Gillian Taylor is a trustee of Canine Partners, a national charity that trains dogs to give people with disabilities greater independence.
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How did you become involved with Canine Partners?
An announcement was made during a local CPD evening that a Sussex-based charity was looking to appoint a veterinary surgeon to its board of trustees. Anyone who might be interested was asked to contact Canine Partners for more information.
I had trustee experience from running a millennium village hall project and, after nearly 18 years working for PDSA, I had recently moved back into private practice. This appeared to present an opportunity to maintain a link with the charity sector. It seemed to offer an interesting challenge, which would combine veterinary knowledge and communication skills. As my areas of interest include behaviour and the training of dogs I thought it would be a good fit.
Tell us a bit about the charity.
Canine Partners was founded in 1990, and one of the founders was Liz Ormerod, a vet. The charity's mission is to assist people with disabilities to enjoy a greater independence and a better quality of life and, where possible, to help them into education and employment, through the provision of specially trained dogs whose wellbeing is a key consideration.
More than 1.2 million people in the UK use a wheelchair, and a significant number of these would benefit from having a canine partner. The dogs are trained to suit each individual applicant's requirements. They can help with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, picking up dropped items, helping partners undress, pressing buttons or switches, unloading washing machines and many more. Apart from the physical help, the dogs give an immeasurable amount of emotional support – giving partners more confidence and self-esteem and enabling increased opportunities for social interaction.
What activities does a veterinary trustee gets involved in?
I attend trustee meetings, away days and partnership ceremonies. I provide input on the governance and strategy for the charity as a whole.
With my ‘vet’ hat on I am often the first point of contact for staff who have queries about the health and wellbeing of our dogs. I devise and update health protocols, decide on screening programmes, liaise with general practice vets and referral centres. We are keen to standardise levels of care for all our dogs.
As part of the educational aspect I have given talks to groups of puppy parents and produced information to circulate to our partnership population. I chair the Dog Welfare Group, which consists of staff from almost all sections of the charity. At a local level, I act as an ambassador for Canine Partners, often attending fundraising events or networking with clients and members of my local community such as local Rotarians.
Why is your involvement important?
The health and welfare of the dogs is a key issue for the charity, and my presence allows an objective view to be given when policy or decisions need to be made. A huge amount of emotion is invested in the dogs by those who work with them and I hope that I can give a balanced view based on my many years of veterinary experience.
What do you like about your charitable work?
I enjoy working with dedicated volunteers and staff who have a great passion for Canine Partners. The puppy parents have a vital role to play in an organisation such as ours and their selflessness is to be applauded. My practice is near a puppy training satellite, so I often get hands-on puppy experience. Partnership ceremonies, where the placed dogs and partners are acknowledged as a permanent unit, are the culmination of the charity's work. It is a great pleasure to attend these, especially where the dog may have had a less than straightforward route to this point, requiring extensive veterinary input.
What do you not like?
The most difficult or least enjoyable aspect of my work within Canine Partners is having to take clinical decisions that may result in the break-up of a partnership. This is usually due to health issues with the placed dog. All our dogs are monitored on a regular basis by staff who visit the home of the partner, and also by looking at the clinical records forwarded to us by local veterinary surgeons.
What was your proudest moment?
Within the charity, it was when Otis, the first puppy I ever selected from a client's litter, graduated as a fully fledged partner.
. . . and your most embarrassing?
This would probably be when I appeared in a local village pantomime as Little John – I have never worn green tights since.
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