At Leszan we get to hear inspirational stories about how different people cope with disability, and were really touched by Barry’s story when we read it in a recent DisabledGo newsletter.  We wanted to share Barry’s story with you and hope you find it as inspiring as we did…

I was in the Royal Navy and have been around the world with them so many times.  I have also been a boxer, a swimmer, a runner and footballer, and have completed the London to Paris cycle ride in three days.

However, in March 2005 I had an accident, and broke my back in three places.  I had gone to prune a tree, knowing the warnings given to those who work with ladders.  I tied my ladder to the tree and placed wedges under the feet of the ladder.  After checking with a couple of good tugs, I climbed up and started the work.  I heard a loud crack and saw the main branch holding the top of the ladder had broken.  It started to move and when the rope became taut it whiplashed me off the ladder and I hit the ground, doing a great deal of damage to my spine.

My life turned upside down after that.  Dealing with it all was a monster struggle: at the general hospital I was told that it was far too dangerous to operate on the spine so was passed on to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital to see if they could sort it out.  Eventually the spinal specialist took the decision to do a full thoracic spinal operation, which lasted eight hours and ended up with me on a ventilator.

For five days a machine breathed for me, then I got pneumonia and MRSA.  Eventually I was allowed home with rods, nuts and bolts inside of me.  My wife was always there for me, even when my moods of blackness crossed over me.  For someone who was once so fit and active I struggled to cope with the new lifestyle.  My moods were becoming blacker and blacker.  I hated myself so much and hated what I was doing to my wife who was my carer, but I still wanted to do things.

Then I heard about Canine Partners.  I read about the Charity and thought “This is just what I need so much.  I saw them demonstrate at a local event, and this proved to me that if I was lucky enough to have one of their dogs, then my life would change dramatically.

I knew there were many hurdles to get over before you even got on a course, but there was no harm in trying.  I had a home assessment and I felt like someone adopting a new child.  The excitement was rolling through both my wife and I.  Then I went to the training centre to meet some dogs, and was given Guy in the afternoon.  The trainer asked me to put on his jacket, and to her horror Guy stood up and lay his legs and paws over my shoulders and proceeded to lick me almost to death.  My specs went flying, and I had to tell the trainer that I hadn’t been able to put his jacket on as all I could see was this huge pink tongue!  Guy had chosen me.  When I was asked if I would be prepared to accept Guy as my dog, I replied as quickly as I could, “A huge yes please.”

So we set out on our new life together and my whole world utterly changed.  It became summer in my life.  For the first few months we learned about each other every day making the partnership so strong.  I learned to read Guy’s body language and know when he needed to rest.  It was not hard and the huge, deep pleasure I got was so immense.  In truth I felt like I was back in the forces again with him watching my back and I in turn watching his. 

Guy pulls me up in the morning, and from then on our partnership really starts.  I get his breakfast then he will get anything I ask, like socks and underwear.  His favourite task is taking clothes out of the washing machine, although he likes the smaller items better than the huge sheets and duvet covers!  Socks are his most favourite item to remove.

He is so keen to learn new things, and since I have had him he has now learned to remove all my clothes.  He also takes the card and receipt out of a cash machine, and the money too.  He enjoys the supermarket and getting items for me and paying.  At meal times he will bring me his bowl and we let him relax after he has had his food.  At night he will undress me and that is the time of day when we have lots of cuddles and fuss, and he likes nothing better than to lie on his back on the bed between my wife and I with his front paws tucked up. 

 As time has gone on our partnership has grown.  I have so many wonderful moments when he has made my day by what he does, and he needs no asking – he does a task of his own accord.  I can never express the utter happiness I get working with him.  I have been known at odd times to shed a tear of happiness.  He has shown so much love to me and also to my wife.  He has worked out that I am his partner, but he knows my wife is also a special person in his life and he makes sure she gets special Guy ways of showing his thanks to her.

Play time has become one of things that will live with me for eternity.  Guy adores swimming.  I love to watch him swim and glide so gently.  He lowers his head under the water to see what is on the bottom.  To watch him show such delight at being on a beach is such a joy as he runs one way then another.  You can feel his joy and delight at being a dog doing his own thing for a while.  Then the pride he shows when out walking in his official jacket, tail right up, body proud, a spring in each step.  So many people have said that his eyes never ever leave mine. 

I could write for ever about this partnership that has developed; from a human being who was becoming every day more and more depressed trying to deal with life in general, then enter one very special dog and life becomes the most wonderful thing to enjoy each and every day.  I have been married for forty years to a wonderful woman, and now I have a magic dog who has made me the happiest I can be.  So with my wife and Guy, I wake up in the morning and it is magic time.  My wife has been able to return to being a wife again because of Guy’s wonderful duties to me.  He has given her another chance to fulfil her own potential at craft class, because she knows Guy is there with me, and all is safe and well.

I will finish by talking about how Guy gets up in the night and pulls back a bit of my duvet to sniff my arm simply because he wants to know how his partner is feeling.  So I give him a cuddle and kiss on his head and tell him to lie down, which he does right away.

I have gone from winter to summer, thanks to this magic dog.



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