“At the beginning I was only thinking of having a dog to help me with my physical needs but Gibson helps me just as much mentally – I’ve gone from existing to living.”
During International Assistance Dog week (2nd – 8th August), we want to put the spotlight firmly on our dogs and share stories of all the ways that they help our clients. First up is the story of Duncan and his assistance dog, Gibson. The pair were recently featured on ITV West Country news – watch Ben McGrail’s report in the video above.
Duncan DeLooze (51) who lives in Wells, Somerset, has suffered with chronic pain for most of his life and now uses a wheelchair and crutches to get around. Several stomach operations as a teenager caused back problems and his previous job as a tennis instructor resulted in injured shoulders and wrists. To make matters worse a bad fall 15 years ago, from over ten feet high, caused chronic nerve damage to his groin and legs and exacerbated his back problems.
Duncan also has fibromyalgia and a rare type of ‘hemiplegic’ migraine, which mimics having a stroke and paralyses the entire right side of his body. These migraines can cause seizures which leave Duncan unable to speak or swallow. He can have as many as 20 to 25 seizures a month which leaves him paralysed for a few hours to as long as a couple of days. In rare cases these attacks can be life threatening if his tongue is affected.
At the end of last year Duncan had 16 strokes in four days and was rushed to hospital because they didn’t know if he’d had a stroke. He also has arthritis and PTSD after experiencing a childhood trauma, and he struggles with depression.
Discovering Dogs for Good
Over two years ago Duncan was finding everyday things such as picking things up from the floor and loading the washing machine more difficult as they were causing a lot of pain. When he saw an advert about Dogs for Good assistance dogs, he thought a dog might make all the difference to his life as he or she could carry out many of these tasks for him.
He attended an open day at our Bristol Centre and then went on to submit a formal application for an assistance dog. A year later he was matched with a handsome black Labrador called Gibson, who will be three years old in August. They hit it off immediately and quickly formed a very strong bond.
The bond between Duncan and Gibson is now so strong that Duncan says “Quite often before I’ve even said the words ‘fetch my meds’ Gibson’s half way there already. I then encourage him by telling him to ‘fetch meds bag’ and he’s back in a flash with it. He’s got my medication dozens of time to prevent me having an attack.”
Duncan regularly collapses in the house with pain and within seconds Gibson’s right by his side.
Duncan said: “I must make a slight sound or a different vibe comes from my body and Gibson’s right there next to me.”
Gibson loves his task work so he is more than happy helping Duncan get dressed and undressed, fetching his shoes and slippers, lifting clothes from the floor and loading the washing machine.
Duncan added: “The less I have to move around and bend and twist, the less pain I have. When you live with chronic pain it also affects your mental health; it wears you down being in pain all the time.
“Gibson has an incredible amount of empathy for me, he makes my life calmer and more bearable. It’s amazing how just the act of being with Gibson, cuddling and stroking him, can reduce my pain levels.”
A new ‘normal’ with Gibson
Before Gibson arrived, Duncan didn’t like leaving the house alone because he was worried about having an attack in public.
He explains: “I didn’t want to leave my house on my own because I’ve had attacks in public and you feel very vulnerable. Now I have Gibson next to me, looking after me, I feel much safer.
“When I’m having a good day we go into town and go round the stores, up the high street and sit outside the cathedral, which is as close to a ‘normal’ day as I could ever get.
“I feel calmer and safer when Gibson’s with me, he’s helped my mental health tremendously.
“With depression you can detach from what’s going on around you and when I do that, Gibson nudges me to bring me back to the present so that I focus better. Also, if I’m having anxiety, his presence calms me down and relaxes me.
“At the beginning I was only thinking of having a dog to help me with my physical needs but he helps just as much mentally. I’ve gone from existing to living.”
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