Sapphire the buddy dog – or wonder dog as her family calls her – came into the Ring family’s life in 2020, after the first lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Buddy dogs are provided by sight loss charity Guide Dogs for children with a visual impairment.
Jane Ring, of Exeter, was concerned about the impact the lockdown was having on her daughter Chloe, who is deafblind.
“Chloe had only just started secondary school in September 2019, which was already a massive shock to her. It was a much busier, noisy environment with so many new teachers and pupils to get to know. Then we went into lockdown and her world became even smaller,” said Jane.
“She struggled to interact online with her friends as her hearing loss meant she couldn’t follow what was happening. She lost so much confidence and I was extremely concerned.”
A staff member at Guide Dogs suggested the buddy dog project might be a good fit for Chloe, so Jane applied. Soon after, Sapphire the Golden Retriever was chosen as a match for Chloe. The aim of a buddy dog is to provide companionship and support for children, and they are selected from dogs who were not able to qualify as guide dogs.
“Sapphire was placed with us at the end of November 2020 and has changed her life. I can't believe Chloe is the same young person. Sapphire enables her to get out and about and gives her a positive focus outside of herself.
“Chloe now happily chats to strangers about her dog, what they get up to and how brilliant Sapphire is. Sapphire is calm, loving and has a cheeky side that we also love.
“She is the best communication aid, enables Chloe to interact positively with others and when she needs a break will sit beside her for a cuddle and reassurance.”
Jane says that Sapphire has 'opened up the world again' for her daughter.
“Chloe is getting much more exercise, and every activity she does that Sapphire comes along to is enhanced. Sapphire is so well-mannered and seems to know when Chloe needs her support.
“Chloe is an only child and now has a big furball by her side at the end of a stressful day at school. She doesn't feel so isolated anymore. It is amazing how much this very special dog has changed my daughter’s life.”
Sapphire has also had a positive impact on Jane’s mental health.
“Having Sapphire has got me out more and helped me stay calm. When I am feeling overloaded, I can find her for a cuddle or find time in the day to take her out to the river where I can breathe again.
“When a dog is so pleased to see you, offers you toys and rolls over for a tummy tickle somehow the world is OK.”
In 2021, Chloe was awarded runner up Inspirational Young Person of the year at the Guide Dogs People Awards, to recognise special achievements of people supported by the charity as well as staff and volunteers.
Find out more about buddy dogs at www.guidedogs.org.uk/buddydogs