REAL LIFE: Together we’re a great partnership

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For most people, dogs are a much loved pet and a loyal companion.

But for those who are unable to cope with the day-to-day aspects of life alone, dogs can be lifesavers.

Matthew Irons, 44, with his Canine Partners assistance dog, Brewster    ''Picture:  Malcolm Wells (170821-5983)

Matthew Irons, 44, with his Canine Partners assistance dog, Brewster ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (170821-5983)

That’s exactly what Brewster is to 44-year-old Matthew Irons, from Clanfield.

Matthew has muscular dystrophy (MD) and is confined to a wheelchair.

Before Brewster, a labrador-retriever cross, was welcomed into his life, he barely left the house.

Now, his life has turned around completely.

He’s very caring. If I’m in pain, he seems to know I have a problem

But Matthew not always relied on a wheelchair. He first noticed something was wrong when he was 14.

‘I was having problems walking,’ he said. My mum noticed it and she took me to the doctors. They did a biopsy and said that I had muscular dystrophy.

‘It was a long time ago but I remember it quite well. I didn’t really understand what the long term prognosis meant.

‘But I knew eventually I would end up in a wheelchair. It wasn’t known how quickly the disease would progress.

‘I had all the dreams as a teenager of wanting to join the RAF. But you get told you have MD and that’s it.

‘At the time I was part of the RAF scouts. I gave that up pretty much straight away because I felt there was no point.

‘I was a bit peeved. You have your moments but you soon learn you can scream and shout as much as you like, but it doesn’t change the situation.’

Matthew took A-levels and was offered a place at university in Nottingham to study agricultural and food sciences.

After graduating, he got a job working for an insurance firm, and that became his career until several years ago, when he was forced to give up work.

Matthew was in a wheelchair by his mid 20s.

‘For long distances I had a wheelchair that I used if I had to,’ he adds.

‘I was very unstable on my feet. The slightest knock would send me flying. It was getting dangerous.

‘We knew from the outset that it was going to come and that I would be in a wheelchair. It was just a matter of when. It’s one of those things that you deal with as you go along.

‘I had a chair that I took to university with me but it wasn’t something that I wanted to use.’

Matthew would use his wheelchair at work and would leave it there, just bringing it back at weekends so he could socialise with friends down the pub.

But eventually, at the age of around 27, he realised he would need the chair full time.

‘When you finally get to the situation of using a chair, you realise how much you missed out on. I was struggling along and not doing things. But then, I was doing a lot more.

‘I was pretty against it at first. I am very stubborn.

‘But then I found out that I could drive with the wheelchair. I was able to load and unload myself and drive about.’

Matthew is a big Pompey fan, and having a wheelchair meant he was able to go to games again.

‘I did a lot of driving to football matches all over the place,’ he says.

But once he was forced to give up work, life changed dramatically.

‘I was getting a lot of back pain and it was getting worse and causing lots of problems,’ he adds.

‘I wasn’t able to do the drive to and from work anymore.’

He found himself housebound.

‘I wasn’t getting out at all. It got to the point where I was only going out of the house to go to medical appointments.

‘If I saw my mates, it was because they came here. My social life was null. I wasn’t happy.’

But then, Matthew was encouraged to contact Canine Partners and see if he was eligible for an assistance dog.

He was put on a waiting list and eventually he had a successful match with Brewster.

‘We went for the advanced training in January and he’s been with us ever since. He’s a completely laid back dog.

‘He’s picking things up off the floor when I drop them. He’s opening and closing doors. He will put my foot on the footplates of my wheelchair.

‘He’s very caring. If I’m in pain, he seems to know I have got a problem and he will stick his head in my lap.’

Now, his life has completely turned around.

‘I wasn’t going out before but I go out every day now,’ Matthew says.

‘It’s a partnership because he does jobs for me and I have got to look after him.

‘Part of that is exercising him and getting him out and about.

‘He helps with the shopping. He will take the wallet with the money in. It’s what to anyone else would be an every day mundane task.’

Matthew now lives with his parents in Clanfield and says it’s had an affect on everyone.

‘He’s changed all of our lives. It’s not just me – it’s the rest of the family as well. Mum and dad can go out and know that I am okay at home – Brewster is on duty.

‘I haven’t got to wait for them to come back for me.

‘It’s the companionship as well.

‘I still can’t drive but we can get the bus. We can go places I wasn’t going before. He loves going on the bus because it’s different people to see and a different experience.

‘I am so grateful to Canine Partners and the trainers and staff there.

‘They have all been brilliant.’

To see a video of Matthew and Brewster go to


Canine Partners transforms the lives of people with physical disabilities by partnering them with assistance dogs.

The dogs bring independence and quality of life to their partners, offering security, companionship, and practical help with everyday household tasks.

The dogs also provide psychological and social benefits including increased independence, confidence, social interaction and self-esteem.

The charity receives no government funding and relies solely on donations from the public and legacies.



According to NHS UK, the muscular dystrophies (MD) are a group of inherited genetic conditions that gradually cause the muscles to weaken, leading to an increasing level of disability.

MD is a progressive condition and often begins by affecting a particular group of muscles, before affecting the muscles more widely.

Some types of MD eventually affect the heart or the muscles used for breathing, at which point the condition becomes life-threatening. There’s no cure for MD, but treatment can help to manage symptoms.