“Uley has given me my independence”
Tracey Taylor, 38, from West Sussex, tells us how Canine Partners has transformed her life
Tracey was just 27, and in the midst of planning her wedding to her partner, Jake, when she began experiencing problems with her sight – pain when she moved her eyes as well as slight colour blindness and double vision too. She was diagnosed with optic neuritis, where inflammation had damaged her optic nerve. Alone, the condition usually improves on its own, but for Tracey, that didn’t happen.
“I googled the symptoms,” explains Tracey, “and learnt that it was a common first indicator of multiple sclerosis (MS). I was very upset but not particularly surprised because both my dad and my cousin have MS.”
MS is a condition that can affect the brain and the spinal cord. Symptoms include problems with vision, balance and movement. A lifelong condition, MS can be mild or it can cause serious disability – each person is affected differently. Tracey saw an optician, who sent her to the hospital, but they couldn’t find anything untoward.
She recalls, “After about four months, I had another relapse – my hands ‘clawed’. I worked in an office and soon found I was unable to type, hold a pen or answer the phone. It started with a tingling sensation on the end of my thumb which slowly spread over my hand and my fingers began to claw. In time, the symptoms spread to the other hand, and again a Google search confirmed that nerve damage was also linked to MS. At this point, my GP referred me to a neurologist at the Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals in Surrey, who sent me for an MRI scan and tested my balance and coordination. The scan showed lesions to my brain and spinal cord and I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS – when symptoms flare up lasting at least 24 hours followed by a period of remission, when symptoms can go away completely. I was given steroids as treatment for my hands while I waited to see a consultant.
“I felt very low and didn’t want to go through with the wedding, but my mum said I’d be making the biggest mistake of my life. At the time, I looked fine but there was a lot going on inside me; I suffered from double vision and debilitating fatigue, but the fear of the unknown was the most worrying thing. Jake wanted us to continue with our plans so in November 2008, as intended, we got married. Our ten-year-old daughter, Poppy, was a honeymoon baby, a wonderful surprise for us both.
“In 2011, when Poppy was two, I started to use a walking stick as one of my legs wasn’t moving properly. By the time Poppy started school in 2013, I needed to use the mobility scooter the MS Society had provided. When it first arrived, I was too embarrassed to use it and held out for a year. In the meantime, I used a rollator, a four-wheeled walker, which became hard to manoeuvre to reach her playground. But when Poppy became a junior,
I was using the scooter for the school runs. Eventually, I struggled to get it in and out of the car boot while keeping my balance so I had a hoist fitted in the boot. After two years, I was having difficulty getting on to the scooter so in 2016 I began to use a wheelchair. We lived in a two-storey house and although we had a stairlift, I was restricted once upstairs,
so we moved into a wheelchair-accessible bungalow in 2017; I loved the fact that I could
tuck Poppy into bed at night. Fatigue got the better of me and I progressed from a manual wheelchair to a power chair – and while it helped to conserve my energy, I felt like I’d taken another step backwards.”
But there was hope on the horizon. Some years previously, Tracey had met another person with MS who had a Canine Partners dog. Seeing the impact it had on their lives, Tracey got in touch with the charity, which partners specially trained assistance dogs with people who have physical disabilities. In March 2015, the family went on a Bluebell Walk with Canine Partners in Heyshott, West Sussex, and met volunteer Martin Smailes, who was with his canine partner, Keith.
“After seeing one of these dogs in action, I knew this was exactly what I needed.”
Tracey was assessed at the centre. The waiting list was two years, but after 18 months, Canine Partners told Tracey that it had matched her with a dog! She says, “Our dog was called Pedro but he didn’t complete his training so I had to go back on the waiting list. A few weeks later, I was matched with Uley. We bonded immediately.”
Puppies spend their first year with volunteers, where they learn basic obedience, before going on to advanced training for another 17-20 weeks; at this time, successful applicants have on-site training (OST) and stay at the centre for two weeks, sharing a room with their potential dog to get used to each other and learn about training and caring for the dog. Tracey’s stay was in August 2018 and was followed up with regular checks from a trainer.
“Uley is such an amazing dog. She fetches things for me, including anything I drop or the TV remote control, my slippers – she’s there in a flash as soon as something hits the ground. She helps me to take my shoes, trousers and socks off and she flicks my leg up on to the opposite knee so I can get my shoes and socks on. She also helps me to get in and out of bed. I have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, and Uley has her own seat and harness. She goes with me to my Pilates for MS class, where she helps to get my shoes off and on and then enjoys a little snooze whilst I do my exercises.”
Tracey now has secondary progressive MS – the next stage of the condition, when her disability gets steadily worse, as when changes happen, they never go away completely. However, with Uley at her side, she can remain positive.
“Having Uley has completely changed my outlook,” she says. “She’s everything to me.”
TOTAL RAISED: £102,668
Funds raised in The Candis Big Give will be used to provide more dogs so the charity can reopen the waiting list to new applicants. Funds will facilitate the breeding programme and the training of volunteers who will train puppies as well as completing kennel facilities at its Midlands Training Centre.caninepartners.org.uk
DONATIONS TO DATE
We never forget it’s YOUR subscriptions that enable Candis Club to give huge amounts to charities. Our running total shows how much
to the Cancer and Polio Research Fund (1962 to 2002)
to the National Asthma Campaign (1990 to 2002)
to Marie Curie (1998 to 2012)
to Macmillan Cancer Support (1993 to 2013)
to Bliss, the special care baby charity (1990 to 2009)
to Liverpool University’s Cancer Tissue Bank Research Centre (1989 to 1993)
to the British Heart Foundation (2002 to 2008)
to local groups via the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) (1990 to 2009)
to ICAN (1989)
to Tommy’s, the baby charity (2006 to 2009)
to Children’s Hospices UK (2008 to 2010)
to charities in The Candis Big Give
TOTAL TO DATE
In 2019, Candis Club will donate at least £250,000 from members’ magazine subscription revenue to health charities taking part in The Candis Big Give. Any additional funds will go to charities at the discretion of the General Committee of Candis Club
Make a difference
We’ve highlighted some of the charities taking part in The Candis Big Give. For a full list, and details of the life-changing projects they’re raising money for, visit candis.co.uk/charity
What it does: Funds vital research into ataxia and its treatment.
Candis Big Give project: To improve access to diagnosis and treatment for sufferers in the UK.
Fundraising target: £78,472
BREAST CANCER HAVEN
What it does: Offers free advice to those affected by breast cancer.
Candis Big Give project: To provide personalised support programmes.
Fundraising target: £73,766
What it does: Supports those with epidermolysis bullosa (EB).
Candis Big Give project: To fund enhanced care for children at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Fundraising target: £37,042
What it does:
Helps people with inherited progressive sight loss.
Candis Big Give project: To fund research into inherited retinal conditions.
Fundraising target: £35,017
What it does: Provides memorable Special Days for seriously ill adults.
Candis Big Give project: To offer
a positive focus away from treatment.
Fundraising target: £45,224
What it does: Saves babies’ lives during pregnancy and birth.
Candis Big Give project: To fund
a care plan for recurrent miscarriage.
Fundraising target: £113,528
What it does: Raises awareness and funds research into Parkinson’s.
Candis Big Give project: Money will help to run the charity’s helpline.
Fundraising target: £50,823