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A Veteran’s Story: Lee & Rio

When I first met Rio, he was a cheeky, thieving and potentially stubborn dog. However, he was clearly very intelligent and had a lot of love to give. Likewise, he responded well to love, care and understanding.

In the three months since I brought him home, Rio has transformed from a rebellious lunatic into a much calmer, loving, attentive dog that is keen to please yet retains his cheeky and playful character.

We have bonded really well and are inseparable. This is also the case with my partner Claire and my two daughters of four and nine years old, with whom he has an amazing relationship. He is able to tailor his responses and levels of arousal according to the person he is interacting with and the environment he is in.

Rio is already making a massive difference in my life. Rio has given me back some semblance of routine, a focus. SDUK and the training programme have given me a sense of purpose and boosted my confidence from a place of “I’m not good enough” or “I will never succeed at anything” to “I am more than enough” and “If I apply myself, I can do anything”.

Rio is literally a lifesaver.

I hadn’t really exercised properly for a long time. What was the point? I was undesirable anyway, had nothing to work towards, would be ridiculed and besides that would involve going out into the big bad world. Safer to stay inside and self-medicate with alcohol, maybe watch some successful people on YouTube and convince myself I would be like them if only life would give me a chance.

Well, now I have a reason to get up and go out. Me and my best mate, off on our adventures. It often seems like we’ve just been round the block whereas we’ve actually been out for hours, covering considerable distance over various terrain with Rio often darting off to scout ahead or run full tilt around me before hurtling back to check in.

I have just ticked off 54 alcohol free days, with a 49-day dry streak. On each occasion I’ve had a drink, it’s been one or two bottles of beer. Rio and SDUK have been a big part of this achievement.

Rio has already saved my life in other ways. I was in one of my darkest and loneliest mental spaces for a long time recently. I didn’t need to say anything to him, I didn’t need to issue any commands or offer any treats. He sat in front of me, put his huge paw on my shoulder and licked my chin before settling down with his head on my thigh. It would be OK. I was neither a failure nor alone. And  besides, I’d promised him I wouldn’t let him down and that after his 8 previous homes between the ages of 4 months and 11 months when I first met him, I would take care of him forever. His big
brown eyes and tilt of the eyebrows said that he would do the same for me.

One of my main reasons for applying to be on the programme was my difficulties in crowded places, shops, cafes etc. Just leaving the house and walking to the local shop had turned into a paranoid nightmare. Rio has already been a huge help in this area. With my best friend keeping an eye out for me, reassuring me and keeping me company life is so much better already. Even just having his needs to focus on, needing to anticipate things that might be an issue for him distracts from the potential for the next person coming in the door being a knife wielding, suicide vest wearing terrorist and has made things like visiting cafes easier. We are finally making use of our National Trust membership!

The people of SDUK are great too of course! Professional, friendly, helpful, understanding and knowledgeable across every level. The trainers have found my sweet spot between bean bag ‘workshops’ and tough ‘Instructor’ to really get the best out of me and therefore get the best out of Rio.

Rio and I (my other half calls us Team Lee-Ri) have just been awarded our red jacket after passing our interim assessment. I’m looking forward to our future together, being able to take him shopping with me and visiting all sorts of places together as we work towards our accreditation.

Rio and I have lots in common, and not just our personalities. We both have a chequered past and both of us have a few issues. However, neither of us is going to give up on the other one.

He’s got my back, I’ve got his – and SDUK have both of ours.

Since writing this Lee and Rio have excelled in training and are approaching full accreditation – we are extremely proud of this team!

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