Raising a caring friend

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DOG lover Val Burns has more to boast about her golden retriever puppy than most pet owners — because her dog is in training to be a disabled carer.

Val, from Giffnock, has been training Elsa on behalf of Canine Partners, a charity which provides highly-skilled assistance dogs for people with disabilities.

Going beyond the realm of the guide dog, these canine carers can be trained to open doors, collect shopping at the local supermarket and even help their owners undress — as well as providing companionship.

Val, a retired legal secretary, is a behaviour advisor to the Glasgow Dog Training Club, and also volunteers for Canine Concern Scotland Trust, with the help of her own two dogs.

But Elsa is her first full-time resident from Canine Partners – and she’s coming on leaps and bounds.

Val told The Extra: “I started off foster caring (looking after a puppy when a trainer goes on holiday) and then Elsa landed on my lap.

“We go to training once a week and she gets homework to learn, and then we go on outings to supermarkets, and on the bus or train into town — she comes everywhere with me.

“I thought it might take up a lot of time, but it fits into my lifestyle, and everything’s paid for — food, vet bills, etc —and you’re helping someone at the same time”.

Elsa will stay with Val until she is 14 months old, at which point she’ll move onto advanced training, then a compatible person in need of care.

Val explained: “She learns to retrieve items, close doors, and take clothes off. She can also take cans off the supermarket shelf, carry purses — even pick a band card off the floor. She learns so quickly.

“She also knows to put her front paws up on your knees in case you need anything — including a cuddle”.

The charity is now on the lookout for puppy parents and foster carers in the west of Scotland, and Val hopes to encourage fellow dog lovers to sign up.

She continued: “It will be difficult to give her up. But I tell myself Elsa is just borrowed, and think of how much someone in a wheelchair could benefit from having her in their life”.

Anyone interested can find out more by contacting Bryony White on 07826695201, or visiting www.caninepartners.org.uk.