An Aberdeen family who adopted a service dog trained to help dementia sufferers said they don’t know where they would be without him.
Jeannette and Jon King, who live in Bridge of Don, adopted three-and-a-half year old black Labrador Lenny in August through Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good’s Dementia Dogs initiative.
The scheme is in pilot stages in Scotland and Australia and explores the practical, emotional and social ways dogs can help people live well alongside dementia at home and in the community.
The dogs undergo two years of specialised training, starting at eight weeks old.
Jon, 76, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016, and the couple first got involved with the scheme after being sent details by their family.
As Jon, who also has severe clinical depression, had previously had dogs when he was younger, it was recommended by his psychiatrist that the couple consider getting one.
After a lengthy application process, they were delighted to hear that they had been accepted.
Jeannette, 73, said: “When someone gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s you feel like your whole world is closing in on you.
“Having Lenny has opened up a whole new world to us. That’s something I never expected at this stage of our lives. We are so, so grateful.
“The three of us are a team. We’ve only had him since August but it feels like we’ve always had him.
“I’d never had a dog and had never wanted a dog so I wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement to start with, but I knew it would be good for Jon to have a dog.
“We met them at the Dementia Resources Centre on King Street and I was surprised by how well behaved they were.
“If you get a dementia dog you’re not just getting a dog; you get this incredible support team, and for the first week we had Lenny, the dog trainer came every day to train him.”
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Lenny, as well as offering companionship, encourages the couple to take regular walks which is beneficial to health.
He is also trained to carry out tasks such as bring over a pouch with medication at a specific time each day to remind Jon to take his medicine.
Jeannette said: “Sometimes I feel like he does nothing and others I feel like he does everything.
“Sometimes Jon will be having a really bad day, but he always says he feels better after being out with Lenny, and that he had a really nice walk.
“We’ve lived in Aberdeen for 50 years, and in Bridge of Don for 40 years, and we’re seeing places we’ve never seen before.
“It’s amazing. We’re making new, important memories.
“When someone you love gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, getting a dog isn’t really the first thing you think about, but we’re allowed to take him anywhere, into cafes and shops. It’s a real pleasure having him.”
Fiona Corner, project manager at Dementia Dog, said: “It is wonderful to see how trained dementia assistance dogs, such as Lenny, can make a truly life-changing difference for the families we support across Scotland.
“The dogs not only help keep a structured sense of purpose and daily routine in the home, they become a social bridge for reducing isolation and feeling of renewed confidence and importantly help bring families closer together to share the joy that only a dog can bring.
“We are also developing therapy programmes in the community for people with a diagnosis of dementia who may not be able to have their own dog full-time.
“As a charitable project, we are so grateful for any future public support to help us grow and help more families like Jon and Jeanette.”
For more information on the project, visit dementiadog.org