Assistance dog helps woman to be an NHS hero

Vicki & assistance dog Vila

A woman with a physical disability has told how her Dogs for Good assistance dog helps to maintain her independence and continue working as one of our NHS heroes.

Vicky Forrest (36) who lives with her husband Jason in Southampton, has spina bifida and began using a wheelchair at the age of five.

Vicky, a Divisional Governance Manager at University Hospital Southampton, said: “When I was younger I didn’t really notice how spina bifida affected me, you just accept it and get on with what your life is. As I got older I started to have a lot of pain and lost sensation in my legs and the power in my left arm.”

After a chance meeting with someone who had an assistance dog, Vicky thought this could really help her so she searched online for charities that offer this service and found Dogs for Good. 

Vicky explains: “At that time I was struggling in a manual wheelchair and I knew I’d have to start using a powered wheelchair soon. I’d been falling over quite a lot and I thought an assistance dog would help me to retain my independence.”

Vicky subsequently had a stomach operation which resulted in complications and further major surgery. When she was recovering it became quite dangerous for her to pick things up so her need for an assistance dog became even more urgent.

Vicky applied for an assistance dog from Dogs for Good in September 2018 and she was matched with a beautiful yellow Labrador called Vila in November the following year.

Assistance dog Vila

Dogs for Good is a UK-wide charity that creates life-changing differences for people living with a wide range of disabilities and conditions including autism, physical disabilities, dementia and learning disabilities, through the help of a specially trained dog. The charity’s assistance and community dogs enable people to live more independently. 

Vicky says: “I loved Vila from the minute I saw her. She’s got such enthusiasm and she was so playful and happy. 

“I’d just been through a really hard time and I was due to return to work so Vila was just what I needed at that time.”

Vila picks up dropped items, loads and unloads the washing machine, helps Vicky to get dressed and undressed and opens and closes doors. Vicky says she is also a brilliant companion.

While Vicky worked at home through the pandemic she says Vila lifted her spirits every day and now that she’s returned to work in the hospital two days a week, Vila goes with her. 

Vicky said: “All the doctors and nurses love Vila, she cheers everyone up and helps me to do everything more quickly. Without her assistance I’d struggle to do everything that I do at work and at home. 

“My life would be a lot less exciting and difficult without Vila and I’d have to rely on people a lot more. I want to maintain my independence for as long as possible and she helps me to do that. She’s a wonderful dog and I’m so glad that she came into my life, just at the right time!”

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