our readers, helped us to raise an incredible £5,000 to help fund one dog’s training – and to help to change somebody’s life in the process. That dog, named aptly ‘Star’ is currently being trained and will hopefully be ready to graduate in the next couple of years.

Danny adds: “It can take approximately 18 months to train a support dog partnership and so our graduation is very much a celebration and recognition of the hard work of our clients, volunteers, staff and of course our dogs, in completing this process.

“It also marks the start of a life-changing, working partnership between the support dog and their clients that will last approximately eight years.”

Also honoured at the awards ceremony on November 19 were Vicky Peace and Ceri Beard, who watched yellow Labrador Mitch officially qualify as a support dog.

Support Dogs Graduation and Awards Ceremony, on November 19 2017

The couple from Darnall provided a loving home for Mitch during the long months of training at the Support Dogs’ national training centre in nearby Brightside, sharing his successes and failures and watching him develop a bond with his human partner Sheila

Craik.

And after Sheila and Mitch officially qualified as a partnership at the Support Dogs’ graduation, Vicky and Ceri were awarded the charity’s foster carers of the year award, for all their hard work.

“I was so pleased to see Mitch and Sheila qualify – you feel that you have played a part in their success – there’s a massive feel-good factor,” says Vicky, of Balfour Road.

The pair also played a big part in the success of Iggy, an autism assistance dog. Iggy had severe separation anxiety, and would not have graduated successfully without the hard work building up his confidence, not only by Vicky and Ceri, but also by other members of their support network – Vicky’s mum, grandad and ten-year-old sister Jorja, who has autism.

Vicky and Ceri have been foster carers with the charity for the past two years, providing long-term care for four support dogs, and building up close relationships with several Labradors-in- training.

“We both have jobs and it’s difficult to have a dog full-time, so being a foster carer makes perfect sense,” said Vicky, who works at Sheffield University.

“You don’t have to worry about what the dog is doing while you’re at work because it’s at the training centre during the day.

“Neither of us had had a dog for a long time so we were a bit apprehensive, but’s a great experience.

“We get lots of support and advice from the Support Dogs trainers about exercise and feeding and, although it can be difficult, it’s really rewarding. When we’re out walking the dogs we’re always telling people who stop to talk to us about foster caring, and how much fun it is.”

Rita Howson, chief executive of Support Dogs said: “Vicky and Ceri fully deserve this award as they went well beyond what we’d expect from foster carers, helping Iggy to overcome his problems and successfully graduate as a support dog. We’re very grateful to them for all their hard work.”

Support Dogs are always looking for foster carers in the Sheffield area to look after dogs for anything from a few weeks to a few months. To find out more, email [email protected] or phone 1004 2617800.

Support Dogs Graduation and Awards Ceremony, on November 19 2017