Canine Partners welcomed a very special visitor to our National Training Centre and headquarters in West Sussex on Tuesday 13 July. Prince Harry spent 90 minutes seeing the facilities, meeting some of the puppies in training and talking to people who have benefited from having a canine partner.
On the Prince’s arrival at the site, all the working dogs waiting in the courtyard to meet him broke out into a spontaneous welcoming bark, which made everyone smile and set the tone for a very informal and fun visit. Prince Harry was escorted round the training centre by Andy Cook, Canine Partners’ CEO, and the first port of call was the training hall where several of the Charity’s youngest recruits were waiting to impress the royal visitor.
Among the pups lucky enough to interact with Prince Harry were 14 week old Labrador Una, who happily shook paws with the Prince, and even showed off how good her recall was by running to him when he called her. Four-month-old golden retriever Trudy demonstrated how she was learning to put her front paws on a step, and went one stage further in front of Prince Harry by putting all four paws on the step and sitting down! But the pup that received the most royal attention was eight-week-old Veyron – named after the famous supercar the Bugatti Veyron. As Prince Harry cuddled the pup he commented on the little noises Veyron was making. Andy quickly responded by joking, “That is what he normally does before he is sick!” Later on, however, the Prince got his own back on Andy when they were watching a dog being groomed by jokily saying that he was allergic to dog fur.
Once the youngsters had performed, it was time for the older dogs in training to show off the more advanced skills they learn, including pulling bedclothes off, handing over a purse at a checkout and opening doors. Prince Harry was invited to get involved by putting some wheelchair gloves on and asking demonstration dog Doyle to remove them and put them in the washing machine. Undeterred by his famous temporary handler and all the world’s media taking pictures, Doyle performed his duty and earned a pat on the head from the Prince.
Then it was on to meet two very new partnerships who were on their two-week residential course at the centre, learning the training and cementing the bond. Gwyneira Waters, who lives in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, with her canine partner Nikki, and Alison Wyatt, from Colchester in Essex, with her new partner Maddy, had a chat with Prince Harry about how they were looking forward to more independence and confidence when they took their new dogs home with them at the end of the course.
Another partnership lucky enough to meet Prince Harry was Stephen Brookes who has had canine partner Major for six weeks. Stephen, from Fareham in Hampshire, is a petty officer in the Royal Navy and has served for 14 years. After an accident on his motorbike he sustained a spinal injury which left him tetraplegic and a wheelchair user. He has been undergoing rehabilitation at Headley Court, the defence medical rehabilitation unit, and it was there that he heard about Canine Partners, and decided to apply. He said: “Since having Major I have gained more independence in my everyday life. Being in a wheelchair, I was highly reliant upon my family, friends and carers. He makes tasks I found difficult since my injury, so much easier, like picking up objects, opening doors, using lifts and even paying for items in shops; now I can call on Major and he can do these things with me. Major comes with his own cheeky personality and I believe we were well matched. He is now a valued, and much loved member of our family, he fits right in."
Stephen’s wife, Nichola, and two young children Emily and Grace also met the Prince, and the two girls presented him with little posies. They were very excited at meeting Prince Harry, but even more excited at all the photographers and television cameras. After a few seconds of talking to the Prince, Emily turned away and was heard to say: “Can I have my biscuit now?” which caused much merriment with the royal visitor.
The event was rounded off with a tea party where Prince Harry had a chance to mingle with a host of working partnerships. There was even a “when Harry met Harry” moment when he came upon a red golden retriever canine partner sharing his name. He asked Harry’s disabled owner, Sarah, if he was so named because he was ginger!
The visit has been the highlight so far of our 20th anniversary year, and will help to raise the profile of the Charity. Andy Cook says: “The visit by Prince Harry is a huge boost to Canine Partners and we thoroughly enjoyed showing him how we train the dogs to help people with disabilities. He was very interested in our work with the Armed Forces, and had a long private chat with petty officer Stephen Brookes about how the dogs can make such a difference to injured servicemen and women. The Prince proved to be a competent handler with the more advanced dogs in training, and a big hit with the younger puppies who vied with each other to get the most cuddles! He spoke to many of our working partnerships, giving him an insight into the variety of ways a canine partner can help his disabled owner.”