Christa the dog is not only man’s best friend but a lifelife for her owner.
The black Labrador is specially trained to help Lynn Matthews live independently in her Heysham home.
Lynn was diagnosed with dystonia and epilepsy after an accident at work more than 30 years ago.
Her six-year-old pooch not only helps her undress but also retrieves things from the floor and can even pick up a five-pence piece.
“She has made my life so much better, she helps me with my independence, she is absolutely amazing,” said Lynn who lives with her sister, Brenda.
When Lynn was 16, working in former high street chain, Woolworths, a loading trolley crushed her hand.
It took months for a diagnosis of dystonia, a neurological problem which makes the muscles go into spasm, affecting speech and movement.
After a deep brain stimulation operation to help control the dystonia Lynn began to suffer with epilepsy and had to take early retirement from her job as a social worker.
When Lynn lost her mum, her sister Brenda became her carer but Lynn wanted more independence and contacted charity Dogs For Good.
“I didn’t want to have to ask someone to pick something up, or to take my coat off, I felt a nuisance, just having the dog around gave me so much,” said Lynn, who is 54-years-old.
Assistance dogs are matched to their owners at two-years-old after extensive training and socialisation. The first few months of the relationship are crucial.
Lynn’s dog Christa is given a treat every time she performs a task. But these have to be given in moderation and Lynn discounts these from her evening food allowance.
“It may seem a bit mean but we can’t have them putting on weight, after all they are doing a job too,” said Lynn. Before Christa Lynn had another labrador, Odee, who worked with her as an official PAT (Pets as Therapy) dog. There were times when he couldn’t turn off his training.
“We were shopping in Marks & Spencers and she picked up a pair of knickers off the floor and walked out with them,” said Lynn. I wouldn’t of minded but they were a size 20 and the security guard came over.”
After the dogs retire, at around 10, Lynn or Brenda keep the pooches as pets. It costs £12,000 to train a dog and the sisters are avid fundraisers. They give talks, demonstrations and hold an annual sponsored walk on the prom.