When Sue met Harry
Sue Drew lives in Jersey. She is 54 years 'young' and has secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis which started when she was in her early 20s and has progressed steadily since then. She is now a wheelchair user. This, however, has not stopped her from being an agility nut! Last year she travelled to Hungary by van to represent jersey and the UK at PAWC VIII.
When I met Harry, we broke every rule in the 'buy a dog book'. It was just before Christmas when I saw an ad in our local paper for retriever/collie cross puppies, so my husband and I went to see the pups.
We walked in to a small kitchen where there were ten black pups all tangled together in a large dog basket and one black and white Border Collie puppy, sitting on the floor in the corner. It was love at first sight. He was so tiny, alone and beautiful.
I found out later that Harry and the other pups were 'illegal immigrants' brought into the island in the back of a van. None of them had any papers or veterinary certificates etc., We were also told that Harry was not really a Border Collie but most likely a pup from working sheepdog stock.
This little dog and I have worked so very hard and we have the most incredible partnership. He helps me around the house, keeps me fit and makes every day very special. He is very conscientious when working with me
I started by searching the internet to find out as much as I possibly could about disabled handlers. I found Philippa Armstrong, the Disabled handlers association, Agilitynet, Susan Rekveld and her ParAgiity organization. After lots of emails with Susan, I became a member of ParAgility and began my preparations to take part in the VIII PAWC competition in Gyula, Hungary on 3-6 of September 2009.
Susan introduced me to Richard Partridge the UK Para agility PAWC team leader. Richard was very helpful with lots of advice. He explained that I was the only UK competitor going to the PAWC competition this year and offered all the assistance he could with our venture.
With lots of help from our local Clubs, we started serious training in February of this year. Harry and I trained hard every day at in two different locations - at home in our garden and at a friends field. At home, we concentrated on weaving, practicing for five minutes, three times a day. Harry really loved it, so I nicknamed him my 'weaver bird'.
We travelled daily to the training field where we had set up our homemade equipment including jumps, a seesaw, A-frame, dog walk, and a small tunnel. We had a very busy summer learning this wonderful game of agility.
It was a very eventful journey to Hungary. The biggest problem was my bright idea of camping! Believe me tents, MS and wheelchairs do not mix.
To make the 4,000k drive more interesting we had help from our friend 'Gertie' the Sat Nav. This little madam took us around and around the French countryside and insisted that we turn left into Hungarian lakes and fields. If we dared disobey her, she would announce in no uncertain terms that she was recalculating. We did get our own back on her once or twice by going back to the faithful old road map. That daft machine did give us some really good laughs.
The next day we went to our free training session where we met members of the Dutch and Belgium Para Agility (PAWC) teams. These brilliant people adopted us. Patricia and Henk Fuchs, together with their dear friends. helped get us organized, gave us lots of details about the event that only seasoned competitors would know, were very kind and became good strong friends. You can find out more about Patricia and her three border collies at www.in2Borders.nl
That evening the competition was opened by a ceremony, led by the Mayor of Gyula with a procession of the judges, competitors, trainers and dogs parading through the town to the stadium. Andi and her dog Pixi are already agility stars in the Hungarian Young Agility Championships. The ceremony ended with a demonstration of flag flying. All the countries gave small gifts to each other. We were twinned with Slovenia and gave them a selection of Jersey Cream sweets and biscuits.
The next day we had our first event. We got the start all wrong. We waited in the PAWC area which was just in front of the course. Unfortunately the heat, noise and effect of watching other dogs running was to much for Harry and, by the time we started, he was very overexcited. As complete beginners, I don't think it was too bad. We finished the course with just four faults! Unfortunately we were E'd
The Dutch PAWC coach had been very kind and had helped me and Harry. She said I should not think of him as a dog but a 'Ferrari with no brakes... pssssssss'
So, it was up at 6am with five hours sorting out all our gear. Dave had no dry clothes. Driving around Gyula, we found that there were no laundry, dry cleaning or drying facilities! We just had to make do and hang everything out to dry around the campsite.
So three very soggy Brits went on to the next event. I kept Harry outside of the stadium until just before our event. We actually did a lot better with fewer faults but we were still E’d. It did, however, show a steady improvement, so I was hopeful for the following day and the last event.
We moved from our wet soggy tent to an apartment at the campsite. Phew! I felt human again and was looking forward to a good nights sleep.
The other competitors had a few good jokes about the Brits flying home in their tent, or swimming inside the tent! It was all in good fun, and we had a laugh. In a way, it helped break the ice, and we got to know the French, Swiss and Germany para-agility teams.
Unfortunately this ended in Harry having a nasty crash, bouncing off the seesaw. From my perspective below in a wheelchair, all I saw was Harry flying up and drop straight back down. He did not appear to hurt himself but had a real scare. He then went a bit mad with lots of barking etc. I tried to continue the course, but he was too frightened to go on. John Gilbert, the British judge, helped and got us going again. We went on to the weave but Harry would have none of it. After three attempts, I got him on to the dog walk but he was crawling on his tummy. Arnaldo Benini, the Italian judge and Petra Patricia's coach came into the ring and helped me get Harry across the dog walk with bits of chicken and loads of encouragement. We then went on to finish the course with lots of applause and cheering from the audience.
Next was the Closing Ceremony, with lots of prize giving, cheering, clapping etc. It was hugely emotional as, by now, we had become friends with many of the PAWC competitors. After all the awards had been given out, there came a surprise. Harry and I were called to the presentation table and given a plaque and an enormous bag of dog biscuits as a special award to say ‘Thank you for attending and well done.’ it was just wonderful. Everyone gave us a big cheer with loads more flag flying and applause.
To finish the competition, the Belgium coach's did his end of competition dance, which was a bit like a Michael Jackson moon walk. I understand this routine is a long standing tradition. When lots of people joined him, I thought, 'Well why not! I’ll join in and give them a good wheelchair dance.' It was a brilliant way to end five fantastic days.
That evening we had a Hungarian goulash party with the Dutch and Belgian PAWC teams. Lots of French, Swiss and German people dropped in. T-shirts, email addresses, hugs and kisses were exchanged with everyone having a great time.
All in all we had a really wonderful experience and hope to have the opportunity to repeat it next year in Switzerland.
Pets as Therapy
Sue's son Simon made this video to promote their adventures YouTube - Sue & Harry