The Yorkshire Post Christmas Appeal: Charity ‘bursting at the seams’ and in need of a new home

Support Dogs chief executive Rita Howson at the charity's Sheffield base, which is now unsuitable. Picture: Scott Merrylees
Support Dogs chief executive Rita Howson at the charity's Sheffield base, which is now unsuitable. Picture: Scott Merrylees
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SINCE it began more than 20 years ago, more than 200 people have received a life changing assistance dog from Yorkshire charity Support Dogs.

But with demand increasing each year, the charity has far outgrown its home and is “bursting at the seams”.

Tony Browne-Griffin, pictured with Hetty, has benefitted from Support Dogs.'Photo: John Robertson

Tony Browne-Griffin, pictured with Hetty, has benefitted from Support Dogs.'Photo: John Robertson

Currently, the charity, which is based near Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield, has capacity to fully train about 15 dogs a year - but it receives more than 1,200 requests for help.

The Yorkshire Post is aiming to raise up to £20,000 to train an assistance dog for a Yorkshire family, but despite this much-needed help, Support Dogs has a much bigger funding challenge on its hands - for a more suitable premises.

It wants to have enough space to train around 60 dogs a year to become epilepsy seizure alert dogs, autism assistance dogs, or disability assistance dogs.

A new purpose-built centre would cost in the region of £1m, but another short-term measure could see them expand into a neighbouring property for around £20,000 a year.

“This extra space will allow some increase in our operations, and I guess will act as stepping stone as we work towards a larger capital appeal,” said Support Dogs chief executive Rita Howson.

“An ideal building would have adapted facilities for all our programmes – disability, epilepsy and autism. It would also have accommodation for our clients to stay in when they come from all parts of the country to Yorkshire for training.”

People who receive a dog from Support Dogs have to stay in Sheffield for up to three weeks during their initial training, and further stays are required for additional training during the dogs’ eight-year career as a support dog.

The ideal property would also have plenty of outdoor space, something that is not available at the charity’s current home.

Ms Howson said: “Our base in a busy business estate near Meadowhall is great in many ways, with lots of opportunities for training our dogs in busy shopping centres, crossing the road and using all forms of public access.

“However, it lacks a nearby green space for our dogs to run and relax in. Currently we have to drive out to use other parks in the city. An ideal premises would have the best of both worlds.”

Someone who has experienced the benefits of Support Dogs first hand is Tony Brown-Griffin.

Ms Brown-Griffin, who has been a trustee of the charity for around eight years, is registered blind and has intractable epilepsy, which means her seizures are not able to be controlled with medication.

In 2011, she received Hetty, the first dog in the UK to be trained as both a seizure alert dog and a guide dog. She was trained in a partnership between Support Dogs and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

In addition to her guiding duties, Hetty can give Ms Brown-Griffin an extremely accurate, 42 minute warning prior to a major seizure, allowing her to get to a place of safety.

Ms Brown-Griffin, of Kent, said: “Hetty is fundamental to my life. Everything I do is because of her. Without her I’d be stuck.”

She added: “I used to have epilepsy with a little bit of life, now have a life with a little bit of epilepsy.”

How to help

Bidding closes at 5pm on Friday in the final set of lots in this year’s Christmas appeal auction - but there are other ways to donate to the appeal.

Visit www.supportdogs.org.uk/donate or Text DOGY15 £5 to 70070 to donate £5. Send cheques to Support Dogs, 21 Jessops Riverside, Brightside Lane, Sheffield, S9 2RX. Please make it clear it is for the Yorkshire Post appeal.

To bid on a prize in this year’s Christmas appeal auction, click here.