Tuesday 20 March 2018

Dogs for Disabled marking 10 years of shining light into dozens of lives

More than 130 people in Ireland have their lives changed due to Cork charity

Dogs for the Disabled founder Jennifer Dowler with two of the puppies the charity is in the process of training
Dogs for the Disabled founder Jennifer Dowler with two of the puppies the charity is in the process of training
Just one example of how one of the dogs trained by the charity can help

Bill Browne

By any measure the past 15-months have been quite extraordinary for Dripsey’s Jennifer Dowler, the founder of the life-changing charity Dogs for the Disabled.

In January 2016 Jennifer was unveiled as the Blarney Person of the Month, with the unassuming mother of three going on to win the prestigious title of Cork Person of the Month for April for her ground-breaking work.

This month Jennifer and Dogs for the Disabled have celebrated yet another significant milestone, with the arrival of six-week old golden retriever Katie, the 200th puppy born into the charity.

By a happy coincidence the arrival of Katie, and her as yet unnamed seven brothers and sisters, also happened to mark the 10th anniversary of the charity that has brought immeasurable joy into the lives of so many people over the past decade.

The only charity of its kind in Europe, Dogs for the Disabled’s mission is to provide specially trained assistance dogs to help people with physical disabilities undertake the everyday tasks that most of us take for granted.

Like most of the puppies, Katie started her life in The Dochas Centre at Mountjoy Prison, where they are nurtured by the female inmates. After eight-weeks the dogs are homed with families in communities across the country for a further 18-months.

In another unique initiative, the dogs are then relocated to Shelton Abbey open prison, where they are trained by young inmates under the supervision of charity trainers. This gives the inmates an opportunity to learn valuable life skills and a chance to give back to society. Perhaps just as importantly it also offers the charity a cost-effective way of training their dogs.

This is vitally important as it costs in the region of €15,000 to train each of the dogs and as the charity receives no statutory support, it relies totally on the generosity of sponsorship, fundraising and donations for funding. Once their training has been completed the dogs are housed at no cost to their recipients.

Through this tried and trusted process Jennifer and her dedicated team, have been able to partner some 135 dogs since 2007, with more than 80% of the charity’s clients children aged between six and 12 living with severe disabilities that affect their independence and social interaction.

Jennifer, who has more than two-decades of experience in training dogs for people with disabilities, said the transformation in the lives of clients was remarkable.

“Disability can lead to isolation, loss of confidence and feelings of low esteem. Not only that, but for may people living with disability being unable to do even the simplest of tasks, like picking up the post, can leave then feeling depressed and dependent,” she said.

“Dogs for the Disabled train dogs to assist with practical, everyday tasks to help a person with a disability to live life to the full, breaking down barriers to the outside world and helping to improve confidence and stress levels.”

This works both ways, as each dog relies on their partner to provide for their needs including exercise, feeding, care and love.

“As a result, this encourages them to become more active and outgoing in their community by taking their assistance dogs for walks and engaging with the public,” said Jennifer.

“This in turn increases confidence and encourages our clients to take up new activities. In the case of older people this can be returning to work or further education,” she added.