Wow! I never realised that there were so many wonderful groups and individuals willing to assist people with dementia (pwd). I am usually negative about society’s attitude towards us however there are times when your heart is cheered, and this week is definitely one of those. In this post I want to concentrate on the Guide Dogs and Dementia Dogs, but there are so many other enabling organisations out there. It is definitely not a case of either/or and there should be no competition regarding funding; they should both be funded by Dementia fund givers as they are “horses for courses”, sorry couldn’t resist the animal pun!
Dementia Dogs are (obviously) automatically associated with people with dementia (pwd) and, yes, are very good for those in the late middle and latter stages as they can give comfort and support, both practical; carrying medicines, acting as reminders etc. However, in my mind the pwd loses a chance of further independence as the carer is in charge of them, and has to be with them when they are walked.
Guide Dogs; not immediately associated with pwd, but as I keep saying, everyone’s dementia journey is different and I was amazed how empowered, and “alive” I felt when with Emerald, the assistance dog I was lent for two days. Obviously, we took time to get to know each other and be comfortable together; the positive training with treats helped, I am sure! When we walked together in Perth, I think we gelled. I was even able to close my eyes when necessary without fear. I am still amazed at how well trained the dogs are. My only problem was remembering, and using the right words.
This brings me onto the wonderful staff, who recognised this as a problem and started to think of works round. I believe that I am the first person that Guide Dogs are working with specifically around dementia. The organisation says it is person centred, and it actually walks the walk. My mentor was open to looking at new ways of training me and the dog, as their standard training is class orientated. Another example; I, like many pwd, would need trained in small chunks so as to allow our slower brains to take it in.
The guide dog is the pwd’s to care for, feed and walk so is not suitable for all, especially the latter stages, although all this certainly helps one feel independent. The big question; is one right for me? Obviously, that is not my decision alone: the organisation has to look at the whole dispassionately. As for me, the answer is “maybe”, can’t sit on the fence forever but.. The pros; independence, made my cogs whirl, fun, helpful (I hope) for people in the future and myself, confidence building in busy town. Anti; obviously, the dog requires exercise and training kept topped up daily, am I able to do this? For instance, I have other dogs to exercise. Also, each dog is a massive investment of money and people’s time, would I get enough out of the investment? This includes the fact the period of time a dog would be useful to me is not open ended.
Whatever happens on my personal dementia journey I do hope that Guide Dogs carry on with this vital dementia work.