Jessica (Jess) was partnered with canine partner Xolani in April 2022. This is her story.

My name is Jess, I have various disabilities that affect my balance and ability to walk far without an aid. I regularly drop things, especially when I’m more tired as fatigue is a big part of a lot of my conditions.

Before having a canine partner, I needed my mum’s help a lot. I realised I could save energy by having an assistance dog that could do the tasks I needed, so I applied for a canine partner as it meant that I could be more independent. I had been in hospital a lot and my confidence was at an all-time low because of new diagnoses. I had grown up with having family dogs and I loved them, so the thought of having something to get me up gave me something to live for.

When I first met black Flat Coated Retriever, Xenna, I was instantly in love. I knew that this girl and I would be great together, so I was pleased we were a match! Xenna, as my first canine partner, was just what I needed at the time. I needed to grow in confidence and Xen made me talk to people and helped me to get out into the world. Psychologically, Xen was a huge asset to me.

Both dogs have had very different personalities. Xolani, my second canine partner, is not as people-orientated but she is extremely cheeky and a live wire! As I have become less able to do things, Xolani is there super-fast to do jobs for me. The food is not the reason, I’m sure!

Our daily routine has changed since I had Xenna, as I now regularly work 10 hours a week. Being able to work is an example of where having my first canine partner got me! I now work teaching football to children and adults with disabilities, so they are potential future recipients of one of these dogs. They can see what Xolani does for me and how I have managed to achieve so much with her help, so seeing us together could encourage them for their futures.

As mentioned previously, fatigue is a big part of my struggles along with pain. Since also being diagnosed with long covid, I now struggle even more. Xolani helps with daily tasks such as getting the washing out of the washing machine and picking things up. She tidies up her bowl by putting it in the drawer and at work she picks items up at the end of a session. I never thought I would return to work, so to be in a position to do what I love with my canine partner helping me is amazing. Xolani also makes everyone’s day by coming with me!

My confidence continues to grow and I’m doing things I would never even of dreamt possible. I have run education sessions on disabilities and also worked in other scenarios telling my story. I used to hate talking to more than one person, let alone a whole room! This is where Xenna got me in her time as my canine partner, she really helped to build my confidence and I’ve vowed to continue in her memory. The goals I have now feel more believable and achievable.

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