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From the front line – hair of the dog

Having an assistance dog can cut the cost of care considerably, but there can also be benefits to mental well-being too.

Having an assistance dog can cut the cost of care considerably, but there can also be benefits to mental well-being too.

I have an assistance dog. Shes beautiful, but thats not what makes her special. Daily, her training and gentle nature give me confidence and independence.

Assistance dogs stemmed from Guide Dogs (clever canines who assist the visually impaired) but now, theres more. Medical detection dogs alert those with seizure disorder and diabetes to changes in their condition. Hearing dogs alert deaf people to important sounds, and disability assistance dogs help with daily tasks.

Hand-picked and trained with kindness, they also help the able-bodied to see disabled people as dog owners not that different from themselves. The doors they can open literally and figuratively are limitless.

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Having an assistance dog can cut the cost of care considerably, but there can also be benefits to mental well-being too.


Having an animal in your life can help with your mental well-being. Picture: Tim George

I have an assistance dog. She’s beautiful, but that’s not what makes her special. Daily, her training and gentle nature give me confidence and independence.

Assistance dogs stemmed from Guide Dogs (clever canines who assist the visually impaired) but now, there’s more. Medical detection dogs alert those with seizure disorder and diabetes to changes in their condition. Hearing dogs alert deaf people to important sounds, and disability assistance dogs help with daily tasks.

Hand-picked and trained with kindness, they also help the able-bodied to see disabled people as dog owners not that different from themselves. The doors they can open – literally and figuratively – are limitless. Having an animal in your life makes a difference to mental health, too.

Cost saving

Assistance dogs can save £60-90,000 a year in care costs while giving 24-hour help and permitting the disabled person to make better use of human carer time. For example, Gwen has Cerebral Palsy and use to spend carer time on weekly shopping trips. Now she shops aided by her dog, giving independence and ensuring people see Gwen as a person not unlike themselves.

It is amazing what these dogs can be trained to do with and for their handler. Their living wage over their ten year working life is affordable: fuss and companionship.

The biggest obstacle assistance dog handlers face is lack of awareness. Being told their dogs are not welcome where the Equality Act says they are (pretty much anywhere the person goes, hospitals, clinics, restaurants, shops) and having their dog distracted by well-meaning people are problems.

Patient benefits

But many people in the community who might benefit don’t even know these helpers exist. These are not pets, they are therapeutic interventions, with fur. Could any of your patients – and their physical, mental and social health – benefit?

Assistance Dogs UK can help you understand more.


Bethann Siviter is an independent nurse consultant in the West Midlands

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