BRITISH Airways has welcomed a frequent flyer with a difference on board a flight from Heathrow to Manchester.
EJ the yellow Labrador is a fully-trained assistance dog who travelled with his owner, Hounds for Heroes charity founder Allen Parton, up to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester.
Notching up his 262nd flight, EJ and his canine pal Rookie, a golden retriever, flew north for a Defence Medical Welfare Services’ Showcase Day and ended up bringing smiles to the faces of many patients.
Allen, who started the charity based in Petersfield in 2010, explained: ‘It was a feelgood day and wonderful to see all the war veterans with the dogs and one veteran even shined his slippers for the occasion.’
During the visit to Wythenshawe, Allen and his dogs took time to meet patients from around the hospital, including the pulmonary oncology unit, dementia unit and orthopaedics.
‘We also visted the ward where children affected by the Manchester Arena bombing were and the children were thrilled the dogs were on the ward. The dogs loved it as well.’
In 2005 Allen fought for assistance dogs to have the right be allowed on planes and his previous assistance dog Endal was the first canine to fly in a British Airways aircraft cabin.
The navy veteran said: ‘It is nice that at 32,000 feet the dogs are still there supporting me and I just love the freedom it gives me.’
He added: ‘When you go to a busy airport it is tense and they are stressful environments and the dogs are an absolute relaxer. The airport security light up when they see the dogs and of course everyone wants a cuddle.’
The married father-of-two was left paralysed after a car crash in Iraq during his service in the Gulf War, but his assistance dog Endal helped Allen through his tough journey.
Allen, 58, said: ‘Hounds for Heroes shows how assistance dogs not only bring quality of life to their owners by helping them with everyday tasks like opening doors, but also how they also bring companionship.’
Endal saved Allen’s life again after he was knocked from his wheelchair in a road traffic accident, by putting him in a recovery position and going for help. He was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, for showing outstanding devotion to his duties.
Allen has published a book called Endal in tribute to his previous companion, who died in 2009.