Dementia dogs bring new life to couples

Maureen and Frank Benham say they have been given their lives back thanks to their pet dog, two-year-old golden labrador Kaspa. Picture: PA

Maureen and Frank Benham say they have been given their lives back thanks to their pet dog, two-year-old golden labrador Kaspa. Picture: PA

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A COUPLE dealing with dementia say they have been given their lives back thanks to their pet dog.

Two-year-old golden labrador Kaspa is one of the first dogs in the UK to receive special training to assist people with dementia and is bringing relief to Angus husband and wife Ken and Glenys Will.

Mr Will, 79, was diagnosed with vascular dementia about three years ago and Mrs Will, 66, took on the role of carer.

The Arbroath couple are benefiting from a link-up between Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs Scotland which began last year.

Kaspa has been trained to fetch medicines when a reminder alarm goes off, to wake up Mr Will and to carry items between him and his wife.

It is not just the animal’s practical skills that have improved their lives; Kaspa has also helped relieve stress and allowed the couple to get out of the house.

Mrs Will said: “Kaspa has totally given us our lives back. Ken is much happier because he’s got the dog. We can go shopping, we can even go on holidays.

“We are a lot more relaxed since the dog came, because if Ken gets in a mood and angry, the dog comes and nudges him and he forgets his problems.

“It’s absolutely great, like a big weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Mr Will said: “I was tensed up and after two or three steps he just brushed against me and looked up as if to say, ‘am I doing OK?’ and the stress just went.”

His wife added: “We’ve been married 48 years but often I’ve sat and looked at him and thought, ‘I don’t know who this person is’ – but now I’ve got a good bit of him back again.”

The team behind the project says that having a dog provides a reason to go out for regular walks, meet people and stay connected to the world.

Joining Kaspa in the project is Oscar, a two-year-old golden retriever who helps another 
Arbroath couple, Frank and Maureen Benham. Mrs Benham, 69, has Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr Benham, 74, said: “Maureen and I can’t imagine going back to what it was like before we got Oscar.”

The Dementia Dog project was pioneered at Glasgow School of Art (GSA), the idea of product design students. It got off the ground with funding from the Scottish Government and the UK Design Council.

Another two dogs have already begun their training.

Gordon Hush of the GSA said: “Dementia Dog sees graduates extending their skills beyond the traditional domain of material manufacture. The ability to redesign experiences is a challenge and one that these young designers have risen to in an extraordinary fashion.”

Helen McCain, training director at Dogs for the Disabled, said: “We believe the assistance dog could make a significant contribution to the government’s 
national dementia strategy.”

Joyce Gray of Alzheimer Scotland said: “Dementia Dog has had a truly wonderful impact on the families involved.”

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