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Walkagain

The Charlotte Smith Story

On 11 September 2004 Charlotte Smith broke her neck in a trampoline accident which left her wheelchair bound and unable to use her fingers. Being in a wheelchair does mean that a lot of things are almost impossible, but it hasn't stopped her from enjoying her dogs and agility. This is her story.

The accident
I broke my neck at a cousin's birthday party doing a summersault on their garden trampoline. The doctors there were optimistic at first and suspected that I hadn't done too much damage but later that night it became clear to them that the damage was more extensive than first thought, I had damaged my spinal cord. After three months with only a small amount of improvement the doctors said that I would never walk again, the accident had left me paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Homeless but not hopeless
Due to housing issues I ended up spending over a year in hospital, and another year stuck in an old people's/mentally handicapped home. I suffered from depression, extreme anxiety and insomnia as a result of the shock of my accident and other events that I witnessed whilst in hospital.

My family was great, my mum Bridget and my boyfriend Gordon took it in turns to visit me so I had someone with me almost every day. My mum would bring my wonderful dog Harvey (who sadly passed away last year) over to visit me which always lifted my spirits. Dog's have an amazing ability to make you feel like there's nothing wrong with you at all. My family has never given up hope that I will walk again, they have been extremely supportive and helped to keep me feeling positive about my recovery.

HarveyAgility helps me lead an active life
Before I had the accident I use to attend agility classes with Millbrook Agility Dogs (MAD). I had been training with the club for four years with my own dog Harvey and for two years with my aunt's dog Chippy, a terrier X. I had been competing with Harvey for a while and had just started competing with Chippy. My trainer at the club was Pat Bettridge who was really great and always kept the lessons fun and informative for both the dogs and the owners.

When I went into hospital everyone at MAD was so supportive to me and my family. Kathrin Tasker, who runs the club, held several club shows where she organized pay on the day competitions and would donate the money raised towards the specialist physiotherapy that I was having at the time. Lots of people from the club, many of whom I had never even met before have donated money to me over the last few years and everyone has expressed such kindness. Lynne, a club member whom I use to train with very kindly took my dog Harvey into her home for several months to allow my mum to stay at the hospital with me.

Whilst I was in hospital I received a phone call from Kathrin Tasker, asking how I felt about doing agility again from a wheelchair. She told me about another lady at the club whom does this and I could tell she was very keen for me to give it a try. I was also very keen. However, I felt that Harvey probably wasn't the dog for this as he needed a lot of motivation around an agility course, so I stared looking forward to getting a second dog as soon as I was out of hospital.

I am now living with my mum and my sister in Woking, Surrey. I have a new dog called Kye who is a Belgian Shepherd X from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

A Word from Kathrin Tasker

Charlotte is a remarkable young lady. She was not 20 years old when she had her accident which left her totally paralysed. She used to compete with her Collie X Harvey and has been training with us for a long time. She was hoping to carry on doing agility from her wheelchair with Harvey, when he unexpectedly died.

She then acquired a rescue dog from Battersea and I was extremely worried when I saw him first. He was barking at everything, lunging on the lead and behaving generally like a young hooligan.

In no time at all Charlotte had him working for her from the wheelchair. She is not able to put the lead on him herself, so holds it next to her chair in a loop and the dog comes and puts his head through it.

She is making fantastic progress in the agility and we can't wait to see her compete again. She is an inspiration to us all and has battled on with a cheerfulness that is unbelievable and when she says 'One day I will walk again.'

I believe her.

My sister Emily also has a new dog called Kas, a completely insane Border Collies. We both attend agility classes with MAD on a weekly basis and have recently started taking private lessons once a week with Pat which are great because we can really focus on our in individual needs. I have been training Kye for about six months now and he is coming along nicely.

Kye & KasTraining on wheels
Being wheelchair bound means that I need to train Kye to work at a distance. it also means that he needs to learn my voice commands very well because I can't always get into position in time. 

As well as training a new dog, I have to learn completely new techniques. I use a ball or a toy a lot in training to teach Kye to go on rather than looking back for me. I have trained him to move out on command and I am desperately trying to teach him to understand left and right, which he hasn't quite picked up yet.

The biggest problem that I have with training from a wheelchair is not being able to turn quickly. Although in the house I am able to turn fairly quickly, outside on the grass my wheels start to spin and I often get stuck. At the moment, I train both outside on pretty good ground and in an indoor riding school were the ground is a mixture of rubber and wood chippings. It always depends on how wet the ground is as to how well my chair will perform. I am hoping that in the summer it will be a lot easier for me to manoeuvre. Another thing that I may do in the future is look into making my electric chair faster. When I bought the chair a year ago it seemed really fast so I didn't get the one with the top speed. Now I wish that I had!

After the accident, I was not sure if I would ever be able to do agility again. Now I know that it is possible, and I am looking forward to competing again in the future. Agility training brings soooo much happiness to my life, along with walking the dogs. Agility keeps me active, positive and gets me out into the fresh air.

The Future
Well... as far as agility goes I'm already thinking of the next dog I'm going to get. My mum is also really keen to get herself a dog and start training so I'm looking forward to all going to shows together.

I have also been keeping up to date with the latest in stem cell research. I have been in contact with a doctor in India Dr. Shroff who has had some really promising results and she is hopeful that with treatment I could make some recovery. This treatment however is very expensive so I am putting any donations I get towards this and saving up so that hopefully in a year or two I can go.

Walkagain
Before my accident I had been working as a graphic designer for a company in Surrey. Since the accident, I have spent a lot of time painting and drawing. I decided to try and sell my art via a web site. With some help from my friends and family, I now have a range of dog agility clothing  marketed under the name Walkagain which are available to buy at my online stores www.walkagain.co.uk/shop/ . I've also set up a shop on the Cafepress web site so that I could offer a wider choice of products.

I also hope to be attending some show in the summer so look out for my trade stall.

Thanks for reading my story

About the author...
Charlotte Smith
lives in Woking, Surrey.