My name is Walter, and together with Carol, we make a great team.
I started off living with a puppy raiser for about 6 months. There, I learnt to do the usual doggy commands - sit, come, stay - as well as being house trained. Then I went to live at SpringHill prison, where I had a 24 hour devoted trainer (inmate). Between me and the MADT trainers, we taught him patience, compassion, empathy, and dog training skills. In return, he taught me the more specialised commands which would enable me to help Carol - tug, in, nudge, push and brace, to name a few.
Just before my 2nd birthday, I was partnered with Carol. We spent two weeks living at a camp, so that we could bond, and learn how we could help each other. Then it was time to work!
I sleep soundly through the night, but as soon as Carol (or her husband, Lee) gets out of bed, I’m ready for breakfast. I can tug the rope on the slider door to get outside for my foodbowl. On command, I will pick up the jug and carry it to the kitchen so that someone can refill my water bowl. Once I have been out the back door to ‘use’ the grass, I can nudge the door shut when I come in. I have also learnt to hold my paws one by one for Carol to wipe them if it’s muddy outside.
After that, I wait until Carol calls me. Usually, it will be to come and pick up something she has dropped; keys, phone, a piece of paper. Then I put on my jacket, and it's time to go to work. Carol works in a special school, as the IT support guru. I tend to just go under her desk, and sleep until about 11:30 or 12 o'clock. I follow Carol everywhere, going to meetings, classrooms and even the toilet. During the day at school, I will pick up more things that Carol drops, put rubbish in the bin, and open the heavy fire doors so that Carol and her wheelchair can get through. As with all mobility dogs, I am very placid, and I am very well behaved if I go into a classroom with the children.
Another very important thing I do for Carol is to alert someone for help. If Carol needs assistance, for example having difficulty transferring in the bathroom, I respond to the command 'speak'. This means that I will give one single bark. The secretaries and other school staff understand that this means Carol needs some help. As I am not supposed to bark anyway, a single bark is very distinctive. Hopefully, it is distinctive enough that Carol could get help in a public bathroom, for instance, while out shopping. Thankfully, we haven't had to test that out yet!
Once we are home again, I can help out around the house. I have learnt to get clothes from the bottom of the laundry basket (that Carol can't reach) and put them in the top loading washing machine. I can also put things in and out of the tumble dryer. Now that Carol has tied some rope onto the laundry basket, I pull it into the living room so that she can sort and fold the clothes. I'm very good at fetching things which are out of Carol's reach - the tv remote control, her slippers or a cushion for her head. I also open and close drawers, cupboards and doors that have a rope on them.
I also help in more subtle ways - when out shopping, members of the public seem that little bit friendlier, the little bit more helpful. Carol has noticed that when I am with her, instead of staring, people will hold doors open, reach items from the top shelf in the supermarket, or just give a smile. It makes going out and being independent that much more enjoyable.
My favourite time is grocery shopping day. It's great fun to trot in and out, bringing boxes of cereal, loaves of bread, even heavy bottles of shampoo, or bags of carrots. I know to take it to the kitchen, and then I’m back out, ready to collect the next thing. I'm very gentle with it all, only occasionally squashing the bread a little!
Weekends are fun - I go to karate on a Saturday morning - Carol teaches a class. Sometimes I get excited when everyone is running, and I want to join in, but Carol keeps me on my lead, and I have my jacket on, so I behave. I’m also a great training tool for the younger students. Carol asks them to shout louder and louder, telling them to wake me up. I do a great job, and don’t even flicker my eyelids. I’m also good at getting rid of nerves when students enter their first tournament - I’m there watching from underneath the admin table while Carol takes her turn at judging.
At the end of the day, I help Carol to get undressed. I tug her jacket sleeves and can pull off her shoes, socks and even her pants. I haven't yet nipped her feet, though maybe one or two socks have small holes near the toes - sorry!
Then it’s time to sleep. Usually I am exhausted by about 8 pm, but I don’t mind if Carol goes out in the evening - I can sleep anywhere. I sleep through choir rehearsal on a Tuesday evening. (I even have my own bowtie to wear to match the men in the choir when they put in a performance.) Then we do it all again the next day - I love my work.
NB Carol and I were meant to be a team - I had to be matched with her. Carol’s paternal grandfather was called Walter, and right up until the day he passed away, he had ginger/blonde hair exactly the same colour as my coat. Grandad Walter and I even share the same birthday (if you take UK/NZ time zones into account!!) I bring Carol comfort, security and independence in a way that only a family member could.