How a Dogs for Good service dog changed this Buckinghamshire Multiple Sclerosis patient's life
A Buckinghamshire adventurer has shared his story of how Assistance Dog for People (ADP) helped him get his life back on track after he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Neil Jowitt, 58, was told he had multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2012 after going into hospital for an MRI scan on a back problem.
When told the news, he said he felt like the 'walls were closing in', however he resolved to make the most of the situation and has decided to tick off several items from his bucket list, including a trip to the USA.
Neil said: "I decided after the diagnosis I wanted to tick a few things off my bucket list, including a coast to coast trip in America on a Harley Davidson."
Soon after Neil returned from the USA he started to develop full blown symptoms of MS.
He said when he sold off his bike, his son was 'devastated' as the pair enjoyed long trips out riding during the English summer.
As the illness began to progress, he had to take a backseat to his families activities, swapping adventure for time spend in coffee shops reading.
He said: "Mentally as well as physically, my world was changing and the walls were starting to close in on me.
Neil’s neurologist advised him to keep on working and after making a few changes to the workplace in the form of ramps and lifts, Neil was able to find a bit of ‘normal’ again.
He said his colleagues and family helped him feel as though things would be okay.
He said: "I found myself staying in the office and not going out at lunchtime. I felt really embarrassed on my scooter and people on the street would avoid and ignore me and it wasn’t at all pleasant.”
Neil was, understandably, grieving for the life he had lost.
He said: “I recognised that I needed to make the most of what we could do as a family, rather than what we couldn’t do."
They discussed getting a pet dog and looked into rehoming one from a local charity.
It was then that he discovered Dogs for Good, a charity that trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities.
Neil registered his interest with Dogs for Good in 2016 and waited for three years until the charity was able to invite him to an Information Day in February 2019.
He described the day as 'incredible', and was looking forward to what he said could be a 'life changing situation'.
Neil said: “Dogs for Good received literally thousands of enquiries every year from people like me who would like an assistance dog, so it was really quite humbling to receive a call to tell me that we were through - once the right dog was available, we’d be matched. All we had to do was wait.”
In October 2019, Neil eventually received the phone call he’d been waiting for, as the family were introduced to a black labrador named Sage.
Neil said: “Right from the moment she wagged her way across the office, the walls that had been closing in started to recede.
“Jen brought her in and almost instantly, Sage settled down beside me. She was perfect.”
A home visited completed the assessment and thankfully it all went well.
Neil described the experience as 'magical', and said he could instantly see how Sage would 'open up his world again'.
Six months on and Sage and Neil are now a closely-bonded partnership. Jen worked with them both every day for a number of weeks to ensure that they both understood each other
and how to get the best out of the partnership.
He admitted it was hard work but said that the rewards had transformed his life.
Sage now helps Neil with the task work she’s been specially trained to do such as picking up items he’s dropped, helping him on and off with items of clothing, bringing him his sticks, opening doors for him and also putting down the footplates on his wheelchair.
With Sage at his side, Neil no longer feels embarrassed on his scooter and every lunchtime, they go out together.
He said: “I found myself on the high street that I’d not seen for two or three years. And because Sage is trotting along beside me, people actually see me and talk to me.”
During the current coronavirus pandemic, Neil has been told to stay at home because his immune system is severely compromised as a result of a new drug he’s been taking since January. “
I absolutely can’t afford to get Covid-19,” said Neil.
“But because we’re fortunate enough to live somewhere that’s quite remote, we can get out but above all else, we’re lucky enough to have Sage, who opens up the doors, even in lockdown.”