Member of the month – April 2021

Name: Bev and Steve
Area: Derbyshire
Dogs: Sumi and Koji

Never having had a dog in our lives we suddenly became dog owners after a daughter got one, but then decided it was a mistake, and short of putting the dog into rescue, we rescued him instead. So in 2006 we became dog owners of a Japanese Akita called Kendo who was just short of one year old. He was a completely loving, loyal and handsome young man and the start of a whole new journey for us. We have some exceptionally good friends that have a severely disabled son who has lots of complications, including not being able to speak. We visit them often and stay over with them and it soon became very apparent the bond that was developing between Kendo and Eddie. I then realised there was something more to Kendo than just being a dog, so I started looking around and found a therapy dog charity and applied to have him assessed… needless to say he passed with flying colours.

2009: Kendo now has his certificates to start work and we started in the local cottage/rehab hospital, visiting twice weekly and he became a big hit with both the staff and the patients.

2010: Our vets at the time asked if we would consider Kendo as a pet blood bank donor and he did this several times. June of this year we started looking for a companion for Kendo and in August along came Sumi at nearly nine weeks old, also a Japanese Akita. Kendo took her to his heart and taught her everything she needed to know, and they were inseparable. Therapy work continued for Kendo, and Sumi joined him occasionally when requested and attended social events at the hospital too.

2013: One of the staff members from the hospital left and went to work in a primary school and promptly asked the head teacher if they would consider a dog visiting the school. We were asked to attend an interview and promptly got given the job and were asked if we could visit every Thursday afternoon. He went into school under the Read2Dogs scheme, and all the children loved him and loved cuddling him. He would stop PE lessons and other classes that happened to be going on around the school at the same time as we visited. He continued in this role for just over 6 years. In this same year Sumi started her career as a therapy dog, as Steve retired in the September so they began visits at the end of October, starting out in mental health by visiting a day unit twice a week.

2014: From the visits to the day unit then came the request to visit the in-patient/hospital side too. This is when we started working together as we ended up going to the two hospital sites one morning a week.

2015: Kendo and Sumi were very well established by now and we were suddenly told that they had been put forward for the Extra Mile Award and that they had been shortlisted. This totally took us by surprise and then the organisers said they would like Kendo to attend the awards ceremony! So complete with black and white dickey bow and red carpet, he again worked his magic into everyone’s hearts, including Sid Sidiqui from Google Box. Sadly, they did not win, but what an experience and achievement.

2016: This year saw us transfer from the other charity to Canine Concern. We also saw our workload increase and by now we were visiting hospitals, specialised units e.g. Mencap, personality disorder units, a brain injury unit, as well as private and council run care homes. September this year also saw us being referred to specialist vets with Sumi, who had gone blind overnight, and she got diagnosed with auto immune disease which totally blew us apart. Her workload slowed down for a while but everywhere was very keen for her to be back working as and when she was fit enough, which was truly heart-warming. It was also this year that the Bolsover hospital (where Kendo had first started his career) was announcing closure and we were asked to attend one of the consultation evenings, during which I was asked why we were not visiting the main local hospital. So I duly left my details and four weeks later got a phone call from the Children’s Ward asking us to pay them a visit. Little did we know at this time how much this was going to develop.

2017: April/May of this year we were asked by someone we know if we could help them out with their Japanese Akita puppy for approximately 10 weeks, to which we said yes. Little did we know that it would turn into 10 months. So, the Duo became the Trio and this puppy became a fully qualified therapy dog at the age of eight months. September of this year we were invited to a Mad Hatter’s tea party at the Mencap site that we visit, and the puppy was photographed sitting in the foot well of a fire engine. This led to us being given an award by Canine Concern which was truly breath-taking and takes pride of place to this day. By now our workload was such that I got Thursday mornings off and Steve got all day Thursday off, otherwise we were working every day and some weekends too. The dogs were also given the title of the Three Amigos.

2018: In February this year we saw the pup go back to his owner and we were back to the Duo.

2019: We started to realise that Kendo was getting older and was starting to slow down and so we needed to reduce down our workload for him. We retired him from the mental health day unit and hospital in September and had already retired him from some of the other sites. I then made the decision to retire him from the school in the October half term. So now we were only doing the main hospital with him and decided that he could plod around there quite happily, and he was still enjoying being made a fuss of in the process. Little did we know that his visit on the 18th December was to be his last one, as he sadly passed away on the 20th December. What an absolute trooper he was to the end. Between the hospital Facebook page and their own Facebook page we had 1500 comments left for him which was totally mind blowing and heart-breaking and showed just how popular he was, and he is still spoken about to this day.

2020: Sumi was now flying solo in the hospital, and we were asked if we were going to have another dog which was at the time an absolute NO, but then we got asked to consider another as they wanted the continuity of the visits, and us too, which we felt very honoured about. So, March this year came another Japanese Akita at nearly 11 weeks called Koji and the week after came LOCKDOWN. We eventually got back into the hospital in December for staff only, for their health and mental wellbeing, and did four sessions. The greeting we got was amazing and heart-warming as they all said how much we had been missed and how glad they were that we were back.

2021: January saw us stopped again but back in February, doing one session a week for two hours over the lunchtime period, and Koji in training and doing exceedingly well at 14 months old.

Canine Concern Comments

Bev and Steve with their Akitas have been an amazing team. Not only have they been dedicated to visiting so many people, but they have also helped new volunteers join. They have assessed some potential new members who have all said how much Bev and Steve made them feel relaxed and enjoyed chatting afterwards. They have also been a support for them once commencing their visiting. With all their experience of this work it is comforting and reassuring to know someone is there for our local members as well as the places they visit themselves.