Billy the black Labrador has been chosen as the UK’s first dementia community dog as part of the Dementia Dog Project.
The Dementia Dog Project is a charitable collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good, and the first initiative of its type in the world to blend dementia specialist services with the provision of highly trained assistance and community dogs.
Community dogs like Billy are trained through the accredited assistance dog organisation, Dogs for Good, and identified to join the Dementia Dog specialist team in Scotland, where the dogs undergo their advanced training at HMP Castle Huntly, an open prison near Dundee and the operational base for the Dementia Dog Project.
For the past several years, the Dementia Dog Project has been piloting the training of dementia assistance dogs so they can be matched with couples who are living with dementia to help them remain independent in their own homes for longer. A recent three year grant from the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund will now allow the project to take their learnings beyond an individual assistance dog approach, to also support people with dementia in community settings in trial areas of Scotland and England.
Colleagues from Tynetec, a Legrand Assisted Living & Healthcare brand, raised £15,000 to help sponsor a dog to be named Billy, in honour of their late colleague Billy Graham and his wife Lisa, who were tragically killed in the 2015 terror attack in Tunisia.
National Sales Manager for Tynetec, Stuart Carroll, said: “Billy and Lisa were a wonderful couple who had experience of the challenges families living with dementia face. They also loved dogs and were aware of how much joy they can bring even in the darkest times.
“We all agreed sponsoring Billy was an opportunity to remember some special people in a way that we hope would make them smile, and also make a real difference to the lives of others in their time of need.”
Project Manager for Dementia Dog Project, Fiona Corner, added: “Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good would like to thank Tynetec for the amazing contribution they have made to the Dementia Dog Project.
“Billy the dog will help pioneer a world leading therapeutic approach to providing evidenced based supports to people living with dementia. In time this will change lives across the UK for many people living with dementia.”
Over the coming months, Billy will be learning dementia specific skills, such as how to retrieve dropped items, help someone get dressed, walk with a dual lead to increase people’s exercise levels and confidence to get out and about, while emotional skills such as ‘headrests’ will help reduce anxiety in unfamiliar environments. Billy will help to reduce feelings of social isolation, helping build confidence and independence to re-connect people with dementia back into their local community.
Trained to a similar level as an assistance dog, Billy will then use his skills out in the community in group dementia settings, bringing joy and meaning back into the lives of hundreds of people.