For mother Anna, “it’s no over exaggeration” to say the black Labrador has changed their lives. And the whole family, including dad Adrian, 54, and Alex’s siblings Imogen, 22, and Ashley, 21, from South Milford, where there to celebrate yesterday when Chester officially graduated from Sheffield-based charity Support Dogs.
Alex’s autism means he is non-verbal, has extreme anxiety, development delay and sensory processing disorder - all of which mean he struggles to deal with everyday situations like going to the supermarket or the park. He also has no sense of danger, which can make getting around extremely difficult.
It was three years ago when Anna, 39, stumbled across the charity, which trains different types of support dogs, including autism assistance dogs like Chester. After being on the waiting list for about 18 months, they got the call to say they had been matched with Chester, and he eventually came home with them last September.
Speaking to the YEP from the event, at the Royal Holiday Inn in Sheffield, she said: “Before Chester came along, we would have never been able to get through the front door of something like this. It’s a busy, lively atmosphere, that would have been a nightmare for Alex. Now, if it gets a bit much, he takes hold of Chester and gets that support, and he know if he needs to, he can just walk away.”
The change in Alex since Chester was welcomed into the family has been extreme.
“It’s difficult to put into words the difference it has made,” Anna said. “We couldn’t even leave the house before. Now, with Chester coming along, we can do things we’d never dreamed of, from big days out like going to Thomas Land, to small family events, like my niece’s engagement party, which just wouldn’t have been possible before.
“Support Dogs went to such great lengths to match Chester to us, that from the moment we met him, he slotted straight in.”
The whole day was emotional, not only seeing Chester get the recognition he deserves, but also meeting the foster family who looked after Chester when he was pup.
Anna added: “There is a misconception that working dogs are just that - working animals. But Chester has become one of the family. It’s like seeing one of your children grow up.”
Support Dogs fundraising manager Danny Anderson said: “It can take approximately 18 months to train a support dog partnership and so our graduation is very much a celebration and recognition of the hard work of our clients, volunteers, staff and of course our dogs, in completing this process.”