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Health, Sports & Psychology

Living with MS: Not just surviving but thriving (with a little canine care)

Updated Thursday, 21st September 2017

How do assistance dogs help people with MS keep control over their lives?

If like me, you are one of the 2.3 million people around the world diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), you may have seen recent media stories about advances in the use of drugs to treat this complex and unpredictable neurological condition. I have read many such stories over the last 15 years since being diagnosed. Often these have been sent to me by well-meaning friends or family desperate to let me know there is hope, the possibility of a cure, a chance to regain ‘normality’.

You may be one of the friends, partners, children or carers of one of the 100,000 people living with MS in the UK.  You will know that between the shock of diagnosis and the dream of a cure lies a long and at times arduous path. Living with MS can be very unpredictable. Symptoms can fluctuate from day to day or from hour to hour. Fatigue, pain, numbness, mobility problems, cognitive problems, bladder problems are just some of the effects people living with MS experience. Any one of which on their own would be challenging to manage.  While there are now treatments for the most common form of MS (Relapsing-Remitting MS), these disease modifying therapies (DMT’s) can slow the progress of the disease, but they are not a cure.

Recent reports suggest that people with long term conditions like MS, spend on average 3 hours a year with health professionals. The remaining 8,757 hours per year is spent living with and managing their own condition at home.  It was during one of those 8,757 hours some 10 years ago I met someone who far from sitting around waiting for a cure for their MS, was out and about living life to the full. Ann* was in her wheelchair and by her side was Molly her Labrador, a specially trained disability assistance dog. Molly picked up the things Ann dropped, opened doors, barked on command to alert people if Ann fell, fetched the phone, emptied the washing machine and generally provided Ann with practical, emotional and psychological support to manage her MS her way.  

Time passed and as my MS progressed I too became the owner of an assistance dog – Tori, a black Labrador with endless patience, a loud snore and a passion for fruit. Life is no longer about what I can’t do but about what we can do together. We are not waiting for a cure….we are far too busy for that.

Grainne O’Connor and her assistance dog Tori Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

* Not her real name





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