Dogs are amazing aren't they? I mean - we all know our own dogs are totally pawsome, but it's incredible to think what amazing work some dogs do to help their humans.
My sister's new puppy, Fred, will eventually become an assistance dog for my niece, who is autistic and suffers with anxiety. Although he's only a baby right now, he's already started training and is being introduced to new experiences to get him used to all the different places and things he'll meet in the world once he's fully trained.
So, between Christmas and New Year, we went out for a family meal to a local restaurant, and Fred came with us so that he could practise his settle while we ate.
One of the challenges of having an assistance dog is having access to public places and services. Although it's a legal right granted under the Equality Act, it can often be made more challenging by a lack of understanding or knowledge by businesses and individuals.
According to research carried out by Guide Dogs, 75% of assistance dog owners they surveyed had been refused access to a restaurant, shop or taxi because of their dog.
This is almost always illegal, and for this to be the experience for what is, probably, the most well-known assistance dog charity, suggests that the situation could be even worse for charities and disabilities that are less widely recognised.
On the whole, our experience at the restaurant was pretty positive.
They did try to direct us to the noisy, dog-friendly section of the restaurant, despite the fact that my sister had asked for the quiet area (no dogs), and explained that Fred was an autism assistance dog when she booked. It was easily resolved by speaking to the staff on arrival, but it just shows how right of access for assistance dogs isn't always understood or recognised.
For my niece, sitting in the quiet area that she is familiar with, with Fred at her side, can be the difference between her enjoying a family meal with us or becoming overwhelmed by sensory stimulation and being unable to cope. As his training progresses, he'll be able to support her in so many ways to help her access the world and enhance her emotional well-being.
My niece is lucky that her Mum is an awesome dog trainer and Fred is being owner-trained as he grows up within the family setting. But not everyone has the skills to be able to owner-train their dog in this way - and that's why a charity like Dogs for Autism is so important.
Dogs for Autism train and provide assistance dogs, at no charge, to autistic individuals of any age, enabling them to more easily access the world around them and have a positive impact on the lives of those individuals and their families. For obvious reasons, it's a cause that is very close to my heart, and I'm thrilled that this charity was voted by YOU as my charity of the year for 2022.
10% of all sales from my Limited Edition Sessions will be donated to Dogs for Autism this year, helping to fund this important work to support autistic individuals and their canine partners.
If you'd like to find out more, click here to read about my Limited Edition Sessions, and book your photo shoot appointment!