'˜Hidden treasure' Support Dogs spreads the word

IT has provided more than 200 assistance dogs to people with disabilities, epilepsy and autism over the last 24 years, but remains a 'hidden treasure' in Yorkshire's charity sector.

The Yorkshire Post's Christmas charity for 2015, Support Dogs, held a showcase reception at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Chief Executive Rita Howson and Trainer Sophie Millar with Mitch. Picture Scott Merrylees

Today civic dignitaries and business people from across the country gathered at Sheffield’s Crucible theatre at an event to raise the profile of Support Dogs - the charity supported by Yorkshire Post readers in our Christmas auction in 2015.

Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the charity, which is based close to the city’s Meadowhall shopping centre, and it will soon launch its biggest fundraising appeal yet, to pay for a new base to enable it to train even more dogs each year.

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Support Dogs chief executive Rita Howson said: “We want to spread the word about the amazing work we do.

Support dog Mitch. Picture Scott Merrylees

“We have such a high demand for dogs, it’s heartbreaking, but we simply cannot take any more people or paws in there.”

Among those telling their story at the event were Kirsty McGowan. In 2013, along with her son Charlie, now 12, she was matched with autism assistance dogs Bailey. Before getting Bailey, Charlie struggled to get out of the house due the sensory processing disorder associated with his autism, which made the world “a very scary place”.

Ms McGowen, of Leeds, said: “Having Bailey has completely changed our lives. On the first day of having him we were able to walk around the block near our house for the first time in ten years.”

Support dog Mitch. Picture Scott Merrylees