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Fostering for Service Dogs UK

This last year has been a very strange one for everyone in so many ways, and I’m sure most people are really looking forward to life getting back to something like normal as soon as possible. I certainly can’t wait to be able to have friends round, go to the pub and go on holiday with my family at last. But there is one thing about 2021 that I absolutely would not change for anything, and that has been fostering a dog for SDUK. We have had the pleasure of sharing our home with Patch, a gorgeous, super-friendly and very funny boy who has been with us for several months between last October and April.

I had not been looking to foster a dog at the end of last summer, but after 6 months of lockdown and teaching lessons online I really needed something to do which did not involve computers, sitting down or paperwork. When the advert for new foster families for SDUK appeared on Facebook in September I thought that this could be the perfect thing for me to do: I am now only teaching part-time, my husband is working 2 days a week for the RNR after 37 years in the RN, and our youngest daughter was off to university leaving us with an empty house for the first time in 26 years. I read up a little about the charity, and realised that fostering would be the perfect combination of spending more time with dogs, learning some new skills and sharing our home with a rescue dog while he learned to adapt to his new role as a trainee support dog.

Patch is 3 years old, lab cross who loves racing round the garden and chasing tennis balls all day, and crashing out on his back on the sofa all evening. He has fitted in so well with our two existing dogs: Tarka (a 12 year old springer) and Rio (an 11 year old rescue lab), and has happily accepted his place at the bottom of the family team led by our elderly and quite bossy cat Sooty. Patch made himself at home as soon as he set foot in the house, coming up to us for cuddles and kisses (he loves sharing close snuggles and giving big wet kisses to anyone who gets close enough!), and choosing his favourite places to snooze (in front of the Aga with Rio, or on the sofa with us). He also discovered a love of life on board our canal boat as we took him for a couple of trips along the Kennet & Avon for a few days each time. He really enjoyed life afloat, was friendly and polite to all the dogs and boaters that we met, and had several good new walks as well as visiting pub gardens as lockdown eased. Patch is not a keen swimmer, and after a couple of accidental dips decided that the water was best left to ducks and spaniels: he preferred to stay on deck and watch the world go by.

Throughout the few months Patch was with us we had several weeks of attending 2-hour training sessions on Wednesdays and Saturdays, either in the hall hired for the purpose or out and about in various towns around Somerset when lockdown permitted. I got to know the trainers and other fosters quite well during this process and they were able to share some excellent tips on dog handling and training techniques, especially when Patch was finding it hard to concentrate on me in a busy environment. We used a combination of toys and rewards to get his attention, and having a squeaky ball and clicker certainly made life a bit easier when he was ignoring treats. Nigel’s games (the Somerset Hub Manager) with pieces of sausage were the best, and Patch certainly did exactly what he was told if he thought he was going to be able to eat sausages for doing well!

During all this time we were really well supported at every stage by everyone at SDUK, especially Nigel, Charlotte, the SDUK Administrator, and Jane, the SDUK Foster Liaison. We had online training, information to read about complex PTSD and plenty of opportunities to ask questions. All Patch’s needs were provided for by the charity, including all his food, dietary supplements and veterinary needs. All the equipment he needed arrived just before he did, and it was like Christmas here for a few days as we received parcel after parcel from Amazon with beds, bowls, toys and treats for our new boy. Anytime we had a query or needed more information there was someone quickly available at the end of the phone or to answer an email, and the whole SDUK team could not have been more supportive of us as a new foster family. One particularly helpful thing was having a foster mentor, Jane, who has kept in regular touch with us at every stage and helped us manage our expectations during an unpredictable year, as well as sharing our enjoyment of having Patch live with us for several months. The SDUK team as a whole has been absolutely amazing and I am very glad to have made some new friends as well as brushed up my dog handling skills.

When Patch met his potential veteran, we had a few training sessions together when the veteran gradually took more and more control of the training while I gradually had less to do. Eventually a sleepover was arranged for Patch to go to his new home, and once all had gone well there he was allowed to go to his new forever home. Obviously, it was very hard to say goodbye, and I have to admit to having a few tears when I handed Patch over the final time, but I already knew that he was going to transform a life and allow someone to have the freedom and independence they needed, and I felt so proud seeing him working with his new veteran. We all love hearing about how Patch is getting on in his new role, and I’m looking forward to hearing that he has earned his coveted red jacket as a trainee support dog. Now it’s just a matter of time before a message appears on my phone saying “What about this one?” and the whole process starts again with our next foster pup. I can’t wait!

Georgie Crispin, May 2021

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