Ipswich: Pioneering scheme which uses friendly pooches to help people with brain injuries faces funding crisis

BRAINY Dogs is a pioneering project that helps some of the most vulnerable people in our society – but lack of funds means it could be forced to close in March.

Its users say it would be a “crying shame” if the initiative, which matches companion dogs with people have brain injuries, was forced to shut down.

Now they are sending out a desperate appeal for money to help the lifeline scheme carry on.

The project is run by Headway Ipswich and East Suffolk, based in Epsilon House at Ransomes Europark in Ipswich.

Headway supports those affected by acquired neurological conditions such as brain injury like stroke or traumatic injury, Parkinson’s diseases or multiple sclerosis.

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For Liz Baker, her pooch Treacle is quite simply her best friend.

Liz, 41, suffers from spina bifida and hydrocephalus – water on the brain. She has looked after Treacle since she was a year old.

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Liz said: “She means everything to me, she has given me loads of confidence and it means I have to get out and about. She’s marvellous.”

Headway chief executive Helen Fairweather said: “We struggle to raise enough money for our services and we have more and more people on our books. There have been problems due to the recession and, everything has got more expensive.”

The Brainy Dogs scheme was started by the charity in October 2011. Brainy Dogs co-ordinator Sophie Mayes, 25, said: “People with brain injuries can often suffer personality changes and can lose their friends and become isolated.

“Dogs can often fill an emotional gap following brain injury. They are something to love and something to be loved by. Dogs give people a reason to get out and about and offer a chance to meet new people”.

Sophie said the scheme offers dog training services in conjunction with day release prisoners from Hollesley Bay prison, helping prisoners with their rehabilitation.

She said: “The dogs are homed from the Blue Cross and they can be any age and any breed.

“We train them to walk with wheelchairs and it gives people a chance of dog ownership that they would find difficult otherwise.”

Mel Clitherow, head of reducing reoffending at Hollesley Bay said: “The prisoners volunteer and it really makes a difference to their lives and chances when they leave prison. It improves their confidence as well as teaching new skills.”

One prisoner said: “I am 32 and I have been in prison for nine years. I come here every day and I love working with the dogs and the people here. It has built my confidence.”

Helen said the first year, funded by lottery money, cost around �60,000. She said: “We estimate it will cost around �30,000 a year to run but when the lottery money has gone we have no further funding.

“We will have to close unless we find more funding. This is a unique service in the UK in a developmental stage and it is hugely valuable to quality of life of our clients. It would be a crying shame if it closed.”

Helen said she fears that without the money the scheme will fold in March. For Vicky Stobart this would be unthinkable.

The 45-year-old, who suffers from water on the brain, is devoted to her Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Faith. She said: “She means everything to me. This scheme has meant the world to me. It would be dreadful if it didn’t carry on.”

- To donate to Headway’s Brainy Dogs scheme, phone the charity on 01473 712225 or visit the website at www.headwayipswich.org.uk

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