This month the Community Fellowship were fortunate to be visited by Jessica Riley from Canine Partners, assisted by her golden Labrador Theo (Theo means "Gift from God"). Canine Partners, founded in 1990 and whose patron is the Duke of Gloucester, trains assistance dogs to transform the lives of people with disabilities.

Jessica commenced What if every movement gave you pain? It certainly made us realise just how wonderful it is that we have the freedom to move about without the use of an expensive wheelchair and a canine partner. Jessica showed us examples of young people who do require the invaluable assistance of a canine partner.

There was a woman who has had to have prosthetic limbs fitted and the aid of a dog, also a young soldier, Steve, paralysed from the waist down. It is a staggering thought and statistic that in the UK alone, 1.2 million people use a wheelchair. At present there are over 700 enquiries a year for a canine partner, and over 200 on the waiting list. A great deal of training is required, with over 200 working partnerships, which it is hoped will rise to over 300 by the end of 2014.

Each dog starts as a puppy, with twelve months of puppy training. Each dog must be able to tug, touch and retrieve. There are fourteen puppy satellites across the UK, where this training is carried out. Then at the end of the training a suitable match is made between dog and owner. It is good to know that lifelong aftercare follows, with seven visits in the first year, and six monthly visits thereafter.

The Queen has now met twelve partnerships, and has given the Royal Seal of Approval. Locally there are five partnerships in Southampton, and thirty-four across Hampshire.

Heyshott in West Sussex is an established training centre: the site was first agreed in 2001, and opened in 2005. Now, another centre in Leicestershire, has recently opened. Each partnership is estimated to cost £20,000 over a lifetime. Among various fund-raising events is "Wag and Walk".

You might like to become a puppy parent, or apparently one can adopt a puppy. See the website

As a group, the Fellowship were most impressed with Jessica's talk, especially as it was her very first time at giving a talk in public. So, a very big thank you is extended to her. She certainly showed confidence, independence, responsibility and self-esteem.

John Noyce