Cotswolds: Neurodivergent dog owners train own assistance dogs

Image caption, Milo was one of three assistance dogs in training to visit Cotswold Wildlife Park

  • Author, Dan Freeman
  • Role, BBC South

Neurodivergent dog owners have spoken about the “life-changing” impact of being able to train their own pets.

Infinity Dogs CIC is a non-profit organisation helping people with complex disabilities to train their own assistance dogs.

As part of their training, dogs are taken to Cotswold Wildlife Park to learn how to interact with multiple species and scenarios.

Founder of the charity, Ruby Welsford, has autism and cerebral palsy and said her dogs were “the keys to living my best life”.

Image caption, From left to right: Ella with trainee dog Malarky, Ruby with Milo and Eva with Katie

She said being able to give that feeling to other people is “career gold”.

Ms Welsford set up the organisation after covid, as she was receiving multiple enquiries about training assistance dogs.

She explained: “Under the Equality Act 2010, we are allowed to train our own assistance dog and I realised there was a huge need for it.”

She’s been working with Eva, who has anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as she trains her dog Katie.

Eva said: “We did some scent training, so Katie does a scent alert for me when I start to get stressed she can sense a raise in my cortisol levels.

“The touch of her next to me helps me to not feel lost. It’s not easy doing the training, but the alternative is being in a constant state of panic and anxiety.”

Image caption, Ruby, right, has been helping to train Eva’s dog Katie, left, so that she can sense a change in Eva’s cortisol levels

Ella has been training her 11-month-old dog Malarkey, who will be joining her at university in September.

She has postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS) which means her heart rate increases quickly after getting up from sitting or lying down.

Ella said: “I wouldn’t be able to live independently if I didn’t have Malarkey. The fact I can actually train a dog to mean I can be somewhat functional in society is absolutely incredible.”

Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is already dog friendly, hosts Infinity Dogs for training sessions.

Ms Welsford said: “The park is brilliant, it’s a hugely distracting environment, but the dogs might have to go for a day out so I’m hoping to instil some confidence in the handlers.”

Reggie Hayworth, Cotswolds Wildlife Park managing director, added: “It’s absolutely transformative, because of the nature of their conditions, these people can be socially isolated – so to have a dog is an incredible thing.”

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