FIVE labradors have begun an extraordinary journey that will help them transform the lives of wounded ex-servicemen.
Yesterday was the first puppy training class for the five dogs at Hounds for Heroes – the assistance dog charity set up by Gulf War veteran Allen Parton.
Over the next two years, the young labradors will be put through a strict regime of training that will allow them to become adept assistance dogs – capable of doing a variety of tasks from collecting the post, to flicking a light switch.
Much in the vein of Endal, Mr Parton’s assistance dog for 15 years, the dogs will eventually be handed over to injured military personnel to help give them more independence as they go about their daily lives.
In a poignant gesture, one of the puppies has been named Yomper Ritchie after Royal Marine Richard Hollington.
Mne Hollington, 23, who went to Purbrook Park School and whose family now live in Petersfield where the charity is based, became the 300th serviceman to die in the Afghan conflict after being caught in a bomb blast.
Mr Parton met his parents last year and said it would be a fitting tribute to Richard to name a dog after him.
Mr Parton, from Clanfield, said: ‘The family have been very supportive in every aspect.
‘It’s just been amazing.
‘We can never bring Richard back, but we can help other people in his memory.
‘I hope that Yomper could one day help an injured marine.’
Mne Hollington’s father Robin, whose family has so far helped to raise £155,000 for Help for Heroes, as well as fundraise for Mr Parton’s charity, said: ‘We are honoured that Hounds for Heroes has chosen to name a dog after Richard. It’s amazing.’
All the puppy’s names have military connections, with the other names being Colonel, Juno, Flanders, and Monty.
Each will cost £20,000 throughout their lifetime to cover the cost of food, training and insurance.
Yomper Ritchie’s cost has been met through Commando 999, a Plymouth-based charity for Royal Marines.
Mr Parton is hoping to get many more dogs trained up – but needs local families to help look after the labradors while they are trained.
He added: ‘If we can get 50 puppy families we can get 50 puppies – it’s that simple.
‘They are the ones who look after these little bundles of joy.’
Anyone interested in helping to care for a labrador can call (01730) 823118 or email firstname.lastname@example.org