Canine Partners is a registered charity that transforms the lives of people with physical disabilities by partnering them with assistance dogs, which bring a greater independence and quality of life to their partners, offering security, companionship, and practical help with everyday household tasks.
Jill Stewart, from Bonnybridge, is the only Canine Partners puppy trainer in Scotland and she has honed the skills of fledgling assistance dogs in the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas, as well as in the Falkirk area.
She said: “Just as you have guide dogs to help the blind and hearing dogs for the deaf, Canine Partners help people who are physically disabled – from people who sometimes require to used wheelchair due to conditions like multiple sclerosis, to people who are in wheelchairs due to spinal injuries.
"Guide Dogs is a very long established organisation compared to Canine Partners, which has been going for 30 years. It is the only charity which provides assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities.”
Puppy parents, as they are known, are volunteers who take the soon-to-be assistance dogs from the age of eight weeks and look after them until they are 18-months-old.
Jill said: “I come in and train the puppy will they are staying with the volunteers, then when they are old enough the puppies go down south for advanced training in preparation for them to be paired up with someone who has applied for an assistance dog.
"The whole application process can take a year-and-a-half to two years until the dogs move into their forever homes.”
The Canine Partners dogs can do some amazing things to help their assigned partners cope with everyday tasks that we all take for granted, but which people with physical disabilities or limited mobility may find difficult or impossible without some form of assistance.
"The dogs can perform tasks like opening doors,” said Jill. “They can close and open the washing machine doors.
"They can also pick up things like purses and glasses cases from the floor and return them to their partner.
"The can also do things like use cash machines and retrieve cash from the machine. It’s a lot of work to get a dog ready to do these things, but the volunteer puppy parents do a phenomenal job.”
Unfortunately COVID-19 has had an adverse effect on the process of Canine Partner training – as it has for Guide Dog training and hearing dog training.
"The numbers are down,” said Jill. “We are looking for more volunteers to take the puppies in. Hopefully the numbers will start to build up again. At any one time before COVID-19 we could have 20 puppies placed with volunteers.
"At the moment it’s quite quiet with only six dogs in Scotland. We are trying to build the numbers back up.”
People can visit www.caninepartners.co.uk for more information.