National Pet Month runs from April 1 to May 3 raising awareness of pet ownership and highlighting the many benefits from sharing your life with a furry (or in some cases not-so-furry) friend.
We would love to share your stories and photos of your marvellous pets. You can send them to us at email@example.com or post them on our social media channels on Facebook or Twitter @CharityEthos.
Meanwhile, we talked to two of our former Ethos clients about their very different pets and the special role that they can play in helping overcome some of the extra strains and stresses of life in a wheelchair.
Paul and Diaz
Paul said he had always wanted a dog and particularly a Weimaraner, the German gun-dog breed known for being intensely loyal but often extremely boisterous. And that desire for a canine companion did not change after his spinal cord injury in 1996.
“I didn’t want my disability to force me to compromise on what I had always wanted,” he said. So Diaz joined him in 2003, soon after he moved into his own house after rehabilitation in the Ethos bungalows. And Diaz stayed with him for the next 13 years.
“I did give some thought to having such a high maintenance breed but I was quite stubborn then and I thought that if having that breed of dog made me work harder at getting out and coping with what was needed to look after her, then that would be a good thing for me. It was part of ticking the normality box that I needed after my accident,” he said. But he admits that his choice of breed made the initial months hard work and it took some time and a lot of effort to make sure that Diaz was properly looked after.
His personal assistant helped him to walk Diaz and Paul invested in a power trike attachment for his wheelchair which meant they could venture into rough terrain to walk Diaz and the PA’s dog, West Highland Terrier Archie.
“Having Diaz was the catalyst for making me get out into the open countryside. We used to go out to the local parks and also into the Peak District to give them a really good walk,” said Paul.
Diaz became his close companion and friend as well as being part of the sense of achievement in leading a fulfilling life after his accident. “It’s fun to have a pet around the house – they are such good company and are always there when you are feeling a bit down. It was really hard when she died in 2016,” said Paul.
His advice to wheelchair users considering taking on a dog is to think very carefully about it.
“You need to think long and hard about all the aspects of how you are going to look after that animal properly and the level of responsibility in being a successful dog owner. But if you think you can deal with that, then ultimately it is extremely rewarding,” he said.
Four years on Paul is considering having a new puppy but this time he is looking for a slightly smaller breed. “I’m a bit older now, so I think a smaller dog would be a good idea, most likely a Daschund. But I’m sure it will be just as rewarding,” he said.
Mark and the aquarium
Mark moved to his own house two and a half years ago after a period of rehabilitation at the Ethos bungalows getting used to his new life in a wheelchair.
He recommends an aquarium as an ideal pet for a wheelchair user. He has enjoyed the challenge of researching the different types of tanks and fish and finds the aquarium a little haven of peace and calm in his house.
“It is just very pleasant to have the fish in the room and quite peaceful if you are feeling stressed. But it also helps to give you a sense of independence – it’s something that you have done for yourself,” he said.
The attraction for Mark was the range of choice of home aquariums and the fact that, once set up, they are low maintenance with few extra issues for a wheelchair user.
“There are lots of different types of fish tank you can have which means you can start off with something fairly basic and then build up as you get more experience,” he said.
The range starts with a cold water tank which does not need heating but will still need a filter and pump to keep water clean and circulating. Popular breeds are the Rosy Barb and Gold Barb.
Mark’s aquarium is a fresh water heated tropical tank in which he keeps colourful Guppies – or rainbow fish – Platies and Tetras.
Another alternative is a marine or salt water aquarium but Mark warned that these were more specialist and expensive.
“A cold water or tropical aquarium is fairly low maintenance but gives you a lot of enjoyment. The only issue for a wheelchair user would be emptying the tank completely although I have a small tank which I can lift and carry into the wet room for emptying if needs be. “But if you maintain your tank properly you should not need to empty it completely. The recommendation is to change only a third of the water at a time which is fairly easy to do,” he said.
“Having an aquarium is low maintenance and doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get most things you need, including a few fish, from around £100 and you can add extra fish as you go along,” he said.
More practical advice on keeping fish is available at www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk
Both Mark and Paul chose two very different types of pets but in both cases they derived a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from them.
We’d love to hear your experience of owning pets and how they have brought joy to your life. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on our social media pages at Facebook and Twitter