If her two children hadn’t been so keen to have a puppy, Linslade mum Annie Rourke might never have become involved with the charity Dogs for Good.
Her electrical engineer husband Stuart didn’t want an animal in the house but the kids were desperate. And it was they who suggested it.
She explains: “If you become a puppy socialiser, you hand the dog back after about a year. It then goes for 16 weeks assistance training, to help adults and children with a range of disabilities and children with autism.” And she smiles as she recalls getting their first puppy four years ago: “It took Stuart about five minutes to fall in love with her.”
She’s now socialising Neave, a six-month-old Golden Retriever/Labrador cross – one of two dogs sponsored by the Rotary Club of Leighton and Linslade.
Annie, 53, of Lomond Drive, says: “They have to lead a normal puppy life and be introduced to every possible scenario – in shops, lifts, buses and trains. And they can’t be afraid of loud noises. They have to be able to ignore sirens and other sounds and remain calm and well behaved.”
When they’re about 15 months old, they go to the Dogs for Good centre in Banbury for 16 weeks intensive training before being matched with someone who needs them.
Annie says: “It’s absolutely amazing, they really change people’s lives.
“Children who have autism, who are non-verbal, start talking to the dog, then to an adult or a child. They communicate through the dog and start communicating generally. It’s heartwarming to see.
“And people who don’t go out because of their disability gain new confidence. These dogs can take laundry in and out of a washing machine, open and close doors and drawers, press buttons at pelican crossings.
“So although it’s difficult giving up the puppy you’ve loved since it was about seven weeks old, you know it’s going to go on to do amazing things.
“And the charity keeps us in the loop. They tell us how well our puppy is doing in training and introduce us to the family they’re matched with. And by then you’ve probably got another puppy to worry about anyway.”
> Dogs for Good is always looking for puppy socialisers, sponsors and donations. If you’d like to help email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.dogsforgood.org