Your wish is my 100 commands


As dog owners know, you are lucky if your pooch can be persuaded to collect your slippers without chewing them to pieces.

But golden labrador Byron performs dozens of such tasks faultlessly for his owner every day.

He helps ‘best friend’ Kate Cross peg out her washing, make her bed, go shopping and even take money out of the cash machine.

The trained hound is a life-line for Kate, who suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome. The rare condition means the retired teacher’s joints are so weak that she can dislocate her shoulder from just opening a door.

But Byron is never far from her side – and has learned to do all the things Kate struggles to.

The 49-year-old from Hinckley, Leicestershire, who received the star pet in 2007, said: ‘I can’t imagine my life without Byron – he really is my best friend.

‘He’s given me my life back – I can live independently and not have to rely on my husband or other people doing everything for me because Byron is always there.

‘He never gets fed up with helping me – it’s all a big game to him, but I’d be lost without him.’

Byron was trained by Sussex-based charity Canine Partners – who have matched hundreds of assistance dogs to people who really need their help.

After months of intensive training with the charity’s volunteer Puppy Parents, the young dogs are carefully matched with new companions, before training continues in their new homes.

Byron helps Kate from the moment she gets up in the morning – with no task too big or small for the seven-year-old.

The faithful hound helps Kate into her wheelchair every morning, acting as a support for her as she steps out of bed into the chair.

As she makes a morning coffee, Byron will open the fridge door himself, before fetching Kate a carton of milk.

And the clever canine even retrieves his own breakfast bowl from the cupboard – before jumping up and placing his empty bowl in the washing up bowl.

He accompanies Kate to the supermarket – reaching down to low shelves to pick up any item Kate has on her shopping list.

And to the envy of dog owners everywhere, Byron can even open the door to let himself out to the toilet.

Kate added: ‘Byron knows more than 100 different commands, and can do just about anything I ask him too.

‘In the supermarket, I stop my chair near to the item I want, and he follows my eyeline and takes the item off the shelf.

‘It’s such a help to me, as small things like bending down and grasping things are really difficult for me.

‘Byron even unloads my shopping onto the conveyor belt at the till and hands my purse over to the checkout assistants.

‘He can do such amazing things – he takes my bank card and reaches up to put it into a cash machine, and takes the cash when it comes out, and passes it to me – all I have to do is put in my pin number.

‘He can reach out and press pedestrian crossing buttons with his nose, and picks up anything I drop on the ground. Before we go to bed on cold nights, he even fetches my hot water bottle, and when I’ve filled it, he trots upstairs with it, and puts it on my side of the bed, under the covers.

‘My condition means my circulation is very weak, so a nice warm bed is just what I need.’

Kate has suffered with Ehlers Danlos syndrome – an illness which makes her bones and skin progressively weaker – since she was a child.

Her condition dashed her hopes of becoming a professional musician – and eventually, she was dislocating joints several times a day, and took to using a wheelchair.

After being forced to take early retirement from her job as a primary school teacher, she grew so anxious about going outside that she was virtually housebound – after she was targeted by yobs after venturing outside in her wheelchair.

Kate said: ‘When I first got Byron, I hadn’t left the house by myself for almost 18 months. I felt useless, and I hated going outside – people stared and didn’t know how to speak to me.

‘Once, I was in my wheelchair going through the park, when a gang of teenage boys playing football decided to use my chair for target practice. I was so upset, I couldn’t imagine going out again. I became afraid of the world.

‘I had always loved dogs, and on a rare trip out to Crufts, my husband Stuart and I came across a stand for Canine Partners – a charity that provides assistance dogs to people who need help.

‘They told me I was exactly the kind of person they could help – and within a few months, I had been paired up with Byron.

‘We instantly clicked, and went through an intensive training camp together to teach him all the things he’d need to be able to do. I just couldn’t imagine my life without him now.

‘If I have a fall, Byron is trained to fetch the phone, and a pillow and blanket, so I can get help.

‘It’s given my husband peace of mind too, as he knows I’m never alone.

‘It’s important to let him have time to just be a dog though too – and he loves nothing more than running around in the park getting covered in mud.’

As well as helping hundreds of people affected by debilitating conditions, Canine Partners has also started to work with military charity Help for Heroes – to provide dogs for ex-soldiers who have been injured in service.

A spokesperson for the charity said: ‘We are thrilled with how successful the partnership between Kate and Byron is – their relationship exemplifies exactly what our work is all about.

‘More than 1.2 million people in the UK use a wheelchair, and a significant number of those would benefit from a canine partner. We tailor train our dogs to each applicant’s individual needs, and try to help as many people as we can.

‘These life transforming dogs also provide practical, psychological and social benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as increased motivation and self-esteem. A canine partner also brings companionship, a sense of security and increases social interaction.’


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