When Susan Fulton first clapped eyes on golden poodle Esther it was love at first sight, but little did she know the impact her new four-legged friend would have.
After living a limited life for more than two decades following a spinal injury, Susan’s life was turned around when Canine Partners stepped in with an unusual solution - Esther.
Susan brought Esther home to Lowick 12 months ago, and a year on she says things couldn’t be more different.
“I just can’t describe how she’s changed my life,” Susan says. “I knew she would physically but I hadn’t understood how much impact she would have psychologically. I really wasn’t prepared for that.”
Canine Partners is a national charity that trains assistance dogs to support people with disabilities. The dogs are trained to help with everyday tasks such as loading washing machines, supermarket shopping, and getting help in an emergency.
Esther helps Susan with everything from doing the laundry to getting ready for bed. “At night she goes into my wardrobe and gets the big pillow that I sleep with to keep me still - it’s as big as her!” Susan laughs. “Then she shuts the wardrobe after her, which is one up from my husband!”
As well as helping round the house, Esther’s loyal, loving presence makes a difference in itself. “The days were so long before Esther came along,” Susan says. “I was focussing on my pain and how limited I was, but when I got Esther things changed.
“I’m so much more confident now. When my back goes and I’m in pain or panicky she really calms me down. I wake up in the morning to a wave of pain, then a little face pops up next to me, and I think I’ll let the dog out.
“Before I got her I spent many more days in bed than I do now.”
Susan is so grateful to Canine Partners that she has begun a series of talks to spread awareness about the charity and what it does.
And thanks to a helping hand from the community, she has collected 15,000 unwanted stamps to donate to them, with money gained through the stamp appeal already helping one assistance dog through training.
Stamps have come from near and far - after reading Susan’s story on the Advertiser website, one lady across the pond emailed Canine Partners to get the charity’s address. She wrote: “I read about Susan Fulton and her Canine Companion Esther online and have been saving stamps since reading that inspirational article. I have lived in San Francisco for forty years, but my home was in Chillingham and a big chunk of my heart is in Northumberland.”
“It’s incredible that somebody so far away knows my story,” Susan says. “They say that you leave your heart in San Francisco but it sounds like this lady went there and left her heart in Chillingham!
“I need to say a big thank everybody who has helped me collect the stamps, particularly Ford and Etal Estates, and Lowick corner shop who acted as a collection point for me, and the folk in the Canine Partners office.”
•For more on the charity go to www.caninepartners.org.uk.