How an assistance dog helped change the life of a Gants Hill teenager with rare medical conditions
- Credit: Ellie Hoskins
No day can be described as normal for Gants Hill teenager Talya Hambling, who suffers from two medical conditions which leave her in chronic pain. But last year she made a life-changing decision to train her dog to help her with day-to-day tasks.
Talya, 19, suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects connective tissues, and postural tachycardia syndrome, which causes an abnormal increase in heart rate.
She feels sick and dizzy most of the time and many of her joints have a tendency to dislocate easily. She is frequently in chronic pain and suffers from blackouts and funny turns that involve hot flashes, shakes, loss of vision and heart palpitations.
But last year, Talya got Coby, a nine-week-old Goldendoodle, who has helped her feel happier, less anxious and more confident.
"I got Coby with the idea that he might be able to become my assistance dog, however I have to confess I had no idea how to go about this. After a disastrous trial at a puppy class, I looked to train Coby on my own."
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Talya came across Dog A.I.D (Assistance in Disability) which worked with the pair and signed them up to a trainer, who helped them qualify in under six months.
"Coby is now my fully-fledged assistance dog," Talya said. "He brings me my medication multiple times a day, as well as in emergency situations. He can find my phone, fetch a bottle of water for me and pick up almost any item I drop so my dizziness isn't exacerbated by leaning down."
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Talya, who studies veterinary nursing at university, says Coby can pull off her socks, perform deep pressure therapy for pain relief and joint relocation, as well as being able to find her mum both at home and outside.
"If I start to shake, he will paw my leg continuously to alert me as this generally indicates that I am going to black out or have a funny turn," Talya said. "I am currently teaching him how to help me stand up from the ground by bracing so I can lean against him.
"The difference I have felt since having Coby in my life is incredible. I am so much more confident going out alone now and no longer feel the need to rely on others just to leave the house. I am far happier, less anxious and truly feel I have regained my independence because Coby is there to not only calm me down but to help me physically as well. The bond I have with him is like no other."
One week after qualifying, Talya took her first leap of independence and travelled by train to meet friends. Previously this would have made her anxious and she would have most likely cancelled.
"Yet with Coby by my side I didn't panic and walked calmly through unfamiliar streets, which makes me excited about all the new adventures that await me that I previously wouldn't have had the confidence to experience," she said. "It's been a while since I have done something in my life that I can say I'm truly proud of, but training Coby has done just that."
Talya said she is "immensely grateful" to Dog A.I.D and the work it does to help people like her regain their independence.
"I owe my new lease of life to this charity," she said. "I'm so lucky to be part of a wonderful community of clients and trainers who all support each other through the highs and lows of the training process, the rewards of which are invaluable."
Dogs A.I.D provide pet dog training to people over the age of 15 with physical disabilities and there are currently 92 fully qualified dogs throughout the country, with 100 more in training.
Both the dog and owner receive specialist education from a network of trainers, like Talya and Coby did, and once trained, dogs can help with a variety of tasks, from emptying the washing machine and finding the telephone, to turning the lights on.