How a dementia dog changed my life

My name is Henry and I live with vascular dementia. I worked as a police officer for 30 years which I really enjoyed. I’ve been a member of the Scottish Dementia Working Group (SDWG) for the past 10 years, and I would consider myself to be ‘living well with dementia’. I can’t predict the future, so I take each day as it comes. I used to play football, but I gave it up some time ago due to my diabetes. When I was 40, I joined a bowling club which I attend weekly with my friends and family. In 2005, I became the president of the bowling club and my son is soon to be this year’s president. The social aspect of the club is excellent, and I love meeting up with my friends. The club is walking distance from my house and I often walk there with my dementia dog Uno. During the winter months, I play carpet bowls which I equally enjoy.

Where did you hear about the dementia dog project?

I heard about the dementia dog project through one of the members of the SDWG. The member brought his dementia dog to our meetings and when I met the dog, I knew that one would be great help to me also. I had two yorkshire terriers in the past, but they were more like ‘lap dogs’. I got in contact with the Dementia Dog Project and I did three months of training with a dog called Uno, who now lives with us. I had just come out of hospital and was temporarily in a wheelchair. I remember being on a small path and training him to walk behind the wheelchair. I was worried that I would forget all the commands but my wife was also involved in the process, so she helps with the commands now and again. While in training, Uno spent some time with male offenders (referred to as ‘students’) in Castle Huntly prison as part of the project’s collaboration with the Scottish Prison Service. I visited Uno in the prison but I didn’t mention that I was a retired policeman! I got to meet the student that walked Uno everyday and they showed me photos of Uno as a puppy. It’s great for the students in the prison as it gives them a sense of purpose and responsibility.

Can you tell us a bit about Uno and when he came to live with you?

After three months of training, Uno came to live with us. We were worried that he wouldn’t settle at first but on his first night, he came straight up the stairs and got into his basket that we had for him in our room. Since then, we never looked back. Uno has two beds in the house, one in our bedroom and one downstairs. Uno is trained to get my medication and is currently also learning how to be my diabetes alert dog too.
Uno can detect if my blood sugars are low and he puts his head on my lap to prompt me to test them.
If Uno does something for me, he is always rewarded with a treat.

After Uno was placed with us, he underwent an assessment to ensure his suitability. I knew Uno would pass the assessment as he did everything perfectly that day. Uno loves human company and he is never far away.

How has Uno changed your life?

Uno has not only changed my life but my wife’s life also. Prior to Uno, my wife was reluctant to leave me alone in the house. Uno has given my wife the confidence to go out without me as she knows that Uno will support me if something goes wrong. One day I collapsed in the house and Uno stayed beside me until help came. It is amazing how intuitive he is. Uno is also trained to wake me up in the morning. Uno taps his nose off the back of my hand. If I don’t wake up on the third attempt, Uno goes downstairs and alerts my wife.
Sometimes I am too tired to get up, but Uno still alerts my wife! My daughter lives in London and Uno has been over to see her 7 times. I often get anxious in large queues, but I get to use the fast track security in the airport. Uno travels on the plane with me and just lies on the floor as we are flying. I keep his jacket on so people know he is a working dog. Uno helps keep my independence.

Henry and Anne with Uno.

The dementia dog project is completely reliant on donations. There are 12 dementia dogs in the country, and I am passionate about giving more people the opportunity to have access to a dementia dog of their own. I hold some fundraising events for the project, and I encourage my friends to do so also. I live in hope that someday, the project will get more funding and give people the same opportunity to ‘live well with dementia’. Uno has certainly changed my life.

Henry , August 2019


For more information on the dementia dog project please visit www.dementiadog.org or email  bark@dementiadog.org

If you would like to find out more about the group or to get involved, please contact SDWG on 0141 410 1171 or sdwg@alzscot.org

or follow us on twitter @S_D_W_G

or have a look at our website http://www.sdwg.org.uk/

This post was developed from conversations Henry had with Danielle Timmons, the 2019 occupational therapy intern at Alzheimer Scotland. The occupational therapy intern roles at Alzheimer Scotland gives the student the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and understanding of dementia while also generating outcomes of value and relevance to people living with dementia and help deliver the SDWG strategic priorities.