Chloe Fuller, 19, from Rossendale, Lancashire has Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a heart condition, and Ehlers Danlos. She has trained her pet dog Ted to become a fully qualified Assistance Dog, with the support of charity Dog A.I.D.
Throughout my childhood I’d always been told by teachers that I was destined for greatness and that there was nothing stopping me . . . until there was.
Growing up I was a very confident and academic child. I had a large circle of friends and despite it not coming naturally to me, I engaged in sport. I participated in cricket, cheerleading, skiing, gymnastics and horse riding, actively competing on behalf of my school. However, I always seemed to be in pain. After visiting the doctor various times, they put it down to growing pains and took it no further. By the time I was 9, I had a whole host of symptoms that I had normalized – none of the doctors were helping, so surely this is what everyone went through, right? My attendance at school dropped and further trips to the doctor presented no more answers other than suggestions that I was soft, calling for attention and that my mum was pandering to me.
At 13 I was removed from school in favour of home schooling. The next three years was spent attending hospital appointments, visiting specialists and not getting much further. There were even threats from Social Services to have me placed in a mental health unit or remove me from the family home. As you can imagine my confidence and sense of worth was decimated, no one believed I was experiencing the symptoms I claimed and I was very low. By 16, I was using a wheelchair as I couldn’t stand or walk without going faint and experiencing extreme joint pain.
As part of my research to find aids that would help me lead a better life, I came across a blog about assistance dogs. I looked at my options and was initially disappointed that the majority matched you with pre-trained dogs. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this and the incredible service other charities provide, I was after a challenge and really wanted to train a dog myself. Since I’d left school I had felt meaningless, had lost my sense of purpose and needed new goals to work towards. The idea of an assistance dog gave me a glimmer of hope and I did further research, which led me to discover Dog A.I.D. and suddenly the world seemed brighter. Chloe Fuller, 19, from Rossendale, Lancashire has Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a heart condition, and Ehlers Danlos. She has trained her pet dog Ted to become a fully qualified Assistance Dog, with the support of charity Dog A.I.D. This is her story.
I decided I wanted a Springer Spaniel puppy so visited a breeder and discussed my plans at length. He recommended I look at Ted who was currently boarding with him, who had himself experienced some health problems but now had the all clear. When they brought him out, he wanted nothing to do with my wheelchair and I felt he was a poor prospect despite my mum falling in love with him.
When I spoke to a trainer she insisted I saw him again in a home environment and pointed out that being five-months old meant he was past some of the more stressful phases of being a puppy. When we visited him again, I had to walk as the house wasn’t wheelchair friendly. Upon entering the kitchen, I collapsed and all of a sudden, a very wiggly and happy Springer clambered onto me and flopped on my chest. His owner was amazed as he’d never seen him be affectionate with a stranger. It was the cliché of my dog picked me and like a sucker I fell hook line and sinker for it which I am so glad I did!
Back home I threw myself into the task of training, overjoyed at finding a focus. Having always had a thirst for knowledge, I’d spent hours prior to getting Ted reading books, visiting web
pages, watching videos, talking to trainers and other assistance dog owners in an ambitious quest to be the best I could. My enthusiasm for training, constant efforts to educate myself and
Ted’s innate desire to please made for the perfect combination – our partnership was in sync and we worked so well together. The first task he learnt was to pick up a sock and now when I am putting on my socks he already knows to go and get my shoes as that will be the next command.
When we were paired with a volunteer Dog A.I.D. trainer, we had already covered Level one training ourselves. Due to a shortage in trainers, we had to travel over a two-hour round trip for training which meant I couldn’t go that often. However, I didn’t mind as I continued
to train him with the guidance of the trainer and knowledge I had built up. We qualified 13 months later, making us one of the youngest and quickest partnerships with Dog A.I.D.
One of the significant bonuses of training through Dog A.I.D. is the friends I have met in the process. It’s like a family and you meet people with whom you have oodles in common, especially from a medical perspective. This inspired me to research further into my health issues which finally resulted in a diagnosis of POTS, a condition of the autonomic nervous system that primarily presents itself with symptoms of the heart. I started on medication and my quality of life has improved significantly. I was also diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos in September 2017, so finally have some validation that I wasn’t crying for attention and had conditions that should have been diagnosed much earlier. At this point I could stop blaming myself and move on with my life.
Ted now knows nearly 100 different commands and we train for both purpose and fun. Some of his favourite tricks to show people are praying and doggy squats. Our latest endeavour is to get him to do a handstand against the wall! The process of training Ted has been life changing – we have succeeded beyond my own and others expectations. Being able to take ownership of such an achievement has been a huge boost in confidence for me. I was focusing less on what I couldn’t do and more on what I could. We’ve been totally bitten by the training bug and we participate in agility monthly as well as trick training and maintain his assistance dog training. I am also looking into studying animal behavior online, as I don’t think you can ever know enough and there is always more to learn.
My mum who is my sole carer has been able to return to work two days a week, so she gets some respite and I have more independence with Ted by my side. If it wasn’t for Ted, my mum would still have to get me dressed and undressed every day. As a young woman of 19,
this isn’t really something I wanted from life and now he can help me do it myself. He even puts items into the washing basket for me, as well as being able to drag the basket to the washing machine. The only thing Mum has to do now is make meals and drinks, I haven’t quite figured out how to get Ted to make a cup of tea yet!
Ted picks up everything I drop with such enthusiasm, more so than you would generally get from a human carer after the tenth time of asking
in an hour! He acts as an ice breaker when we are out and about, as many people don’t know what to say to me because I’m in a wheelchair. He is an unbelievably happy dog, it’s hard not to smile when you have a crazy Spaniel bouncing across the room wondering how he can help you next. His exuberance brings great joy and laughter to my life, I don’t know what I would do without him.
Ted’s social media links are as follows:
Instagram - @tedtheassistancedog
FB - https://www.facebook.com/superdogted/