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Dog walking therapy – Gareth’s Story

03.02.21

This story was written by our foster carers

It was my 23rd birthday, and I couldn’t sit down.

Sadly, it wasn’t from all the excitement of getting another year older. It was a sharp shooting pain in my lower back.

I promised friends who endured a strange night out with me (I stood while they sat, I shuffled as they danced) that I would seek help the following day. It was the start of a long journey to recovering from some fairly serious back problems that continue today, more than 10 years later.

“This shouldn’t happen to me,” I thought. I’m young, and I’m a regular at the gym. What was I doing wrong?

Several professionals pointed out that 30 minutes in the gym a few times a week doesn’t balance 12 hours sat at a laptop each day.

There were things I could change immediately. But I also needed a fundamental lifestyle change. I wasn’t sure how, but I had a feeling a dog would feature heavily.

And so I moved, from a flat to a house. And my new neighbour explained their dog would soon have a litter. My new companion would be arriving soon. It was impossible to choose from 8 seemingly identical black Labradors. But I didn’t have to choose. Charlie chose me.

She’s 7 now, and still shows no sign of growing out of the first couple of “crazy puppy
years”.

As we walked together, my back began to heal. Slowly. And with plenty of moments where things went backwards, not forwards. Over time, the pain went away. And since the kids arrived, the routine for Charlie has changed. There aren’t so many early morning dog walks before work. Or afternoons that clash with the school run I was mostly oblivious to before. Instead, we travel up into the woods, or off to a nearby beach. The freedom we all experience is liberating. Charlie looks to the kids to see who wants to run with her. She always decides against outpacing them, and sticks to their sides and seems to soak up their love of life.

Charlie was my reason to get out for a walk. To begin the process of fixing my failing back. It’s easier to motivate yourself on cold days, when there are emails that need answering and work that needs doing, when it’s not just you that needs a walk.

Now, she offers an excuse for us all to get outside. Over the last year that purpose has been especially welcome and needed. We track our steps with interest. How far did we walk today? But the real joy is the moments where you forget you’re even walking at all. Charlie sets the standard. Off the lead she roams ahead, up and down the bank, and rounds up any children falling too far behind.

Charlie gets us outside. Gets us walking. Even when we don’t feel like it, which is always when we need it the most. She’s an excuse for us to exercise. To enjoy the fresh air and the healing power of nature. Allowing the sunlight to remind us it is daytime, even on those grey British winter days.

There is one exception…. Charlie doesn’t like the rain. We’re all OK with that.

If you think you, and your pet could make a difference to a child or young person’s life, get in touch with us today.

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