Written by Bex Judge

Health

Dog days

Bex Judge wouldn’t be without her assistance dog Max, even if he does sometimes steal her bras out of the laundry basket and get his willy stuck in odd places.

Bex and Max
I have osteogenesis imperfecta, which is basically brittle bones. It means I can’t walk and I break my bones easily. I was very fragile as a young child and though in my 20s I enjoyed a period of strength, now I’m getting on a bit (well, I’m in my late 30s) my mobility is more limited.

Falling from a short height, sneezing or even hiccups can cause me to break a bone. On top of that, changes in weather, particularly the damp, stuffy kind can leave me very achy and sore. One of the challenges is that old fracture sites ache with weather pressure changes and there are a few of those. I gave up counting how many because otherwise I’m looking backwards rather than thinking forward, but it is probably in the hundreds.

I spent such a lot of time in hospital with my mum when I was young. I felt bad for taking her away from the rest of the family, and even now our relationship is unusual. I love her to pieces but I suspect it’s not a common situation to have your mother wiping your arse at 37. But she does when it’s necessary, and I love her for it.

I have always wanted a dog from a very early age. Secretly, I had a make-believe monkey who lived in my jacket and who was my confidant, and who used to do super helpful stuff for me.

“He ate a razor blade at nine months and ran off a six-foot drop at the jubilee celebrations.”

About six years ago, once I had a house and job and all that grown-up stuff, I decided it was time to get a dog. My housemate had moved out and I was on my tod. I had an emergency buzzer, but they’re expensive and I kept activating it by mistake.

So I got Max.

When we went to choose him, I was faced with four gorgeous little black labs. But he was the one who chewed on my flip-flops and wasn’t afraid of my chair so, basically, that was that. I didn’t realise at the time that he was both bonkers and stupidly clever. A very bad combination.

The plan was to train Max ourselves to the standard required with the aid of a trainer. This didn’t work out, as the trainer knew dogs but not wheelchairs. So we went on a waiting list for Dog Aid, which provides disabled people with the knowledge and skills to train their own pet dog to become a qualified assistance dog.

We got to the top. As far as I know we’re still at the top but there are no people training in Kent. At this point I cried. I cried lots. Because I had brittle bones and a very, very boisterous dog on my hands.

Eventually we found a training programme which meant Max went to Ireland for three months at the same time I was having a hip replacement. It was the longest three months of my life. I was so worried that when he came back he’d be some kind of dog robot and all the fun would have been taken out of him, but that wasn’t the case.

Max at a cafe
Now Max can bring me the phone, pick things up and bark on command, which can be great if you’re feeling a bit vulnerable at the cashpoint. But he’s really at his best for mental wellbeing. He knows if I am not feeling great (though he also knows if I’m faking it). He gets me up and out when I might want to laze in bed.

We’ve had our struggles. He also used to shred everything; clothes, pillows. There was also a phase when he would go to the laundry basket, pick out my bra and parade it in front of visitors. The first time I took him for a walk it took three hours to walk 200 yards because every single stone had to be sniffed, then he threw up all over me and we had to get the bus home.

Max in a fieldHe ate a razor blade at nine months and ran off a six-foot drop at the jubilee celebrations. He also got his willy stuck in the material around his dog bed while he was humping it. Advice from the vet at midnight on a Thursday? KY Jelly.

I love Max to the moon and back. It’s easy to think of him as a child substitute, but we’re a partnership. He helps me in my work as a speech therapist. He comes with me to hospitals and special schools and is so calm and loving with the children. The hardest thing about having him is making sure he’s got enough exercise and is happy. When he’s happy, I’m happy.

Right now, he’s passed out on the sofa because we’ve been to Whitstable for the day so he could have a swim. But he’s the happiest soul in the world. Every bad day is made better with a wag or a cuddle.

Bex is a director of Gorteen Assistance Dogs, which trains assistance dogs for disabled people: www.gorteendogservices.com

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Written by Bex Judge

Bex Judge is based in Kent and is a senior speech and language therapist, working with children with profound and complex needs. She lives with Max, an energetic black lab with a penchant for ladies' bras.