July 2016 Speaker
Malcolm Wells. Canine Partners - 13th July 2016
The speaker this month was Malcolm Wells, MBE, from Canine Partners, a charity which trains dogs to assist people with a disability who need help to live more independently. The Speaker Secretary added that Malcolm had endured a four and a half hour journey from Sussex to get to the meeting because of the closure of the M25 and the Dartford crossing. His patience and perseverance were appreciated.
Malcolm started by saying that they did not bring dogs to talks and show audiences how they performed because of the range of equipment needed to demonstrate their versatility. Most venues do not have a range of washing machines and other objects such as cookers, washing lines available! One of the tasks he spoke about was the dog operating a washing machine, then picking up clothing from a washing basket so the dog’s owner could put them on a washing line. This was very useful for wheelchair users who could not bend down but could reach up. He explained how a dog could be trained to walk backwards pulling a washing basket – quite a difficult act for a dog to perform, rather like humans who do not naturally walk backwards. Malcom said dogs can be trained to open doors, pick things up in supermarkets and put them in their owner’s shopping trolley, and some have been trained to go to shops and collect newspapers taking the money with them for the purpose!
Malcolm said at present they have 115 dogs in training and the Organisation has 44 paid staff and 450 unpaid volunteers. They have their own breeding programme and the puppies are placed with carefully chosen volunteer puppy parents. They care for them full-time – under the supervision of Canine Partners’ trainers – taking them to the puppy classes in Writtle, and continuing the training at home. These volunteers teach the puppies basic obedience, social skills and the core tasks of touching, tugging and retrieving which essential before they move on to advanced are training. [In a recent edition of the Chronicle, they were looking for puppy parents locally.] The dogs used are mainly Labradors and Labrador cross Golden Retrievers. After 18 months of training the dogs pick their would be owners. The disabled person is invited down to one of Canine Partners centres, either in West Sussex or Leicestershire. This enables the staff to see whether the dog will bond with the person proposed. This is usually indicated by the dog wagging its tail quite vigorously when the two parties meet. a dog can be taught to respond to signals with a whistle, but the emotional side cannot be taught; hence the need to establish a successful bonding process. At the training centre it is lights out at 10 pm, and the dogs are taught to be respectful to owners’ snoring!
Malcolm explained that National Lottery funding has enabled their Sussex Centre to be fully equipped with heated accommodation, solid oak furniture and accessories and a shower room. He added that our members were welcome to visit the Canine Partners centre at Midhurst, Sussex, but should contact Canine Partners first.
Following the conclusion of Malcolm’s very enthusiastic talk there were a number of questions ranging from how long a trained dog can give serve before being retired and what cost was a dog to a -recipient - to which the answers were nine years and nothing.
Malcolm was given a very warm vote of thanks by members who contributed generously to Canine Partners. It was very evident that Malcolm had managed to get to the hearts of members regarding the work and worth of Canine Partners dogs