Canine heroes in Sussex
PUBLISHED: 15:04 10 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 February 2013
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes they come on four legs as well. Meet five canine heroes in Sussex...
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes they come on four legs as well. Kate Eastman went to meet canine professionals who transform lives and in return get their own special rewards...
Nunz Walter with Gizzie the Shih Tzu
Canine Concern is a charity that offers the sick and elderly the chance to have their spirits lifted by a friendly, loving dog that visits hospitals, hospices and homes for the elderly.
Ive been with Canine Concern for four years and this is my second year of being a representative, says Nunz. Basically we go into nursing homes and elderly peoples homes if they want a friendly dog to visit.
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Covering most of Bexhill and Hastings, Nunz and Gizzie bring smiles to many of the elderly faces they visit. I always believe if you get one smile in the home then its worth it.
More often than not most of the residents enjoy a stroke or simply to watch Gizzie wander around the other residents happily sniffing and wagging his tail. Some had pets before they came in so its nice to have that little bit of love and contact again.
Nunz assesses potential dogs and explains what shes looking for: It doesnt matter what the breed of dog, from Chihuahua to Newfoundland, but the main thing is the dog has to be happy and sociable.
Its nice if they sit when theyre told. They are only allowed to give a paw on demand and they must never jump up and scare the residents. They have to be clean, deflead, wormed, nails trimmed and if they can do a little trick, the residents like to see that now and again.
Police officer Steph Barrett with her partner Zeus, a German Shepherd
Zeus was given to the police force as a gift dog, when his 80-year-old owners could no longer look after him.
Zeus is now 6 yrs old Ive had him five years after he successfully completed the three-month training course to get his police dog licence, says Steph, who covers the Eastbourne area.
Whenever Im on duty he is as well and we work about 50 hours a week. Once it gets dark is when were busy. At 3am in a residential area theres no one about so Zeus can track and search people who run off from burglaries or search for car thieves. He tracks the last scent at a crime scene: we all have different smells and he tracks the last disturbance.
Last year, Zeus and Steph went to a Blockbuster store that was broken into in Eastbourne and he chased for more than two miles. We tracked through residential estates, over fences and through hedges. says Steph.
We successfully got the people arrested but without Zeus we would have never have found them because the informants said they had gone in the other direction. Theres no better feeling when you get a successful case like that.
Zeus loves his ball and gets rewarded with it every day but he knows the difference between work and home time. As soon as we walk through the gates to our home he switches off and goes into puppy mode. Hes a lovely companion and we have lots of fun together.
One of my colleagues received a memo from the Crown Prosecution Service asking for a statement from her partner, She informed them that her partner was a dog but they rather snottily persisted that PC Simba provided a statement.
She returned a statement with a series of barks and woofs. What was funny was the defence had to serve the statement because it was a legal document and that made the national newspapers.
Tony Aston with Harvey, the Labrador Retriever-cross, guide dog
Tony, of Burgess Hill, has been the chairman of the Guide Dogs Association for three years. With this job comes a busy weekly routine, one that Harvey is learning at the moment.
Harvey and I started our training on the 12th of October last year. My last dog, Alex, retired the day before, at a grand age of 10 which is a bit above average to retire, says Tony.
Harvey is now 22 months old and probably has about another six months training to develop the partnership between us and become a really smashing guide dog.
An average dog has between 120 and 150 words in its vocabulary. The basic vocabulary is about 80 words but they soon learn many other words relating to their owner, says Tony.
For example, he knows the word box. When were heading for a patrolled crossing with a box he knows to find it. I reward him with cuddles and treats, when he finds a box on a pedestrian crossing he gets a treat because thats very clever.
The Guide Dogs Association has been around for 77 years and breeds 1,100 dogs a year, of which around 750 makes it through to class.
Its the volunteers that make it possible for any blind or partially blind person to have a guide dog without any cost if theyre in a situation where they cant contribute. Theyre the best travel aid a blind person can have, says Tony.
Sarah Jones with Sam, the English Springer Spaniel, fire and investigations search dog
Sam, who is based at Eastbourne, has been licensed since February 2005 to work with the fire service. His job is to search fires once they have had time to cool.
Sam looks for flammable liquids, says Sarah. We tend to arrive at the scene just as the fire services are leaving because of the liquids nature to evaporate quite quickly.
Its a gun dogs instinct to smell things out. We train him to search for substances instead of grouse.
Sam was bred as a search dog because his mother was a drug detection dog and his father is an explosives dog. He was fully operational by the time he was 12 months old.
It normally takes four weeks for a fire and investigations dog to search for his first substance and from there we just expand his repertoire and make the searches more difficult by adding distractions but the training is ongoing, says Sarah.
While Sam is working he wears a harness that tells him hes on duty. The harness has several benefits: its reflective so I can see him and you can attach a line to it if you want to restrict him in a search. He doesnt go anywhere I wouldnt go.
I find the best way to reward Sam is with a tennis ball that he loves to play with. One thing that hes renowned for is that he barks the whole time he is searching. This just shows he loves his job!
Sam's success stories
Sam has been involved with quite a few success stories: recently he went to a fire in Hove where the investigations officer suspected that there might have been accelerants because of the rapid fire spread but hadnt found any evidence of it.
As soon as Sam searched there he went straight to some debris which didnt look like anything on the surface but once we dug underneath we found a remains of a white spirit bottle.
Don Fathers with his sheepdogs Bonnie and Meg
No matter what the weather, every single day of the year Don and his two Border Collies go up to the Sussex countryside above Shoreham to check on the sheep.
I go round and check the sheep every morning to see if there are any sick, lame or any other number of things that sheep suffer from. If one gets on to its back it could die if it was not lifted back on its feet, says Don.
It took him about 18 months to train his dogs but he was a novice not knowing anything at all about sheep or sheepdogs when he began.
The commands we learned together, says Don, are come by, which means clockwise, away here, which is anti-clockwise, lie down, stand, look back, thatll do, hold them there, steady, walk and take time.
I once lost my sheep at a sheepdog trial when they ran into a muddy pond. I pursued them and found myself up to my knees in mud, unable to move but naturally the sheep had got themselves out!
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