Dementia Dog started its life as a Glasgow School of Art service design project commissioned by Alzheimer Scotland that secured the attention and funding of both the Scottish Executive and the Design Council through the Living Well with Dementia Challenge. It began as a collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland, The Glasgow School of Art, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs UK, bringing together the teams’ expertise in dementia care and provision of trained assistance dogs.
Following the successful completion of the research stage and having secured additional funding, in April 2013 Dementia Dog embarked on its first small-scale pilot scheme, based at the Guide Dogs for the Blind training facility in Forfar, Angus.
A number of dogs were identified as potential candidates for the programme and four passed their initial training to progress to matching with families.
Matching is a crucial part of any assistance dog programme numerous attributes such as temperament (human and canine) size and walking speed are taken into consideration.
All four dogs were matched with families and three went on to live as fully qualified dementia assistance dogs with individuals with dementia and their carers. The project is tracking the progress of the couples and their canine companions as the families live with the daily realities of dementia. The families have been supported by regular communications and visits from the Dogs for the Disabled team trainers and by Alzheimer Scotland local staff.
Assistance dogs are a big commitment, the chemistry between dog and family is crucial and much learning was gathered from the fourth partnership which did not progress. Vonn the assistance dog was withdrawn and is now happily retired. Both dog and family are doing well, and we are grateful for their participation and their input to the pilot.
The project is continuing to follow our assistance dogs, through their working lives. The initial research phase ran for two years from the qualification of the partnerships.
The results were very positive and this led to a substantial funding award from Life Changes trust in August 2016. This will allow us to expand the assistance dog programme with a further 8 dogs.
We are continuing to track our families as they live through the challenges Dementia brings. Sadly we lost both Alec and Moira in 2015. We know that Alex four paws made a huge difference to both their lives and he has gone on to live with a family friend who is giving him the love and support he needs. His new family will help him transition to one of the other programmes the project runs to enable him to keep bringing his magic into the lives of others with the condition.
We also mourn the loss of Maureen in 2016, Oscar continues to live with Frank providing him with comfort, stability and a ‘reason to get up in the morning’, Oscar will stay with his dad as long as they are happy together.
Since the Assistance dog pilot families qualified, the project partners have busy exploring other models of delivering dog support to families who cannot have a dog full time. This work continues and will provide ways to allow the assistance dogs to continue delivering support and joy as their family circumstances change.
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Dementia Dog is supported by Alzheimer Scotland. Alzheimer Scotland - Action on Dementia is a company limited by guarantee, registered in Scotland 149069. Registered Office: 22 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh EH3 7RN. It is recognised as a charity by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, no. SC022315. Visit our main website at: www.alzscot.org