She lives a happy life full of all the love, long walks and healthy snacks a dog could dream of.
But Helena is no ordinary dog – she is the mother of some of the UK’s most amazing assistance dogs and has helped them take their first tiny pawsteps towards transforming the lives of physically disabled people.
Helena lives with Jean King, one of assistance dog charity Canine Partners’ special breeding scheme volunteers known as brood bitch holders.
The Labrador cross Golden retriever moved in with Jean in 2013, soon after the charity’s breeding scheme was first launched. Jean had already been supporting the charity as a puppy parent, a volunteer that looks after puppies during their first year, as they begin learning how to help with everyday tasks. The dogs will go on to learn how to open doors, press buttons, undress a person and even call for help in an emergency. Now as the charity expands its breeding programme, Jean is urging more people to sign up and look after a beautiful dog like Helena.
Jean’s role involves providing a loving home for the special pooch and ensuring she is as fit and healthy as possible so that any puppies she has in the future have the best start in life. The mum-of-two who supports Canine Partners alongside her part-time job said, “I had had litters with my own dogs and when I retired from full-time work I thought that was something I would love to do for a charity like Canine Partners where the puppies go on to do change lives as assistance dogs.
“I told Canine Partners I was interested in volunteering with the breeding scheme when I first joined, then when it was launched I reminded them.
“Months passed and then suddenly I got a phone call saying they had a dog for me and that she would arrive the following week.
“She’s a really fun bouncy dog and she loves to run when we are on a walk but she is really calm at home.”
When she is ready to breed, Helena will be taken to be mated with a dog carefully selected by Canine Partners.
Helena, now five, has already had two litters and the next time she is mated may be the last before she retires and continues to live as Jean’s much-loved pet.
“I take extra special care of her until she comes into season. After mating, her food and exercise routines are unchanged until the pregnancy is confirmed when we start feeding her more,” said Jean, 66, from Uley near Stroud, Gloucestershire.
“Then, about a week before the puppies are due, we set up a whelping area for her to have the puppies and she sleeps there until they arrive. I also start taking her temperature every day, watching for a drop which indicates the puppies are on their way.”
Jean even delivered most of Helena’s 13 pups – three of which are already supporting people with physical disabilities while others are currently training for their special jobs. Once the puppies have been born Jean monitors their health and begins getting them used to being touched and held. Later, she also begins introducing them to different people, sounds and household objects to ensure they are happy and confident in most situations.
Then at about seven or eight weeks old, they go to one of Canine Partners’ puppy parents who continues to train them through lots of games throughout their first year. Canine Partners’ breeding assistant Sian Evans is a constant support to Jean and keeps an eye on Helena all year round. She works closely with Jean providing advice and support and monitoring both Helena and the puppies until they leave.
Jean added, “It’s very different from breeding your own dog as it feels such a huge responsibility. The puppies are so valuable to both the charity and prospective partners so you want to make sure that the when the puppies leave they are all healthy and well socialised.
“Unlike when you say goodbye to your own litters you get updates on how they are all doing and it’s reassuring to know that Canine Partners will always make sure that these puppies are healthy, well looked after and that they go to a good home.
“If you have any doubts about anything, Sian is just a text or a phone call away, even out of office hours, and will make any decisions that need making.
“You’re never on your own, you have the whole Canine Partners family behind you and, you’re provided with all the equipment and all the costs are covered.”
Now Jean is calling for more people to help bring the next generation of assistance dogs into the world.
She said, “Bringing puppies into the world is always a great experience but it’s even better knowing that they’re going to provide independence to a disabled person.
“I certainly recommend caring for one of Canine Partners’ breeding dogs although I accept it’s not going to right be for everybody. Having puppies in your home is disruptive but it’s only for a short amount of time. If you’re happy to put that work in for a few weeks, it’s hugely rewarding.
“You get a sense of a job well done when the puppies leave you and are settled with puppy parents across the country. And this is reinforced later when you hear they are home with a partner and changing someone’s life for the better.”
Helena was selected for the breeding programme while she was in the early stages of training with a Canine Partners puppy parent. Brood bitch holders are given full support and equipment, food and vet bills are covered by the charity.
For more information about volunteering as a brood bitch holder and having an amazing dog like Helena, call Sian Evan on 01530 225943 email [email protected] or visit caninepartners.org.uk/broodbitchholder.