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Assistance dogs are trained as partners for the disabled
Petersfield, England (CNN) -- Before Allen Parton met Endal, he could only mourn the life that a car accident had forever changed.
A former Royal Navy sailor, Parton has been wheelchair-bound since the 1991 incident, which deprived him of large chunks of his memory and left much of his body paralyzed.
But since 1998, Parton has discovered a real partner in Endal, a retriever trained by Britain-based Canine Partners for Independence. In many ways, Endal acts as Parton's arms and legs, helping him to do everything from launder his clothes to hoist a few pints at the local pub.
"He's just there to enable me," Parton says, affectionately scrubbing his hand across Endal's broad golden head.
Endal helps with the weekly shopping, stops his master from rolling out into the road, and knows how to deal with any number of buttons, switches, levers and knobs.
"If I fall unconscious, he can put me in the recovery position," says Parton. "He can cover me with a blanket, then hit the emergency phone. He's very aware of my body position -- what I'm doing."
Now Parton's wife, Sandra, feels more confident about leaving him when she needs to.
"I wouldn't normally have left Allen on his own, you know, going back two or three years," she says.
In fact, Endal and Parton's bond is so deep that Sandra sometimes jokes she feels "second best." But she's hardly jealous. Before Endal came along, the Partons' marriage was under serious strain.
"I don't think any marriage could survive 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives," Parton notes. "You need space, and Endal gave us that -- in real terms, saved our marriage."
"I think it's just an absolute rock solid friendship that is just unique to those two," adds his wife.
Endal learned his skills in CPI's converted shed near here.
The charity's head dog trainer Nina Bondarenko spends about 18 months training dogs like Endal from puppyhood.
"You start when they are young and giggly and bouncy, and then you teach them how to use their nose, their mouth and their paws, and to use them in combo," says Bondarenko. "We call it trial and success, because every time the puppy tries something, we make it successful for the puppy."
Unsuccessful behavior is ignored, and daring work is approved with a noisemaker that clicks. Soon, puppies realize that the clicking sound means they've done something really clever.
"So he wants to do it again and again," Bondarenko explains. "At about 12-, 14-months, we're working in wheelchairs and we say 'OK, now it's for real.'"
It costs about 5,000 pounds ($8,000 U.S.) to train each CPI dog, and the goal is to train about 20 a year. Graduates have included Labradors, retrievers and poodles.
"Endal was a nice dog, and he was very pleasant to people," remembers Bondarenko. "But with Allen, he went 'Oooh. You, I like.'"
In a very real sense, the dogs choose their partners as much as the disabled choose their dogs.
"Dogs will be fairly indifferent to most people and pick one, and say 'That's the person I'll work for,'" Bondarenko says.
And work it is. Endal can open Parton's clothes washer and pull out the wet garments. He can even fetch his own food bowl -- a chore he does with relish.
But even more importantly, he can be a friend.
"I was like a blob in a wheelchair," Parton remembers of life before Endal. "I didn't have any emotions. I had no contact with people."
He didn't want to go anywhere or talk to anyone. Parton felt useless.
"Endal was on one side of the room, and I was on the other," Parton says of their meeting. "And ... I think a partnership was made. He decided he liked me and ... he managed to get a reaction out of me."
Parton responded to Endal in a way he could not do for his wife, children, friends, or doctors.
"I needed that unconditional love," he says.
Since they became a team, Parton and Endal have been separated for only nine days.
"I don't think there's any period in a 24-hour day that I don't put my hand down somewhere and he's isn't there," says Parton. "I didn't make him do these things. He just decided that alongside my chair was where he wanted to be."
Endal is a big celebrity in his home country, winning "Dog of the Year" and "Dog of the Millennium" as well as a huge golden dog biscuit from a British pet food company.
But Endal's real reward is just being able to be Parton's pal.
"I've never seen his tail not wagging," says Parton. "There's so much I couldn't do without him. I owe him my life."
Canine Partners for Independence
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