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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 17:09 GMT
Man's best friend proves his worth
Spiro Sueref and labrador Jake
Jake the labrador has given owner Spiro Sueref a lease of life

He has a happy temperament, never answers back and is always ready to help, be it to pick up dropped keys, slippers or the post.

For MS sufferer Spiro Sueref, 39, his black labrador Jake provides a vital lifeline - and only asks for a bit of love and a few raw carrots in return.

The six year old dog, trained specially by Canine Partners for Life to increase his owner's much cherished independence, was one of a number of animals to parade their good works in a park just a few yards from the Houses of Parliament.

The event was organised by the National Office of Animal Health (Noah) to promote the positive effects a variety of creatures have on human life.

Jake can take my socks off, gets my slippers and he hands me the post
Spiro Sueref about his dog Jake

Among the attendees was DJ, a pony who helps disabled people through riding and grooming lessons, and Buster, a springer spaniel, who was awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross for saving lives by sniffing out hidden bomb-making equipment in Iraq last March.

For Mr Sueref, whose MS forced him to quit his job as a business development manager, Jake is more than a pet.

While he can walk a short way, Mr Sueref, from Four Marks in Hampshire, relies on a wheelchair for longer distances and says he needs his faithful hound to assist with day to day chores.

Loading the washing machine

"He mainly helps by being there. My wife is a teacher, and while she is at work, I do stumble around the house and drop things, like bunches of keys, pens and bits of paper," he said.

"When I do, Jake picks them up and gives them to me. He can take my socks off, gets my slippers and he hands me the post."

Sergeant Danny Morgan with award-winner Buster
Buster the springer spaniel received the Victoria Cross
And when Jake finishes his tasks, his favourite treats are raw vegetables, "although being a typical labrador, he eats most things", said Mr Sueref.

Sue Huggett, vice chairman of Noah, said Spiro and Jake's tale is typical of the kind of help provided by man's best friend in particular.

"There are many amazing examples of how dogs can help the hard of hearing answer the phone, load the washing machine and make a difference to someone who is terminally ill in a hospital or hospice," she said.

"Hopefully, this event will be very helpful when people think about the impact of animals and their health and welfare needs."

Paralympics competitor

Andrew Brockman, 21, from Gravesend, has Cerebral Palsy and is convinced his mobility has improved because of his involvement with Riding for the Disabled (RDA).

The suited business support assistant, who began riding with the charity at the age of three, is now training in the equestrian squad for the Paralympics.

I was too scared to talk to people, but then a Pat dog came in and put his head on my lap
Sandra Lee-Down

Walking with crutches, Mr Brockman said: "My over all lifestyle improved from when I joined RDA - it started off when I was three as a physical exercise but having fun at the same time.

"It has improved my balance and coordination and I'm now working towards competing in the Beijing 2008 Para Olympics."


Sandra Lee-Down, 45, and Margaret Maffey, 49, say having access to Pets as Therapy (PAT) dogs has meant they now have the confidence to leave the house and meet people.

Ms Lee-Down, who suffers from depression and an anxiety disorder, said she used to sit in a room with her head in her hands, shaking - until a collie cross called Brett came into her life.

Blue, the golden retriever, with his owner Michelle Griffiths
The golden retriever, has given confidence to anxiety sufferers
"I was too scared to talk to people, but then a Pat dog came in and put his head on my lap," she said.

"I started talking to him, then other people started talking to me about the dog and it gave us a common subject to talk about."

As we chatted, straining at the leash for attention was Pat dog "Blue", a two-year-old white golden retriever.

Mrs Maffey, who suffered trauma after the death of her husband, stroked him and said: "I became so ill I couldn't step outside my back door."

Pointing at Blue, she added: "I walked from the House of Lords to here today because of that dog - if he disappeared right now, I'd be on the floor."

Chocolate biscuits

Blue, who works for the North East London Mental Health Trust, is one of 4,500 visiting dogs who attend hospitals, hospices and care homes, helping people suffering severe injury, agrophobia, depression, anxiety and phobias.

His owner Michelle Griffiths said: "He instinctively knows who needs him. He goes to them and comforts them and makes them feel much better and happier."

And as a thank you for his efforts, his clients know he is "rather partial to chocolate digestives", she said.

After the animals and owners posed for pictures beside the Thames, the group moved on to the House of Lords for a reception, opened by Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, officer of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.

"Animals are good for us - we must be good to them," he said.

"The first animal welfare Bill for over 100 years will be put to the House shortly - it is our duty to ensure that it will provide protection, compassion and respect for all animals now and in the future."

Medal for 'bomb sniff' dog
09 Dec 03  |  Hampshire/Dorset
Buster sniffs out Iraqi weapons stash
01 Apr 03  |  Middle East
War medal given to hero dog
20 Dec 02  |  England

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