“Jack’s supply if Dem Bones have just arrived!! This is the little brown dog who won Friends For Life at Crufts this year – Sir Jack Spratticus. He’s had CSJ products since I rescued him at 13 months. Very grateful to you.” Best wishes Ness & Sir Jack
By Sir Jack, the Border terrier
Taking me, a Border terrier (BT) called Jack, on as a re-homed BT in 2012, helps mum live with complex mental health illnesses. Namely these issues are Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD), Dissociative Disorders (DD) and an Eating Disorder (ED) (which is 90% a restrictive type, Anorexia).
I give mum a life she never dreamt off in terms of companionship and I help her to get out and about (this was prior to us finding an Owner Trained Assistance Dog (OT AD) organisation). This I will elaborate on later.
Mum maintains it is literally a Godsend to have discovered Border Terrier Welfare UK (BTW), and it is by no means an understatement to say this has been a life changing ‘find’. Mum and I from the beginning have been learning and growing together, overcoming difficulties from our pasts and learning coping strategies.
Mum was introduced to an extraordinary Twitter group in 2013. #BTPosse is a Twitter group of over 1000 Border Terriers and their owners who support each other, share photos, thoughts, news and laughter on Twitter and Facebook and arrange Tweet Ups all over the country, where they meet for a day of fun, dog walking and picnicking; and then an OT AD organisation in 2017.
The OT AD organisation is “a not for profit organisation, helping disabled people within the UK wanting to train their own assistance dog to an extremely high standard”. Which is where our next chapter continues. For now I shall start from the beginning of my life with Mum aged 13 months.
On 24 August 2012 I walked into mum’s life with an air of bravado
I say an ‘air of bravado’ because this was a fragile exterior, masking deep fear and confusion. This was my fourth home. Between you and I, to be rejected again was my reality. On appearances those on the outside may have indeed questioned why I was being re-homed to an individual with complex psychiatric illnesses. Furthermore mum lived in a small block of flats with no enclosed garden. Pfft! to that I thought to myself at the time. I need squirrels to chase at least!
Before I came along Mum started on her journey to becoming a dog owner
Mum started volunteering as a dog walker for the RSPCA, moved to rented accommodation permitting dogs (in light of recommendation from community mental health services) and attended dog training classes without a dog. Mum explained to me that in order for her to feel in any way able and have the chance to hold confidence enough to become a responsible dog owner, this was a definite prerequisite.
I offer mum someone to love and care for
One thing that is novel for mum is my love and acceptance of her. I help her to strongly consider looking after herself, to believe in looking out for herself first and foremost. I help her initiate the want to discover a sense of self and the strength to process that complexity. She adores me I know, furthermore I am integral to her working hard to stay on track (safe) because I sense I am very special to her.
Being an extraordinary character would be one descriptive word for myself. I am also adorable and mischievous despite unsavoury terrier habits! An extraordinarily adaptable poser is a further attribute and love nothing more than being in front of the camera. A designer, Izabela Peters, spotted one of my photos and this resulted with me being on a cushion and a draught excluder of all things! I model for ‘Scrufts’ handmade dog collars and leads, with mum taking the photographs for this.
Before I came into mum’s life she never realised she was able to take a decent photograph. Towards the end of 2017 we had the surprise of a lifetime to win a competition. ‘Dog Friendly’ (the largest database of dog friendly places to stay in the UK) ran a competition to find twelve dogs with the friendliest faces to feature in this years Dog Friendly Face of the Year Calendar.
The competition attracted more than 3,000 entries and 35,000 votes. Celebrity judge Paul Martin chose me as one of the 12! The winning photo is heading this piece of writing. Here is one of my good self taken me at the Excell Centre, London where the awards were held.
On the side, may I also mention, in 2014 I qualified for the Buckham Fair, Re-homed/Rescued Dog Championships
I qualified for this show at Mid Somerset Show where I received a first (mum was in tears). So the following week mum dragged me down to Beaminster, in torrential rain might I add, to be judged along with approximately 70 dogs.
Mum was questioned by four judges on different aspects of our story. Then there was a big finale and it was not until this stage mum and I realised how many amazing dogs we were up against. Martin Clunes talked to mum and stroked me. Following this ten dogs were pulled out to stay in the ring. Number 26 was announced (my number!). After a further circuit of the ring and one final look at us. In reverse order the positions were announced. To my complete shock and delight I came 2nd!
In 2018 I was selected from the Breed Rescue category for The Kennel Club FFL competition, which celebrates the close bond between dogs and their owners; and showcases how dogs can be true heroes and make an extraordinary contribution to our lives and in many cases, change our lives.
I was one of five dogs to make it to the final and the public then voted for the winner
The remarkable finality was actually winning, and so mum and I received £5000 for our chosen charity. This had to be Border Terrier Welfare UK.
Mum and I were presented with our award by Geri Horner (nee Halliwell), who described us as a ‘beautiful partnership’. Meeting Professor Noel Fitzpatrick was unbelievable. What a remarkable individual and I know this is a vet mum watches on the television daily, and is an important part of her routine (which she indeed told Professor Noel!).
Flick.digital Picture shows the Friends for Life finalists Gayle Wilde, Sarah Mohammadi, Vanessa Holbrow (winner), Hannah Gates and Clare Syvertsen, joined by Geri Horner (middle), (Sunday 11.03.18), the fourth and final day of Crufts 2018, at the NEC Birmingham.
Mum credits me with helping her, but in reality we have helped one another
Mum took the role of dog ownership seriously. She researched the breed thoroughly prior to rehoming me and took me to various training classes. In the early days we consistently incorporated into our daily walks moves we had learnt in training classes, for example, heel work to music, and agility classes.
Our first class (in obedience), the initial paramount lesson to master was how to refrain from barking and lunging for others dogs, for example. I could not understand the logic of mum and I being confined to no more than the space of a cupboard every time I exhibited unacceptable behaviour.
We were excluded from the first few months of obedience sessions
Every time I opened my mouth, mum quietly took us into the cupboard (a small room in reality). In time I learnt why. If I didn’t bark then I was allowed to take part in the class; if I challenged myself to leave a dog alone that was starring at me, I could stay in class… bingo! To keep my focus solely on mum was the foundation to learning more acceptable behaviour. That was all that was required; I had cracked it! Little did I know there were many many more lessons to come.
May I remind at this stage of writing we are 4 – 5 years prior to finding an owner trained assistance dog (OT AD) organisation and thus training to become an assistance dog began. Years before this there were significant challenges to overcome. This had to be partly due to a miserable start in life before I was handed into the care of BTW.
Socially I had been deprived
To behave acceptably and with manners around other dogs was certainly something I did not excel at – socially I had been deprived. ‘Turning on’ mum without letting go until a good bite had been executed wasn’t an unusual occurrence (I had no bite inhibition). It was a frightening time for both of us, I know it was for mum as I was unpredictable when out walking.
I was her first dog so our learning curves to overcome immense challenges and to bond I have to say, we fully embraced. Mum had to filter individuals opinions regarding my behaviour. For example, a common theme was I required a muzzle whenever out. Mum was determined that with consistency, love and firm boundaries we would eventually turn a corner. And that we did.
Step by step, many of which were backward steps we turned more corners
This came with an inventory of failures, tears and unimaginable anxieties on mum’s part. It took approximately a year before off lead walking along a dog friendly beach was possible. To say the least, our trust and connection has grown considerably. I offer mum a new chance and opportunity in life, one of worth and purpose, and mum offers me a safe and loving home.
We’re both as mad as each other
Actually mum is the maddest! and not afraid to challenge others when it comes to the understanding people have of mental health illnesses, with a passion to breakdown the stigma attached to mental health.
Mum has spoken on local BBC radio on several occasions, has given talks to nursing students, written articles for Rethink and other mental health charities. Raising money for mental health charities will continue to help spread awareness and raise understanding, as well as supporting the charities themselves. This has occurred due to my coming into her life.
- 2015 we raised £2000 when I gave mum the challenge to shave her head
- 2017 we baked 725 dog treats. That number represents the number of people in the UK diagnosed with an eating disorder
- We have just walked 7 miles raising £1400. al this is for Beat (UK Eating Disorder Association).
- Together we have several aims, one of which is to continue supporting charities including BTW
- 2012 – 2014 Mum made cards using oringinal photos of myself sold in aid of BTW “Spratticus Creations” cards.
- Mum learnt to make Jewellery 2014 which is now sold in a local shop
A legit Assistance Dog
Mum’s ultimate aim, with the support of her Community Psychiatric Nurse since 2013 to date, was researching whether there was any chance I could become her legit Assistance Dog (AD). In effect that is exactly what my intention had been up until this time, but we needed this to be under a genuine organisation and of course legal.
I was also keen to add AD tasks to my repertoire of ‘tricks’ mum had trained me to perform. To have the privilege to remain together, for example in public buildings, and for mum to have the reassurances/help from an approved assistance dog would have a positive impact on the quality of her daily life.
Mum and I would spend hours working together, having fun e.g. learning to skate board. Our walks were never without fun, playing impromptu games, and dance moves, and utilising anything to aid our training e.g. weaving through bollards.
Why were we so keen? Why not!
An opening for and the potential to help mitigate some of the symptoms that disable Mum would open up her life in ways one is unable to put into words. This we predicted would be the pinnacle to our journey, but never imagined possible as psychiatric service dogs were only recognised in USA (or so mum thought).
2017 is a year that stands out significantly for our journey. August 2017 marks the beginning of a dream becoming reality (and proof that an old dog can be taught new tricks!). At 6 years of age I am perfecting tasks which will be elaborated on later. Currently I am midst my training in obedience (even though I passed my level 1, 2, & 3 in obedience in September 2017, photo below, it is imperative obedience training continues as part of daily routine) together with being able to perform tasks.
It is essential I train to work while amongst distracting public environments. So am currently clocking up the necessary number of hours in Public Access before there is any chance of mum & I being ready for the Public Access Test. All this is ultimately so I may help mitigate disabilities specific to mum, and this I must do in order to become an official (and legal) AD.
My behaviour or even presence alone is not to provide emotional support (though obviously this is a quality I hold). What I mean to say is this is not sufficient alone to class me as an AD. My behaviour, currently being shaped, is to perform tasks which enable mum to function in an ordinary way a non-disabled individual may take for granted. So mum formulated and adjusted tasks specific to her needs that she is now training me to accomplish. The tasks I carry out for mum, may not be a task for another person.
Humans are individuals, hence how they experience any said disability is unique to them
I already benefit and empower mum on many levels, by performing tasks, so that she may live with complex mental health illnesses independently in the community.
So how on earth do I help mum cope with what appears to me such a chaotic, mind numbingly nonsensical concoction of disabilities?!!
To elaborate on the specific tasks I perform. I locate and retrieve mum’s medication to her on the cue “find green”. She takes a range of prescribed medication four times a day, and as required to alleviate symptoms related to psychiatric conditions and pain relief. I am able to retrieve these where ever she is in her flat. Note there is no risk to me as they are contained in a dosset box, which is then in a thick zipped canvas bag. Some may wonder why “find green”? Well, cue words for me materialise as mum shapes my behaviour, and we go with what emerges to work for us as a team. The ‘once upon a time’ meaningless word is now a meaningful, effective command yielding a reliable behaviour.
Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) is remarkably effective
The cue word mum and I have found works is “lap”. I have never been a lap dogs so I really had to learn to adapt to this alien position, and remain there. On hearing this word, even if I am comfortably settled myself, I will lie across Mum’s lap which has various consequences for mum. For example, the weight of my self on mum’s lap reduces anxiety, and panic. DPT also has the potential to disrupt a dissociative state, interrupts racing and intrusive thoughts.
Picking up, holding and retrieving items
DPT also has another major affect on mum in her battle and determination to minimise and/or stop self injury. Many people may have heard of this, we have called it self injury as opposed to self harm to distinguish between the many facets of self harm many of us, whether we know it or not, engage in (e.g. smoking, excessive drinking). Therefore I am able to perform tasks such as picking up, holding and retrieving items, whether mum has dropped them on not, on cue.
To date I have managed to pick up all manner of items, including mum’s mobile phone, purse, keys, and even bags my size and drag them down the stairs for mum. I even untie her shoe laces and empty the washing machine for her.
I am a constant in her life, and that helps instigate her to maintain contact with her friends. In turn her friends own dogs who are my pals, and that contact is paramount for my welfare.
Mum says that in teaching me, she continues to gain a sense of self
Mum and I are a great partnership because we continue to build on our skills socially, and now people know her as ‘Jack’s mum’ and not necessarily because of mental health problems.
There are tasks that help disrupt sudden emotional overload. For example, in response to the cue word “legs”, I return to mum (if off lead) approaching from behind and sit between her legs leaning in to the inner right hand side leg (when we are away from home this we have found becomes acutely useful).
For mum tactile stimulation is invaluable as this also helps dilute fear or hyper vigilance. I will lick mum’s face in response to the cue word “kiss kiss” or if she appears drowsy/motionless. We have found this may be performed in conjunction with the “nose nudge”. This is a further task performed on hearing the cue word “nose” or in response to mum’s watch timer (which she sets to go off regularly when out walking alone).
I will nudge her knee with my nose until I get a response (i.e. a reward). The nose nudge for mum as well as aiming to disrupt emotional overload, overwhelming fear, disassociation and hyper vigilance also prompts mum to engage mind/body regulatory exercises e.g. deep breathing/mindfulness.
These are a few of the tasks whereby mum has been shaping my behaviour in order that I may be able to reach the status of Assistance Dog. I have had to be trained so that I behave to a professional standard within a public building. For example, in cafes and restaurants I now settle in a down, quietly under a table or close to mum, and not cause any disruption. Compare this to a time only a year ago in a favourite dog friendly cafe, where I would have been allowed to hoover up crumbs at the end of a days service. I’ve had to change habits mum has allowed me to perform so at times it’s been a challenging and perhaps confusing experience!
Mum, I expect, often continues, albeit subconsciously, wanting those unmet childhood needs in adulthood: safety, protection, being cherished, guidance and loved. This can be where I have a vital influence and active part in helping mum. However, the natural behaviour I have, for example companionship, licking and comforting mum are not considered tasks even if they helped her.
In order to help mum I am being trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate the symptoms and disabilities related to complex mental health illnesses mum experiences. I hope this piece has provided an adequate overview of how training me to become an assistance dog helps mum’s intense cognitive dissonance and vulnerability.
In addition, I want to provide insight to what it is, to live in the shoes of mum, and many like mum. I have also, without intention, conveyed how a rehomed dog has, against all odds, become an AD in training with a hope to ‘graduate’ in the not too distant future. The difficulties outlined make mum’s daily life a challenge.
She is so grateful to have me & friends who love, and accept her, and she is doing her best to do the same for herself. The training mum and I do has been a welcomed learning experience. The training, by positive reinforcement alone, is wholly rewarding; relationship building; exciting; fun; and provides the motivation she needs to continue spreading awareness and challenge the stigma and misunderstanding attached to mental illness.
Every day is an opportunity to learn and give what we can to those around us
One thing I am reminded of every day is the inspiration I give, and difference I make.
To conclude, the final message to convey is how indebted we both are to charities such as Border Terrier Welfare, UK. The #BTposse and other profound opportunities. Without these life changing openings Mum, I strongly expect, would not be here to help me tell you this story.