Meet Tod - a flat coated retriever who transformed the life of an injured Preston paramedic
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 August 2013
A severe back injury plunged Preston paramedic Sue Park to the depths of despair until a new friend arrived. Emily Rothery reports
Tod causes quite a stir when he goes shopping in his home town of Preston. He dutifully fills the trolley for his owner, Sue Park, and if she needs to shop on another floor he not only accompanies her to the lift, but even presses the buttons.
‘His big nose is an asset,’ laughs Sue. Shopping done, he will then hand over Sue’s purse to pay before returning home where he is always at the ready to help his mistress with everyday tasks.
Tod, a loveable flat coated retriever, is Sue’s assistance dog and, as the saying goes, truly is her best friend.
Sue had spent most of her adult life caring for others as a paramedic and a mother of three but in 2004 a serious back injury and further complications in 2007 left her in constant pain, barely able to walk and reliant on a wheelchair.
Her husband Dave gave up his career as a police officer to look after their young family and Sue recalls feelings of hopelessness and despair as she struggled to come to terms with devastating life changes.
In 2011 life began to change for the better when Sue contacted Canine Partners, a charity that provides specially trained dogs for people with disabilities. She was invited to a taster day in Sussex and was overjoyed when her application for a canine partner was successful. Dave says: ‘It was an emotional day. I could see a change in Sue immediately and that was the start of the process that was to transform her life.’
She was introduced to Tod and began two weeks of intensive training at the charity’s residential centre. ‘I realised that I had met my match and although our personalities are so similar it took us a year to bond properly. Canine Partners matched us well.’
Sue speaks highly of the organisation: ‘I have had fantastic support with advice always at hand from an after-care assistant who continues to visit us regularly.’ She is also full of admiration for the volunteer ‘puppy parents’ who do initial training in their homes.
In the busy family home, Tod’s interaction is mainly with Sue. The commands, the rewards and the cuddles come from her. Tod stays close to her and has been trained to do a variety of tasks, from taking off Sue’s socks and bringing her slippers to passing the remote control, emptying the tumble drier and getting milk from the fridge. He does all of these things with great tenacity and will pick up dropped items no matter how difficult. He even helps Sue to strip the bed and will tidy up after himself by putting his empty food bowl in the sink.
‘Tod has got real character and makes us laugh every day,’ says Sue. ‘He loves to please and relishes his rewards so when he thinks that treats are a little thin on the ground he will knock things off the coffee table, pick them up and look hopefully at me. He also loves attention and despite the message on his working jacket which states ‘Please don’t distract me’, he would love nothing more than for people to make a fuss of him given the chance.’
Tod swamps Sue as he enthusiastically tries to snuggle up to her on the settee and more laughter ensues.
There is a lot of happiness and laughter in the Park household and Sue tells me that the first thing to change when Tod arrived was her emotional state. She began to make visits to the park and play ball games with her children again and, gradually, as her confidence and self esteem grew, began to venture out alone in her wheelchair with Tod by her side enjoying the attention that a canine partner brings and the contact with other people.
Sue, in her characteristic upbeat way, counts her blessings despite the pain and fatigue that come with her condition. ‘I’m very lucky. My family have been fantastic but it has been Tod, my wonderful dog, that has truly given me my life back.’
For more information about care dogs go to www.caninepartners.org.uk. Do you have a remarkable pet who deserves to be featured in the pages of Lancashire Life? If so, drop a line to the editor at email@example.com