30 April 2016
By Bryan T. Smyth
For the last nine years, Jennifer Dowler founder of the Irish Dogs for the Disabled, Dripsey, Co. Cork and Summerlea House, Togher Road, Cork City has been providing dogs to children and adults with physical disabilities. She has now received the April Cork Person of the Month award to mark that work and her name also goes forward for possible selection as Cork Person of the Year on Jan 20th next.
These Assistant Dogs are especially trained to assist the physically disabled to carry out a range of practical tasks in order to achieve greater independence. These everyday tasks include opening and closing doors, picking up dropped items, emptying the washing machine and helping a child with severe walking difficulties to walk with greater ease and balance.
Over 80% of the charity’s clients are children, between the ages of 6 and 12 years, living with severe physical disabilities which effect their independence and social interaction.
“Seeing children and adults lives transformed because they can now walk unaided or go out on their own for the first time is very rewarding”, said Jennifer Dowler at the awards ceremony presentation.
With 210 dogs nationwide and 120 currently out working, it costs the charity €15,000 to train and support each Assistance Dog. Dogs for the Disabled receive no government funding, relying completely on the generosity of sponsorship, donations and fundraising. The dogs are partnered with disabled people at no cost to them.
“I happen to have a natural ability to work with dogs and have put twenty-odd years into perfecting it in the U.K. and Ireland”, said Jennifer.
Another unique initiative Dogs for the Disabled started, was getting young prisoners at Shelton Abbey open prison to become dog walkers. Prison Governor Conal Healy said “When the dogs came in first, we selected four guys for the pilot. One was an ex-addict, very private and didn’t really talk or socialise with people. First day with the dog, that prisoner was walking around with four or five guys with him, all because of the dog”.
So far, more than 50 canines have been trained at Shelton Abbey, as Assistance Dogs, with the charity providing supervision, training and veterinary services.