This cute little puppy being looked after by a vicar and her ex-paramedic husband is not your average pooch: one day, she will be someone’s lifeline as a Support Dog.
Six-month-old Ruby the Red Fox Labrador is in the very early stages of being trained by the national Support Dogs charity. The cause provides and trains dogs to help autistic children, and adults with epilepsy or a physical disability to live safer, more independent lives.
Steve and Kim Williams, of Wakefield, are volunteer puppy socialisers with the charity and have been looking after Ruby since she was 11 weeks old. Puppy socialisers play a vital role in a puppy’s early years, providing a loving home, socialisation and some basic training.
It costs nothing to be a puppy socialiser
Steve, 70 and Kim, 61, heard about Support Dogs after puppy socialisers gave a talk to a local Trefoil Guild at the church where Mel is a vicar and Steve is a caretaker.
Kim said, “I think the main over-riding reason we wanted to get involved was the end result – the autism, the epilepsy, the disability; that a dog can be part of that process, part of that journey.
“Having had dogs and having thought about getting another dog, this was a really good chance at having a dog again, but for a different reason – not as a pet but for her to go on and change someone’s life.”
The couple, who have five sons and 12 grandchildren, found out more and registered their interest in becoming puppy socialisers. After providing holiday cover for a Support Dog for two nights, they received a call to let them know Ruby was available. They “fell in love with her” the moment they met. Having now had Ruby for almost three months, Kim describes her as “lively, very friendly and very quick to learn”.
Puppy socialisers attend Support Dogs’ centre in Sheffield once a week for 12 weeks and also do practical training in public settings. Support Dogs puppy co-ordinators also visit socialisers’ homes fortnightly.
It costs nothing to be a puppy socialiser – Support Dogs supplies dog crates, leads, toys and food and covers costs such as vet’s bills and insurance. Support is also available 24/7 and there is a community of fellow puppy socialisers ready to help. Holiday cover is also provided by other volunteers.
To find out more, please visit www.supportdogs.org.uk
Steve said the couple were benefitting by getting out for dog walks, while also watching Ruby grow and progress. He added, “We put the Support Dogs bandana on her and go into shops and people are interested. We tell them she’s training.”
Kim said, “The biggest question we get from people is ‘how will you give her up?’ We have come into this knowing this is not our pet. I will be sad, I will miss her, but I know we will always be kept informed of her progress, and we have to go back to the reason we have got her in the first place – that is the end result, so we hold on to that. We are a small cog in a wheel.”
Kim said anyone considering becoming a puppy socialiser should “think about it and do it – no question”, while Steve said a lot of spare time is needed. To find out more, please visit www.supportdogs.org.uk