WHEN Oreo was found, he was starving, mistreated and petrified - abandoned tied to a lamp post in Barnsley.
But despite having the toughest start to his own life, this brave dog is set to change the life of someone with a disability, after his potential was recognised by staff at Support Dogs.
Unusually for an assistance dog charity, Support Dogs does not have a breeding programme. Instead, one of the ways they find the dogs to transform into lifesavers is by having close connections with rescue centres and dog wardens across the country - such as Barnsley Animal Welfare.
Staff at its rescue centre have a great relationship with the charity, and after contacting them, Support Dogs agreed that Oreo would be a suitable candidate to be trained as a disability assistance dog.
So far, more than 200 dogs have been trained up by the Sheffield-based national charity - and we want your help to make it one more. Today, the Yorkshire Post launches its Christmas Appeal to raise enough money to fund the training of a support dog for a Yorkshire family - which costs up to £20,000. Over the coming weeks, we will be giving you the chance to bid on exclusive auction prizes, as well as encouraging donations.
When Support Dogs trainers went to visit Oreo at Barnsley Animal Welfare, they were surprised to see that rather than cowering in a corner, he was happy to see people and affectionate. But when they tried to put a collar on him, he backed away, and was particularly weary when someone put their hand near his head, which led them to believe he had been physically abused as well as neglected.
However, after working closely with him this year, with hours of affection, reassurance and confidence building, Oreo is a different dog. The sad and weary dog is now happy, loving and extremely calm and gentle around children. His trainers say he has fallen in love with people again by learning to trust, and is surpassing expectations in his training programme.
“He’s doing brilliantly,” Rita Howson, chief executive of Support Dogs, said.
Oreo is now ready to matched to a potential owner, a painstaking process that ensures each dog is placed with the right person.
As well as rescue dogs, animals also come from the Guide Dogs breeding centre, when they have been identified as better skilled to be matched for autism assistance or seizure alert than a Guide Dog. In the case of disability assistance dogs, people also bring along their pet dogs to see if they are suitable to be trained up. The charity also takes unwanted pets.
“It can be the last chance saloon for some people,” Ms Howson said. “To re-home your dog is never nice, and to think of them going into a kennel can be very distressing. To think they can go on to do something wonderful is really comforting.
“We have a great relationship with Guide Dogs. These are not ‘rejects’ - we’re both looking for a particular temperament or qualities. We call them our ‘career change’ dogs. There are not substandard, they are just more suited to another job.”
There are no hard and fast rules as to what breed works best, but Labradors tend to be the most successful as working support dogs, and dogs with guarding traits and bull breeds aren’t quite as good a fit.
“Ultimately, it’s down to the personality traits and temperament of the dogs,” Ms Howson said. “They have to be sociable, friendly with people and other dogs, and not nervous or shy.”
Initial training takes about 12 weeks, and while that is happening, Support Dogs is interviewing potential owners. All dogs are trained to the basic assistance dog international standard.
Ms Howson added: “During the 12 weeks we’re also assessing what programme the dog shows the most potential for. The ‘doers’ are geared towards disability assistance, those who are people orientated would probably be channelled towards seizure dogs, and the very laid back dogs are more for the autism programme.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
■ You can bid for an array of exciting and unusual gifts from next Saturday.
■ Each week in Saturday’s edition of The Yorkshire Post we will reveal 10 new lots up for grabs. Bidding closes at 5pm the following Friday and then the next day another 10 exciting lots will be unveiled.
■ To bid see www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/appeal from Saturday. Keep up to speed with what’s on offer on twitter @yorkshirepost #YPxmasauction and also follow The Yorkshire Post’s facebook page.
■ Our online auction is not the only way you can help.
■ You can donate at www.supportdogs.org.uk/donate or Text DOGY15 £5 to 70070 to donate £5
* You can also send cheques payable to Support Dogs to Support Dogs, 21 Jessops Riverside, Brightside Lane, Sheffield, S9 2RX