Sally and her Canine Partner, Ethan
Some time ago we told you about an impact – or ‘offshoot’ – project that has emerged out of the Living Life to the Fullest project, largely down to our co-researchers wanting to further explore an area of their life and care that is important to them. Co-researcher Sally Whitney, along with Katy Evans, and our charity partner Canine Partners, have been leading this work – The Canine Care Project – and wanted to share an update.
The Canine Care Project is a research project that explores the experiences of disabled young people who have assistance dogs. An Assistance dog is the internationally established term for a dog that provides assistance to a disabled person, and is task trained to help support them in their lives.
Early findings from the Living Life to the Fullest Project showed that assistance dogs can play a significant part in the lives of disabled young people and can transform their experiences of living with disability. For example, young people told us that an assistance dog did far more for them than practical tasks (although these are very important), but actually made them feel happier, safer and more at ease in social situations.
The Canine Care Project began with a desire to explore these findings further. In partnership with Canine Partners, we administered an online questionnaire to disabled young people (aged 18-35) who are partnered with an assistance dog.
Our research has shown that assistance dogs provide many psychological and social benefits such as increased independence, confidence, motivation and self-esteem. For example, the majority of disabled young people said that their expectations were exceeded (84.2%) by their assistance dog. Disabled young people readily reported to us that their assistance dog has made them feel more optimistic (86.2%) and that they have taken greater joy in everyday activities (91.4%).
“Around the university campus I had gone from being the girl in the wheelchair to being the girl with the amazing dog and that was a very liberating feeling.” – Living Life to the Fullest Participant
Assistance dogs were also said to boost confidence (89.7%) and help disabled young people in various areas of motivation such as setting new goals (87.9%), giving a sense of purpose (86.2%) and trying new things (84.5%).
“Making sure she’s ok [assistance dog] is a reason for me to make sure I am ok – I look after myself better so that I can look after her as she deserves. People treat me differently too, they ask about the dog rather than asking why I’m in a wheelchair.” – Living Life to the Fullest Participant
We are now busy writing an accessible report of these findings, and making an animated short film, to share our findings with disabled young people and their families, education, social care and health professionals, charities and policy makers. Our aim in doing this is to emphasise the incredible benefits disabled young people have said that canine care can offer to them.
Sally said, “Working on this project has been both challenging and hugely rewarding. I’ve had to get to grips with statistics and a quantitative way of working as well as coordinating with others, all with different specialisms and goals. Yet it’s all been focussed on a topic that I’m hugely passionately about!
As ever, we will share our report and animated film here on our project blog when they are ready.
At the end of the online questionnaire, respondents were asked to give one word that they feel describes their dog. A word map of the responses is given above. In this word map, the size of the word corresponds to its popularity. So, as the word map shows, the words “amazing” and “irreplaceable” were most commonly used by disabled young people.