Tuesday 24 October 2017

Meet Abbi the assistance dog – little Lucy’s best friend and carer

Without any formal training the border terrior has changed a little girl's life...

Lucy with her border collie, Abbi.
Lucy with her border collie, Abbi.

Linda Daly

Border terrier Abbi was never intended to be an assistance dog but has become one without any formal training.

The two year old belongs to Lucy Eccles, who has Coffin-Siris Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes developmental delays and health problems. Lucy has speech and language issues and demonstrates autistic behaviours. 

The six year old has spent much of her life in hospital, having invasive investigations and therapy. She attends the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, Dublin, and has at least two hospital appointments a week. At the moment, she is waiting on surgery in Temple Street. 

Lucy’s mother Noeleen initially intended on using Abbi as a show dog. Despite being incredibly cute, Abbi failed to make the grade. However, Noeleen noticed she had some ability around Lucy – and she now has a much more important role within the Eccles household. 

Abbi has brought a sense of normality to Lucy’s life, according to Noeleen. Lucy can communicate with her dog, and in turn Abbi helps to keep Lucy calm. 

Lucy wears orthotics to help her walk. “The more mobile we keep Lucy, the better. Before Abbi came along, she would walk around and not notice her environment. Abbi helps her to avoid obstacles, encourages her to walk a little further, and Lucy is less prone to meltdowns. Life is much easier.”

Because Abbi has no training, the Eccles can’t bring her into cafes, restaurants or shops, which Noeleen says is unfortunate. She is considering doing therapy dog work with Abbi so she can help other children.  

One of the biggest benefits of having Abbi has been her ability to help Lucy to communicate with other children, says Noeleen.

“Lucy doesn’t have any friends, and can find it hard when she wants to run after children in the playground. But Abbi is Lucy’s friend, and when people come over to look at her, Lucy feels more involved. Abbi has changed Lucy’s life.”

Abbi is nominated in the Irish Kennel Club Golden Paw Hero Dog Awards, which aim to find Ireland’s most courageous and life-changing dogs. The awards take place on Wednesday, 21 May. Check out www.ikc.ie/goldenpaw.


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