Cocking's Annual Parish Meeting for 2014 was held at its usual venue, Cocking Village Hall, on Wednesday 21st May.
Parish Council Chair, Richard Marks, welcomed approximately 20 parishioners and after a few introductory words the audience was treated to a presentation by Canine Partners, the charity founded in 1990 and based at nearby village Heyshott.
Canine Partners Presentation
Andy Sims and his wife Sue explained that they were volunteers who trained puppies destined to become the assistance dogs who help make the lives of their disabled owners easier and more comfortable. Andy did most of the talking and their lovely and lively young labrador Toffee, handled by Sue, did most of the tail wagging.
The audience was surprised to hear that there are up to 130 dogs like Toffee going through training at any one time. Initially, they live with volunteers such as Andy and Sue whilst undertaking a basic training that starts when they are about 8 weeks old. In addition to general socialisation and obedience, the regime is designed to give the puppies three fundamental skills that can be built on and combined; eventually enabling them to undertake useful and complex tasks such as fetching the post, undressing their owners, shopping and clothes washing.
Sue and Toffee demonstrated the three core skills of touching, tugging and retrieving and it was fascinating to see how these could be developed into an end product, when, for example, Toffee showed that he could raise Sue from a bed by tugging on a rope she was holding and then fetch her shoes and crutches to help her get up. Toffee was obviously enjoying what was only his second public appearance and although trained to be quiet, he became excited and gave his only bark of the evening when asked to 'get help' for his owner.
Andy explained that following basic training, at 15-16 months old the dogs receive a further 4 - 5 months advanced training with experts at Heyshott before being united with their new disabled owners during a two week intensive residential course. Even after going home with their owners, the dogs receive seven visits from Canine Partners in their first year as assistance dogs and at least two per annum thereafter. Canine Partners also provide 24 x 7 support for life.
The audience also learned that it costs about £20,000 to train and support each assistance dog and that the Charity is wholly funded by public donation and sponsorship. Schemes such as 'Adopt a Puppy' were mentioned as were the Charity's Summer Show (July 5th) and the regular information sessions held at Heyshott.
For further details of the work of Canine Partners, see their website at http://www.caninepartners.org.uk/ or follow them on social media via Twitter: @canine_partners or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/caninepartners
After a lot of questions, Toffee and the Sims were allowed to leave and the annual Parish Meeting resumed.
The minutes of last year's Parish Meeting held on 16th May 2013 (click here to see them), had been circulated and drew no comments or questions.