Yorkshire Post Christmas Appeal: Meet Farley - the support dog whose training you paid for

Meet Gregor and Farley, the little boy and the assistance dog whose lives will change thanks to your generosity.

Farley the trainee autism assistance dog with Gregor, 11, and his mother Catherine

Donations driven by the Yorkshire Post’s Christmas Appeal and proceeds of a ‘money-can’t-buy’ auction have raised more than £10,000 for Sheffield-based assistance dog charity Support Dogs.

That, along with an extra £5,000 donation, will pay for the training of Farley, a black Labrador who is training to be an autism assistance dog for 11-year-old Gregor from Richmondshire.

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His mother Catherine Mann said the family, including Gregor’s twin sister Eve, felt “incredibly lucky” to have been helped by Support Dogs.

Farley the trainee autism assistance dog with Gregor, 11

The family first discovered the charity when Gregor was five years old, and have been on the waiting list since. Their hopes have been raised twice, when Gregor was matched with dogs, but neither worked out. Last summer Mrs Mann got a call to say they had been matched with a yellow Labrador called Marley.

“He turned out to be a black Lab called Farley,” she said. “He came to visit and Gregor reacted very well. He’d been very shouty earlier in the day, and after they went off together, Gregor’s sister Eve called me in, and there he was, laying across the dog’s back and rubbing his nose up along Farley’s back. It was very much a sensory thing and Gregor was so calm.”

After Mrs Mann took part in two weeks of intensive training, Farley joined the family in October.

But the training is not over, and will continue over the next year, and the family will be supported as long as they have Farley.

Farley the trainee autism assistance dog with Gregor, 11, and his mother Catherine

“We’ve never had a dog before so it has all been a new experience for us,” Mrs Mann said. “The support has been incredible. Knowing they are on the end of the phone, 24 hours a day, is so reassuring. The whole experience has been excellent, and Natalie, our first trainer, had worked with many children with autism so was sympathetic about the demands of the family.”

Having Farley has also meant more family time.

“Autism can very disruptive, and sometimes our family could be split in two, with Eve going out with one of us, while Gregor stayed at home with either me or his dad. Going out together as a family of four for long walks has been amazing. Gregor loves watching Farley run, and having him hold on to Farley’s harness adds an element of safety, as Gregor has no awareness of road dangers.”

In the run up to Christmas, The Yorkshire Post featured the stories of those who had been helped by the charity - such as the seven-year-old Cohen Hadfield from Kilnhurst, South Yorkshire, who had “come to life” since receiving autism assistance dog Azerley, and paralysed Bobbie Hubbard-Marks, 61, from Sheffield, who had re-gained her independence after her dog Poppy was trained as a disability support dog.

Farley the trainee autism assistance dog with Gregor, 11

These stories and more inspired you to vote in a charity auction, managed on behalf of The Yorkshire Post by Harrogate-based Circada Communications, featuring dozens of money-can’t-buy prizes such as tea at the Ritz Hotel with Angela Rippon, tickets to a West End movie premiere, and a year’s supply of dog food from our main sponsor, North Yorkshire pet food manufacturer Wagg Foods.

In total, the auction raised more than £6,700, while direct donations raised a further £3,400. The fund was given a further boost when the Yorkshire Young Achievers Foundation put an extra £5,000 towards Farley’s training.

Support Dogs’ chief executive Rita Howson said: “For a relatively small and less well known charity like Support Dogs, the support from readers of the Yorkshire Post has been extraordinary and we hope it is something we will look on in year to come as a step change for the charity.

“Support Dogs relies entirely on voluntary donations and each year needs raise half a million pounds to maintain our current work. But with over 1,400 requests for help received last year of which we will be currently able to help less than 1 in 50, maintaining our work isn’t a satisfying goal. We strive to grow and help many more lives who so desperately need our help.

Farley the trainee autism assistance dog with Gregor, 11

“Through the incredible generosity of Yorkshire Post readers, we have been able to meet the costs of training for one of our support dogs working with a family in Yorkshire. The security of this funding not only helps that family, it also frees our resources to be able to increase our capacity to help more families.”

In addition, thanks to the increase in donations, the charity’s trustees have agreed to take on additional premises to give the Support Dogs more space for staff, dogs and clients to train so it can help even more people.

Richard Page, managing director of Wagg Foods, said: “We’re delighted to have supported the Yorkshire Post’s appeal for Support Dogs and it’s great to see that it proved so popular with Yorkshire Post readers. Support Dogs does fantastic work across the region and I hope people will continue to support the charity in its efforts to train more specialist assistance dogs who make such a difference to people’s lives.”

Farley the trainee autism assistance dog with Gregor, 11, and his mother Catherine
Farley the trainee autism assistance dog with Gregor, 11