The assistance dog that can do anything

Kibble presses the jellybean button while Shelley Fitzsimmons of Tilsworth looks on
Kibble presses the jellybean button while Shelley Fitzsimmons of Tilsworth looks on

Feeling safe at home is hugely important to most people, and Shelley Fitzsimmons is no different. However, she has an incredible canine partner and Telecare alarm service to thank for her extra sense of security.

Shelley, 43, of Grand Union Housing in Tilsworth inherited the rare Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) at birth, which affects all her muscles, ligaments and joints, causing frequent dislocations.

“I have a lack of collagen and pretty much the whole of me can dislocate, from a disc in my neck right down to a toe,” she said. “I could stretch out to pick up the TV remote and pop a finger or something.”

In 2008 she started using a wheelchair and had a nervous breakdown. Her husband and children became her carers.

Then her 10-year-old son saw someone with EDS on TV, explaining what assistance dogs do and how they helped people gain a little more independence.

At the time she didn’t think her condition justified one, but her son sent away for an application form and it wasn’t long before Shelley visited Canine Partners and was introduced to Kibble. This incredible dog had been trained how to open doors, pick up items, dress a person, use a washing machine and fetch help in an emergency.

Shelley, who’s become inseparable from her four-legged friend, said: “He acts as a companion and also my carer. It means I only really need someone to come in and make my lunches sometimes.

“Kibble can pull back the covers on a bad day, he can swing my legs out of the bed and pull me up to standing. “He can help me into my wheelchair and into the bathroom. He’s there everywhere to make sure I’m safe.”

Kibble can pass Shelley a towel when she gets out of the shower and help her dress by pulling on clothes and doing up zips and Velcro. He can even load and unload the washing machine and tumble drier.

But Shelley still felt she needed something extra.

An occupational therapist recommend Aragon’s Telecare system, which did a specialist assessment before providing her with a Telecare bracelet, smoke alarm and CO2 detector and even a jellybean – a big red button Kibble can press with his nose.

Shelley said: “Having Kibble is obviously great, but having Telecare is the final piece of the puzzle. I know that wherever I am in the house or garden, I am safe.”

She shouts ‘bell’ for Kibble to use the system. He runs up and presses the jellybean with his nose until he hears someone on the end of the line. He’s also trained to do this if Shelley is on the floor or unresponsive. She said: “Thankfully I haven’t had to use it much because Kibble saves me all the time, but it acts as a safety net in case anything serious happens.”

Thanks to Kibble, Canine Partners and the Telecare system, Shelley’s family don’t have to worry about leaving her at home any more. Her children’s grades are going up as they aren’t worried about their mum’s safety and her husband now only calls occasionally from work rather than all the time to make sure she is safe.

Shelley said: “Obviously it’s not just old people who are disabled, younger ones are too and we all need that reassurance that someone will always be around to help you. If you didn’t have an assistance dog, you’d still feel secure with the wristband or pendant.”