Alvin the Labrador gives owner Andrew a new lease of life after MS diagnosis

They are as well known for their loyalty and intelligence as they are for their dependable placidness.

Andrew Newton and his service dog, Alvin, outside St John's Church in Sharrow where his wife is the vicar.

But one very special Labrador, Alvin, has shown that he truly is the best in breed after transforming the life of his owner who has multiple sclerosis (MS).

Former businessman Andrew Newton, 53, was diagnosed with MS 11 years ago, after previously enjoying an active lifestyle full of outdoor pursuits.

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But as the degenerative illness took hold, Mr Newton, who lives in Ripon, found himself less able to take care of himself independently, and within three years became a full-time wheelchair user.

It was at an MS Society conference that he first heard about the possibility of enlisting a service dog after watching a demonstration.

But it wasn’t love at first bark for Mr Newton, and he initially dismissed the idea.

He said: “I’d had working gun dogs previously and had preconceived ideas about the work involved in looking after a dog. I believed it was impossible and put the thought out of my mind.”

But his friends continued to badger him and eventually Mr Newton got in contact with Dogs For Good, who train and provide service dogs to disabled people.

Demand far outstrips supply for the dogs, who go through a rigorous training programme before being matched with a potential owner, and Mr Newton waited three years before meeting his match and being introduced to Alvin.

Two years on and Alvin, a fast-learner, has quickly picked up how to support Mr Newton to live as independently as possible.

“He’s been trained so well and he loves to work,” said Mr Newton. “I’ve even been able to get him to do a few more things – including shutting doors – during lockdown.”

Alvin can even pick up a bank card for Mr Newton should he drop it when he’s out and about. “He paws it with his foot until it flicks up and then he gently gets it in his teeth and gives it to me. Such a clever lad.”

Mr Newton is married to the Rev Ruth Newton, the vicar of St John’s Church in Sharrow, and Alvin has become a regular at the church where he is well-known and much loved by the congregation.

In fact, Alvin is such an important member of St John’s that when recent renovations were being carried out to fit automatic doors the button to open them was placed at the right height for him to reach. Alvin has also been blessed by the priest who delivers Holy Communion services at the church.

As clever as he is, Alvin is not perfect. Mr Newton said: “He can’t resist a sock and greets everyone with something in his mouth – a typical retriever. From the moment I wake up to the time I close my eyes at night, Alvin is by my side, helping me make the most of every day and bringing a few laughs along the way. That’s good enough for me.”