We welcome animals into our lives and they become part of our family – they bring us joy, comfort, health and love. But in some cases, they bring us so much more.

Recently I was introduced to an amazing local charity called “Support Dogs.” I knew instantly I’d love to somehow be involved and my first chance came last week.

Up in Guisborough is an incredible young lady called Elizabeth and her 9 year old black Lab/Golden Retriever Cross, Oyster. They were to feature in the charity’s latest magazine and needed some photos – well, that’s what I do! So I volunteered!

I decided to take the morning to travel up and spend some time at Whitby practicing taking photos of some dogs as it had been a while and I wanted to make sure I did Elizabeth, Oyster and the charity proud.

Watching the dogs on the beach was wonderful – they all looked so happy and full of life. Their owners looked relaxed and were enjoying spending time with their four legged friends. It reminded me how special the relationship between man and beast can be.

Soon enough it was time to meet the Gregor family. I met Jane from the charity at their house and we were welcomed by Elizabeth’s mum Marie, and a rather hyperactive waggy-tailed Oyster, who I loved playing tug of war with while we waited for Elizabeth to come home from school. While we were waiting, Marie told us how much of a challenge they had all been through and what a massive difference Oyster had made to not just Elizabeth but the rest of the family. I could sense the complete and unconditional love and devotion they all shared.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with having autism at the age of just 2 ½, which followed with a diagnosis of a severe form of epilepsy. She would have terrible outbursts and couldn’t leave the house, the family were exhausted. Oyster was introduced to Elizabeth and Marie started taking her for a walk around the block with Elizabeth attached to the dog’s harness. After much perseverance a wonderful transformation came about.

Since Oyster was introduced into their lives Elizabeth can now go just about anywhere and she is now verbal.

The Elizabeth I met was a smart, caring young lady, and I loved spending time with her and Oyster. Their love for each other was obvious from the start. She seemed like a different dog around Elizabeth – gentle and patient – the opposite to the boisterous girl I’d been playing tug of war with 5 minutes before! And once her jacket was put on her she knew it was time to “work” and exactly what was expected of her. Austism dogs are trained to provide safety for the child and reduce stress in social situations.

This is all possible thanks to the generous donations and hard work of Support Dogs. If you’d like to know more then please do visit their website – http://supportdogs.org.uk/

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