A Lincoln man, who has been wheelchair-bound since he was 14, says a dog has helped him to cope.
Owen Picker, 21, lives in Lincoln and has cerebral palsy quadriplegia which means he has difficulty controlling movement in his arms and legs.
Day-to-day, Owen struggles to hold things in a tight grip and face difficulties in picking them back up if dropped. This can leave Owen vulnerable if he is unable to get help from someone else in an emergency.
But he hasn’t let his disability hold him back and is currently studying for a masters in special education needs at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln with Ula – who is part Labrador and Golden Retriever – at his side.
He has had Ula since last September and as well as providing Owen with physical support, Ula also provides emotional comfort to the student who previously struggled with depression.
Owen said:“Ula and I have a symbiotic relationship – we’re an equal partnership. She’s my best friend, my confidant and while we’ve only been together for a short while, it feels like much longer.”
“She is the most loving, affectionate, soft and cuddly girl.
“Practically, she helps me with retrieving items I drop such as my phone, controllers and keys, as well as helping me off with my clothes, opening and closing doors, etc.
“She’s also helped me with my reason to get up in the morning and she’s helped me find a sense of responsibility because I need to look after myself and keep my room tidy so that she can be comfortable and safe.”
“I need to make sure that she’s OK and by doing that, I also make sure that I’m OK.”
Owen has been on the waiting list for a dog from Dogs for Good for more than three years before Ula entered his life.
When he was about 17, Owen and his mum watched a TV programme about assistance dogs ahead of applying for one himself.
He added: “Being at University was a big transitional change and I did struggle with loneliness and anxiety in the first year.”
“I was eating too many takeaways, I didn’t keep my living space clean and tidy and, while it’s difficult to admit, I definitely got into the mindset of ‘I don’t need to do this because my carers will do it’.
“I know it’s a cliché but I really didn’t have any sense of purpose. I started to get a bit of my old determination back and took more of an interest in the life I could have at university.”
Last year saw things begin to change for Owen once he got the call that Ula would be available to assist him.
Dogs for Good Instructor, Katie Anakin, works with Owen and Ula in refining the task work that Ula can carry out for him.
She said: “Ula and Own are completely smitten with each other. Owen adores Ula and they’re absolutely brilliant together.
“They bonded really quickly and they dote on each other – Ula almost mothers Owen – and it’s really lovely watching their bond deepen and grow.”
Owen added that his best friend is getting married in 2023 and has asked him to be the ringbearer – a ceremony at which Ula will be the flower girl.