Chris Beddoes remembers the day his world turned upside down. On August 5, 2015, the then 33-year-old collapsed while working as a senior healthcare assistant within the medical assessment department at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital – a job he’d had for 16 years.
“I was making up an A&E trolley and reaching over to do the far corner and collapsed before waking up on the trolley in terrific pain,” said Chris. The dad-of-two, now 41, was left with chronic back pain, and was eventually diagnosed with muscular-skeletal disease. The devastating condition is inoperable and is causing his spine to crumble away. All medics can do is prescribe painkillers.
Chris began using a wheelchair in 2016 and his home became a virtual prison, as he couldn’t go anywhere on his own. Even getting dressed was a struggle, and he couldn’t do a lot without the help of his wife or his teenage sons. But since having his pet dog Charlie trained by national charity Support Dogs, his outlook has greatly improved.
“From being a fully independent, mobile, active person to not being able to work or go out, was quite a shock”
Now Charlie, a four-year-old black Labrador which Chris has nicknamed ‘Charlie Chaplin’, is helping Chris back to independence. Before Charlie, Chris relied on his wife Clare and sons Jack, 17, and 16-year-old Daniel to do everyday tasks. But Clare has her own health issues, including autism, anxiety, agoraphobia and curvature of the spine, which made it extremely difficult for Chris to rely on his wife.
“I used to go out in the wheelchair but had to have someone with me and I couldn’t dress myself,” said Chris, who lives in Kidderminster. “It used to be quite frustrating, because I like to go out and do things and be occupied. When the lads were at school, it was more difficult to do. From being a fully independent, mobile, active person to not being able to work or go out, was quite a shock.”
But that’s where Charlie comes in.
The pooch helps Chris with dressing and undressing, picks dropped items up, lifts Chris’ legs up on to his bed, fetches the post, opens and closes doors and raises the alarm if Chris gets into difficulty. Charlie even pays for things with Chris’ debit card, and gets tins, jars and bottles from supermarket shelves.
“Now I go out as much as I can, really,” said Chris. “He helps me keep independent. He even goes to church with me.”
Thanks to Charlie, and Chris’ mobility car, he can do activities with his sons, as well as take Charlie for a walk on his own. Chris had looked into getting an assistance dog and he discovered that Support Dogs can train family pets. The Beddoes bought Charlie when he was just two months old and he had his first assessment with the charity seven months later.
Due to delays during the pandemic, Charlie underwent his six-week training in May 2022, followed by the family having two weeks of training. Charlie recently graduated from the course, which Chris says is “just marvellous”.
“It’s life-changing, really – being able to go out and do stuff and get that independence back”
Asked whether he could imagine life without Charlie, Chris said, “Definitely not. He’s my left arm, my right arm, my left leg, my right leg and everything in between. He helps me with absolutely everything.
“I think Support Dogs are invaluable, especially the way they train up their own dogs, as well as pet dogs”, said Chris. “I really don’t know how they do it all – and it’s all voluntary and all thanks to people giving donations to enable them to do all this exceptional work.
“It’s life-changing, really – being able to go out and do stuff and get that independence back. They have been really supportive throughout the whole process. There is no miracle drug for my condition, it’s just going to get worse, making what Charlie does even more vital. Support Dogs are absolute life-savers.”
To find out more about Support Dogs, please visit www.supportdogs.org.uk