It's sometimes easy to take for granted the difference a dog can make to someone's life.
We all know the benefits of companionship dogs offer, but some bring more than that, and it's through their skills as man (or woman's) best friend that they can offer someone a quality of life that they might not have.
But it's not just about the person in this relationship. Sometimes you'll see a dog who you know can do something amazing and will thrive doing it, and it's when you marry the two that you find a really life changing combination.
One such duo is Megan Rose Taylor and her dog, Ruby a six year old Kelpie cross from South West London. Megan recently felt the need to fight back on social media after someone said to her: 'I feel so sorry for your dog having to spend its life with some disabled person, poor doggy!'.
Here's their story.
I first met the dog who would go on to change my life forever back in 2010 whilst visiting Snowdonia National Park with my family. We were staying in the guest house of a small working farm, home to a number of sheep, horses, and chickens.
I quickly made friends with the farm sheepdog, Bonnie, and her litter of eight week old pups. Being a relentless 14 year old, I, of course, spent the rest of our week long holiday convincing my parents to adopt one of the puppies. I succeeded!
We named our beautiful Border Collie, Australian Kelpie cross, Ruby. We had no idea back then just how important this tiny pup would become, when a year later I would suffer a severe head injury and be left with a permanent disability.
On the 13th November 2011, I was attending a service for Remembrance Sunday with my Explorer Scout Unit in Surbiton when I fainted during the service and hit my head on the kerb behind me.
Thanks to the dedicated volunteers from the St John Ambulance, I was given immediate medical attention and was rushed to Kingston Hospital, where it was discovered my skull had been fractured in three places.
The damage and trauma to my skull caused a number of ongoing medical complications: profound hearing loss on my left side, chronic vertigo/dizziness, visual blackouts, balance impairment, and chronic fainting. These symptoms are permanent and disabling.
I have been known to faint anywhere between 0-50+ times in a single day. Dizzy spells also happen multiple times a day and are made much worse by anything that involves bending down. I often walk into or trip over obstacles due to the combination of dizziness and poor balance. Visual blackouts are also scary and these happen spontaneously without warning and can last between 30 seconds up to 10 minutes. During these episodes, I am completely blind and vulnerable.
Since my accident I have achieved more than I could have ever hoped for: climbing three mountains in 24 hours, running a half marathon, raising thousands of pounds for charity, graduating from university, and working towards my Queen Scout Award.
All of this possible because of a positive attitude, a determination to overcome any challenge life throws at me, and a great team of people to support me.
But for me, the real challenge is coping with everyday life, where there is not always the support I need. Every time I drop something, I know I have to bend down and pick it up and then suffer several hours of dizziness as a consequence.
Every time I go out alone I am vulnerable. What if I faint and injure myself? What if I go blind again? This is the real challenge, everyday tasks that ‘normal’ people take for granted.
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2016, after living with my disability for almost 5 years, that I came across Dog A.I.D (Assistance In Disability). Dog A.I.D enable people with disabilities to train their own pet dogs to become fully qualified Assistance Dogs, with the help of professional dog trainers who volunteer their time.
Dog A.I.D Assistance Dogs are able to help people with everyday tasks that they struggle with because of their disability, such as picking up dropped items, opening and closing doors, or loading and unloading the washing machine. Each dog is trained to help their owner in different ways depending on their individual needs.
Ruby and I were accepted as clients with Dog A.I.D in March 2016 and with the help of my Dog A.I.D trainer I have been able to teach Ruby a number of ways to assist me in my day to day life, using modern force-free training methods.
Ruby is now able to: retrieve dropped items and items from low shelves, untie my shoe laces, activate pedestrian crossing buttons, use an emergency response phone when I have fainted, and open the front door to paramedics. She is also learning how to guide me around obstacles and to a safe place during visual blackouts.
Ruby activates the emergency response phone each time I faint by pressing a button worn on my wrist with her nose. Once activated a text message will be sent to my emergency contacts with my current GPS location. If my emergency contacts do not hear back from me within 10 minutes this means I am still unconscious or injured, and they are able to send help. Previously it may have been several hours before anyone found me.
Although we still have a way to go with our training before we qualify, Ruby has already made such a difference to my life and I am eternally grateful to Dog A.I.D.
She has halved the amount of dizzy spells I have by picking things up for me. I no longer faint into the road as I am able to stay back whilst she presses the button for me. And I can now feel safe in my own home, knowing that if I injure myself help will come.
As well as physically assisting me, Ruby has given me a huge amount of emotional support and confidence. But this new found confidence was shaken, when a stranger decided to go out of their way to insult not only Ruby and I, but all Assistance Dog partnerships.
“Excuse me, I just wanted to say how sorry I feel for that dog, having to spend its life working for some disabled person, you should be ashamed of yourself”.
She had assumed I was training Ruby for someone else, as my disability isn’t visible on the outside. When I pointed out that ‘some disabled person’ was, in fact me. She rolled her eyes and walked away muttering under her breath.
I couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. I was angry, embarrassed and upset by her ignorance and rudeness. I couldn’t understand why anyone would take it upon themselves to walk up to someone and say something like that.
Unfortunately, some people believe that Assistance Dogs spend their whole lives working for their disabled partners with no time to just be a dog, but this is far from the truth.
Assistance Dogs have plenty of down time where they can play with toys, go on walks, and interact with other dogs, the same as any pet dog would. The only difference is that when a pet dog would be left home alone, Assistance Dogs are out with their partner to keep them safe and provide support.
I was really hurt by what that stranger had said to me and so I wanted to do something that would educate people about Assistance Dogs.
I decided to make a short film, ‘A day in the life of Ruby’, that would highlight not only the amazing ways in which Ruby helps me every day but also show how she has fun and enjoys life like any other dog.
The video includes clips of her swimming, playing with toys, playing with other dogs, enjoying tasty snacks, snoozing on my lap and helping me with my disability. The video has so far reached over 7K people on Ruby’s Facebook fan page ‘Ruby the Superdog’.
My hope is that over time people will fully embrace Assistance Dog partnerships, without judgement or discrimination. Ruby is so much more than ‘just a dog’, she is my best friend, my independence and my lifeline.
So, to the stranger who insulted us, it is not Ruby and I you should feel sorry for. It is you, for being so closed minded that you cannot see the beauty right in front of your eyes.