Now Karen is partnered with assistance dog Iggy, a simple trip to the shops has been transformed.
“Before I was blessed with the arrival of my assistance dog, Iggy, shopping was difficult; so much so that I stopped going out unless it was really necessary.
When I wanted something I couldn’t reach, I would wait nearby for an offer of help. As I’m in a wheelchair, the vast majority of other shoppers and staff looked above me or past me and walked on by. There were also people who stepped in front of me or leant over me without even a “Sorry”. Being so blatantly ignored and avoided made me feel unworthy and inferior.
There were many occasions when I just gave up and came home without things I’d intended to buy, or didn’t go out at all and began to rely on internet shopping which isolated me even further.
I was so demoralised and dependent on others that Mum had to take me shopping for her own Christmas presents. There was barely any point in wrapping them as there was no surprise when she opened them.
The incident which best demonstrated people’s perception of me at that time was when the Mum of a boy I went to school with asked about my condition. Once I’d explained, she said, “That’s such a shame, you used to be so clever!” I didn’t reply. I was too shocked to say anything! Do people really believe wheelchair users or people with other visible disabilities are stupid?
With Iggy, people’s perceptions of me changed completely – see #IamABLE. He picks up the items I drop and presses the buttons to open shop doors and call the lift. Most importantly, being so much more independent has given me the confidence to go out on my own. Having him by my side has reduced my anxiety as I’m never alone and have constant reassurance that people will treat me equally. Whenever I stop, Iggy puts his head on my lap and looks up at me; I’ve been told it’s devotion but sometimes I think he’s bored, or could it be the bag of treats? Either way, it reassures me. The best bit is people smile at us as we walk towards them. This means that I feel confident to ask for help.
People want to talk too, and about Iggy, so I frequently have to stop and chat about what he does for me. This means it takes me a lot longer to do the shopping! Iggy is a walking advertisement and if people want to ask questions, I feel that I have to stay and chat as I’m representing the charity. Their questions are no longer about what I can’t do, but what I can do now I have Iggy.
I have epilepsy which means I can’t drive. So, the next challenge for Iggy and I is to use the bus independently, so we can go wherever I want to, whenever I want to. I never imagined I would be able to do that. It’s all down to Iggy.”
Read our blog for more stories of assistance dogs that are transforming lives.