A Southampton woman with a physical disability has told how her assistance dog has helped her maintain her independence.

Vicky Forrest (36) who lives with her husband Jason in Southampton, has spina bifida and began using a wheelchair at the age of five.

A Divisional Governance Manager at University Hospital Southampton, Vicky said: “When I was younger I didn’t really notice how spina bifida affected me, you just accept it and get on with what your life is. As I got older I started to have a lot of pain and lost sensation in my legs and the power in my left arm.”

After a chance meeting with someone who had an assistance dog, Vicky thought this could really help her so she searched online for charities that offer this service and found Dogs for Good.

“At that time I was struggling in a manual wheelchair and I knew I’d have to start using a powered wheelchair soon. I’d been falling over quite a lot and I thought an assistance dog would help me to retain my independence,” said Vicky.

Vicky then had a stomach operation which resulted in complications and further major surgery.

When she was recovering it became dangerous for her to pick things up so her need for an assistance dog became even more urgent.

Vicky applied for an assistance dog from Dogs for Good in September 2018 and she was matched with a beautiful yellow Labrador called Vila in November the following year.

Dogs for Good is a UK-wide charity that matches people with awide range of disabilities and conditions including autism, physical disabilities, dementia and learning disabilities with a specially trained dog.

Vicky says: “I loved Vila from the minute I saw her. She’s got such enthusiasm and she was so playful and happy."

Vila picks up dropped items, loads and unloads the washing machine, helps Vicky to get dressed and undressed and opens and closes doors.

Vicky has now returned to work in the hospital two days a week, with Vila by her side.

Vicky said: ““My life would be a lot less exciting and difficult without Vila and I’d have to rely on people a lot more. I want to maintain my independence for as long as possible and she helps me to do that. She’s a wonderful dog and I’m so glad that she came into my life, just at the right time!”

For more information visit: dogsforgood.org