Paws by the River

In the autumn sunshine the residents and care team at Home of Compassion in Thames Ditton we enjoyed a fun filled educational day themed around our four legged friends.

In the morning our local vet, Lily, from Vet4Life Surbiton came in present a talk about arthritis in dogs as 80% of dogs will suffer from this condition.  Although the physical characteristics are similar to the human condition, the way our furry friends act is very different to us.  Dogs do not have the ability to associate pain with movement; they love running and mucking about plus they adore to please us and make us happy.  This means the signs of arthritis are not as obvious as we may think.  Dogs tend to become lethargic, and will try their very best not to limp; so keep those eyes peeled and get them checked out.

As with most complaints, prevention is far better than cure, so Lily suggested a supplement called YuMove which is by far the most effective treatment.  This should be given to dogs throughout their lives to slow down the progression of the disease.  The larger the dog, the more likely they are to develop this painful condition and Labradors, Wolfhounds and Samoyed’s are particularly susceptible.  There are some changes you can make around the home to help them:

  • Raised food and water bowls will reduce neck pain
  • Place carpet on hard floors to assist with grip when they stand up
  • Lots of little walks rather than one longer one
  • Steps are particularly painful, so try using ramps more often
  • Diet – keep their weight on the lean side, all extra weight adds to the pain; senior diets also help

One of our residents was concerned his daughter’s dog went swimming a lot, but Lily reassured him that swimming was by far the best exercise as it strengthens the muscles without causing jarring to the bones and joints. 

Lily gravely warned us that surgery is the very last option, and is not something to be undertaken lightly.

Next to the floor in our adventurous morning were the long anticipated police dogs.  PC George Larkin brought along his two dogs with him in a specialised police van which is air conditioned for the dogs, not the humans.  PC Larkin uses one dog at a time, so the other dog is left in the van during operations and the engine is left on during this period so that the air conditioning stays running; we did wonder momentarily if his van could be stolen, but on reflection were hard pressed to think of anyone foolish enough to steal a police van with a trained police dog in the back. 

The first thing PC Larkin did was remove his stab vest, he assumed he would be safe with us but had to keep his radio on as he was still on call.  Then he proceeded to educate us all about the world of police dogs and this is what we learnt.

Surrey and Sussex dogs are now a combined force, this unit has 33 dogs with each handler having at least two dogs each.  You may be thinking two dogs each is a bit greedy, but they each have different training in their own specialist fields.  Normally a handler is assigned one tracker dog who will do search and rescue; these dogs don’t care if you are a good person or a bad person, they are just trained to find you regardless.  The second dog looks for things rather than people and can specialise in seeking out cash, firearms, drugs, human remains, crime scene evidence, blood and semen; they are also trained in pursuit.

Explosive dogs used to be common in the 1970’s and 1980’s but the regular London bombings of that time are now a thing of the past and the only Sussex and Surrey explosive dogs are based at London Gatwick airport.  One handler known to PC Larkin has worked at the airport for 20 years and is yet to find any explosives, a reassuring fact.  This means the dogs have to find practice run explosives to keep them interested.  Ultimately the dogs are searching for something the handlers never want to find, an interesting juxtaposition. 

When the dogs reach 7 or 8 years old they are retired off and because they are so well trained rehoming is never an issue.  However at the other end of the scale, in their first year they have a host family who take them to doggy school once a month and then at 1 years old they are assigned to a handler to bond and train for an intensive thirteen week course; advanced handlers can home this period down to a short ten weeks.

The special relationship between dog and handler generates a level of trust that you would not expect.  PC Larkin regaled a recent tale of the human police had thoroughly searched a suspect’s car for drugs to no avail, only for his dog to focus directly at the car door.  It must have taken quite a leap of faith to dismantle a car door purely on the hunch of your four legged companion, but the dog proved to be right and a major drug ring was foiled thanks to his superior nose.

We were treated to a demonstration by hiding a blood stained rag in our spacious gardens and Murphy, an English springer spaniel who seemed incapable of standing still for more than a second, did his handler proud in finding the offending item, and much to our surprise stood stock still when he found it and looked directly at the object.  Looking at the object directly is an important detail; no point having a dog stand in front of a large bush and look at his owner, the police could still waste valuable time pinpointing the item, so the dogs are trained to guide their handlers to the exact spot of their find. 

Next up was Ludo, a handsome German shepherd who seemed perfectly chilled and relaxed when we entered our garden.  PC Larkin then proceeded to run away and shouted the command to apprehend him and this seemingly calm and gentle dog transformed into a focused hunting machine.  Ludo caught up with his handler in a few graceful strides and barked with such force we all were convinced PC Larkin’s days were numbered.  But once Ludo had managed to get his handler to stop and raise his hands, Ludo just stood there, only barking viscously when his target tried to move.   Impressive stuff.

Search dogs are also trained to follow air scent and floor scent.  Air scent is used when the area is clear of obstruction and this speeds things up considerably.  Floor scent is used in built up or wooded areas.  Wind and rain do hamper search and rescue dogs, but we should never underestimate their skill base. 

Our therapy dog, Harley did not miss out on the fun.  Harley has come to us most weeks during the last year to administer cuddles and love to residents and staff alike.  Today’s task was a lot more demanding.  He had to stand still for an hour in front of a packed audience of over 30 residents who watched him be trimmed and groomed live by Maria of Doggy Styling in Surbiton.  He looked half his original size by the time Maria finished with him.  Luckily we have ample lawns leading directly onto the banks of the River Thames and the weather was stunning so the grooming session could happen in the open air.

Maria explained to us how dogs in the wild have moulting seasons however our centrally heated homes have confused their natural body clocks and dogs tend to need grooming more often.

Some dogs freak out quite a bit when faced with a buzzing set of clippers and scissors but Harley was very calm and trusting, which is obviously due to his Pets as Therapy training.  Maria talks constantly to the dogs whilst she is attending them, giving them instructions they invariably don’t understand but we think the sound of her constant nattering calms them down.

Harley had his wash and blow dry in the salon earlier that day so we could get straight on with the LIVE clipping of our beloved pooch. 

The residents asked Maria lots of questions and our favourite tale involved a dog who had undergone a “home trim”, only for his owner to present Maria with numerous bald patched dog asking if it could be fixed; a super short cut was the order of the day.

And don’t go thinking the day ended there, no sir.  The icing on the cake came in the form of Sandi and her guide dog Kane.  At the tender age of 10, Sandi was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease.  She is registered blind and a couple of years ago she barely left the house and would never contemplate leaving the safety of her home alone.  Kane has transformed her life; now she goes out at least once every day and Kane even joins in her Pilates class where he shows off his superior downward dog.  They enjoy going boating together and Kane has his very own life preserver jacket.

The days before Kane were precarious to say the least.  Even a simple task like waiting at a bus stop could result in chaos.  Sandi can see vague shapes in her peripheral vision, so if a large sounding vehicle approached the bus stop Sandi would stick her hand out to flag it down only to discover is was a refuse truck.  With Kane by her side, bus drivers are trained to quickly identify she is registered blind and automatically stop and inform her which bus they are and enquire where she is going.  Trains are now a breeze, again due to staff training.  The train guard has to check the platform for guide dogs and will assist Sandi and Kane onto the train and will be there for them when they alight. 

Please believe us when you tell you that Kane is the largest Black Labrador any of us has ever had the pleasure to meet and this has some interesting benefits for Sandi.  Continuing with the travel theme, airlines must provide Kane a large area to lie down and he gets his very own seat, free of charge.  As we all know, planes are not known for their spacious leg room in economy seating, so Sandi and Kane are invariably upgraded to Business or First Class.  Unfortunately Sandi’s family still have to slum it with the rest of us mere mortals in economy, the privilege only extends to the guide dog and their charge. 

A trip to the supermarket used to be very stressful for Sandi.  But how can a guide dog help you with the weekly food shop?  Frequently, too frequently, Sandi would be closely looking through her magnifier at her hopefully to be chosen product.  She would bend over stand centimetres away from her prospective purchase.  Store detectives would be convinced Sandi was trying to shop lift and Sandi had dreadful time proving she was blind.  So now you know, a guide dog can help a weekly shop go smoothly.  With Kane it is obvious she is blind, although Sandi admitted that she misses getting security to read all her labels for her. 

All guide dogs are specially selected to be an ideal match for their charge.  Sandi is very tall with an incredibly long stride and walks at an impressive speed – so a large fast dog was needed.  Kane is not allowed to tell Sandi when it is safe to cross the road, but he will stop her walking in front of a car or a silent bicycle.  Sometimes the decisions are a joint affair, and Sandi has been taught which hands to hold lead and harness to tell Kane who is in charge to make the decisions. 

Some residents were concerned poor Kane was worked too hard for too long; we were educated that a guide dog is only on duty when his harness is raised, the rest of the time he is a completely normal dog who does completely normal dog things. 

There are different harness colours to indicate different disabilities:

  • Burgandy Harness – Hearing dog
  • White harness with yellow fluorescent stripes – Sight
  • Red – Aids a disability or medical detection
  • Purple – Physically disabled

Sandi decided to volunteer for Guide Dogs for the Blind because Kane has transformed her life and she would like to give others the same freedom she now enjoys. 

Each weekend Sandi is out in the world promoting guide dogs and raising badly needed funds for them.  She has a lot of trouble counting the money, and one of our residents volunteered to help her as she only lives around the corner and can pop in after her event.

If anyone wants to hold a Great Guide Dog Tea Party, you don’t have to be a volunteer – just contact Sandi on 07808 711800 and she will set the wheels in action.

Home of Compassion is dedicated to providing the highest level of residential, nursing and dementia care for up to 71 elderly residents. The luxurious care home is set in delightful surroundings in the heart of Thames Ditton, with beautiful views over the river.

If you would like to find out more about life at Home of Compassion, our events and activities, or would like to arrange a visit to our home, please contact us on 0808 223 5406 or email manager.hoc@caringhomes.org.

Home of Compassion

Home Manager

Avril Jones

Address

58 High Street,
Thames Ditton,
Surrey,
KT7 0TT

Contact
0808 223 5406
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