Training dogs to help change people’s lives

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The dogs trained by Glenis and Brian Lawrenson can unload a washing machine and take money from a cashpoint. They transform the lives of disabled people. ELISE BREWERTON reports.

When Glenis and Brian Lawrenson lost their beloved dog Jester they were bereft.

Jester, a flat coat retriever, had been part of the family for years and they found the thought of replacing him too upsetting.

So, instead, they have dedicated the past 12 years to training dogs that go on to transform the lives of disabled people.

Glenis, 66, and Brian, 70, of Sycamore Close, Cowplain, volunteer for the charity Canine Partners, in West Sussex.

While Glenis trains the puppies Brian looks after the fleet of vehicles used by the charity and works behind the scenes.

The assistance dogs perform tasks such as opening and closing doors, undressing, pressing buttons, retrieving items, unloading washing machines, taking cards and cash from ATMs and other everyday tasks that disabled people find difficult, painful or impossible to do for themselves.

Glenis says: ‘When Jester died I thought, “I can’t go through this again. It’s too sad”.

‘But the house was empty without a dog.

‘I contacted Canine Partners and told them I’d like to be a puppy parent. That way it meant we’d have a dog for a year and give them away knowing they were going to benefit someone in real need.

‘I’d had a lot of training experience with Jester because he was a rescue dog and I trained him with the help of Homestead Dog Training Club.

‘I suppose I’m good at it because I enjoy it.

‘ I enjoy getting a response from dogs – not because they’re scared or because they think they’re going to be hurt.

‘They respond because they want to please you.’

Zebedee was the first puppy Glenis was given.

He didn’t make it through training but she kept him and he is now an excellent demonstration dog.

Together they have completed more than 1,000 demonstrations across the country showing people exactly how Canine Partners change lives.

Glenis travels around with an old washing machine fashioned by Brian out of a broken machine and pieces of MDF.

‘My husband loves dogs,’ says Glenis.

‘But he wasn’t brought up with them so he doesn’t have exactly the same feelings as me.

‘When I first discussed becoming a puppy parent he thought we’d have a houseful of dogs.

‘That does happens occasionally and fortunately he’s got used to it now. But most of the time I try to keep it to a maximum of two.

‘Brian does an awful lot for Canine Partners. He looks after the cars, keeps them maintained.

‘If I’m away overnight he looks after the puppy I leave behind.

‘Without his support I couldn’t do what I do. He does lots behind the scenes.

‘We’ve worked together for so long, and we work together so well, that I can’t imagine working without him.’

Being a puppy parent is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week job.

Glenis does four demonstrations a week at schools, conferences, rotary clubs and organisations such as University of the Third Age.

She jokes: ‘It means I get out of doing the housework at home! The dogs come first, I’m afraid.’

Before they retired the Lawrensons had their own distribution business so are used to working side by side.

Brian says: ‘I do about 40 hours a month and I don’t mind a bit because they do a lot of good work.

‘We really enjoy having the puppies and they make Glenis very happy.

‘It is something she enjoys and I like to support her.’

They have three sons and eight grandchildren. They are all very supportive of the work the couple do with Canine Partners.

Glenis says: ‘Because my work takes me all over the place they never know exactly where I am.

‘It’s a bit of a role reversal.

‘It’s very useful having the grandchildren round because it helps the dogs get used to children.

‘I often get calls saying, “mum, where are you now? I thought I ought to check!”.’

Glenis has trained seven dogs so far. And, despite the hard work and amount of time she has to put into each one, she finds it utterly rewarding.

‘At the end of having a puppy I see a life being transformed because of me.

‘When somebody is injured or sick or maybe they have come back from conflict, the professional medical staff have done their job.

‘In many cases there’s not an awful lot left for them.

‘Transforming their lives gives them back the independence they once had.

‘It gives them back the quality of life they really, really want. That’s why I do it.

‘ I can look at an eight-week old puppy and hope that in future they’re going to be a dog that changes someone’s life. With a puppy I see the end product rather than just putting money in a box.

‘I show people how their lives can be changed and they can see it too.’