At long last, we’re nearing the tail-end of winter, and, despite Jack Frost still being determined to stick around, it is safe to say that the countdown to the beginning of spring is well and truly on. Whilst we wait, we’d like to tell you about another one of our recent grant recipients in Ireland; Irish Dogs for the Disabled.
Irish Dogs for the Disabled is a unique charity based in Cork, and is the only one of its kind in Europe. Since 2007, they have been providing assistance dogs
to children and adults living with physical disabilities in Ireland, 80% of which are aged between 6 and 12 years.
Many of the individuals who seek assistance dogs have disabilities that hinder their independence and social interaction. As a result, the charity’s dogs are specifically trained to carry out a range of practical tasks towards enabling greater independence. These tasks include opening/closing doors, picking up dropped items, sending for help, and even helping children with severe walking disabilities to do so with greater ease and balance. Dependent on the individual’s requirements, each dog is trained specifically to cater for these needs.
The experience of having an assistance dog not only helps partners in their day-to day lives, but also has a lasting, “life changing” impact upon them. With the reliance that the dogs have upon partners to provide for them in terms of exercise, feeding, love and care, it is encouraging for partners to take their assistance dog out for walks and engage with the public. As a result of this, partners often find a new sense of confidence and take up new activities, which might include
returning to work or gaining further education.
At present, the charity delivers approximately 25 fully trained assistance dogs to their partners, and there is currently a waiting list of 80 people. Dogs are partnered at no extra cost to the recipient.
Dogs for the Disabled receives no government funding, relying completely on the generosity of sponsorship, donations and fundraising. The organisation operates on a budget of about €300,000 per year, with a team of 5 core staff and additional volunteers.
In the past few decades, the benefits of assistance and therapy dogs have become widely recognised as being beneficial towards an increasing number of health conditions. This has seen dogs being trained to assist those that have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and most recently, Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder that primarily affects movement, causing erratic movements and gait freezing, causing falls and injury leading to potential further impairments.
Just before Christmas, we heard from Jennifer Dowler, the charity’s CEO, who told us about their Pilot Parksinson Assistance Programme. This is being run in conjunction with University College Dublin, The Mater Hospital and Neurological Institute Dublin. Working together with Professor Jim Lynch, Irish Dogs for
the Disabled have provided Ireland’s first assistance dog for a Parkinson’s patient; Duncan Hughes.
Working with a broader team including physiotherapists and researchers from University College Dublin, there have been some positive results from the programme. It has been found that with the help of an assistance dog, that the patient’s movements improved, their walking patterns became more consistent and their forward momentum was considerably aided. It is also worth noting that assistance dogs can be trained to respond to situations that leave people in vulnerable and worrying conditions, by as mentioned earlier, inspiring confidence and motivation.
When talking to us, Jennifer mentioned how a grant from HSF would lead towards training more assistance dogs to aid those living with Parkinson’s. These dogs will be specifically trained to mitigate against the complications of the condition by interrupting the muscle spasms which can cause a freezing of gait, causing more accidental falls.
According to a survey conducted at Tallaght Hospital, Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease, which will affect 20,000 people in Ireland by 2046. There are currently approx. 12,000 people that suffer from Parkinson’s disease in Ireland.
The Parkinson’s Assistance Dog programme is in the early stages, with a second dog currently being trained. With positive outcomes, a real and global impact could be had upon the disease as a result of this work.
Irish Dogs for the Disabled ended up receiving a grant for €13,500.
To learn more about Irish Dogs for the Disabled, visit: dogsfordisabled.ie