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The UK's Coolest Canine
By Laura Barmore

Endal, a Canine Partners For Independence Assistance Dog (Canine Partners), owned by Allen Parton, a Gulf War veteran who is confined to a wheelchair, was the clear winner as the dog worthy of the title, " The UK's Coolest Canine." Just another award for a dog who already has won many awards: the peacetime Dicken medal for " Devotion to Duty," the Dog of the Millennium, Golden Bonio Dog of the Year, Assistance Dog of the Year 2001, and the Pro Dog of the Year Gold Medal.

Endals story begins

Five years earlier, however, when Endal was born, no one thought that this lonely little puppy was particularly special. In fact, he was something of a misfit, being the only puppy from the accidental mating of the father and daughter. Such pregnancies can fail to develop or result in sickly or ill-formed pups, but Endal, named after a local vet, seemed perfectly normal. Unable to register him because of his parentage, the Southampton breeder took him into their home. They considered keeping him as a pet until a month later when Nina Bondarenko, program director for Canine Partners for Independence visited to inspect another litter, and asked if she could put Endal through a series of aptitude tests.

These tests are a series of simple exercises to measure the dog's interest in people, co-operation, and flexibility. Nina started by placing Endal on his back to see if he licked rather than struggled. He did the former, which was a sign that he was adaptable and calm. Nina also put Endal in another room, which he didnt know so well, while she hid. The puppy sat and thought for a while and then started to search for her. This was exactly what Nina had been hoping he would do because it suggested he had initiative and wanted to be with people. Nina also gave him a spoon and then called him to her. Instead of hanging on to the spoon, he handed it over another good sign. On the other hand, he wasn't very enthusiastic. He did some of these things rather half-heartedly as if he was saying " Well I'll do it if you want but it is a bit of a bore." Nina could also tell that he was sensitive and not the bravest dog in the universe when she held him in the air, his body went rigid and he tucked his tail under. Ninas instinct (which she has learned to rely on during her 30 years experience) told her that even if Endal wasnt as keen as she hoped, he would be right one day for someone. Nina gratefully accepted Endal into the CPI program.

Yet as Endal continued to do his training at the center with his forme half-hearted attitude, Nina couldn't help thinking there was something missing. Somehow, despite his obvious intelligence, the dog lacked dynamism and didn't seem to sparkle. It was as though he was waiting for something or someone to happen in life in order to release his full potential. Endal was also the kind of puppy who was choosy about whom he bonded with. When, as part of his training, he did a three-week swap with another family to help him adapt to different environments, Endal took a while to adjust. Although he did what he was told, he also closed down and withdrew into himself. Nina began to realize that she needed to find him a full-time partner whom he could really relate to. If she couldn't find the right person, Endal would never find his full potential and for an intelligent dog, that seemed a great waste.

Meanwhile, only five miles away, the future was looking even more bleak for 42 year old Allen Parton. In I99I, Allen, then a weapons electronics officer in the Royal Navy, had waved goodbye to his wife Sandra and their two children Liam and Zoe, age six and five, to fight in the Gulf War. As they set off, Allen and his men had been told that 15 per cent of them wouldn't come back. But like many brave servicemen, he was certain this wouldn't apply to him. After all, he'd already served in the Falklands and Northern Ireland and come out unscathed. Why should his luck run out this time?

But it did. Within a month of arriving, Allen's military car was smashed up in a serious accident, which shattered both his body and mind forever. His first memory was waking up in a British hospital six weeks later and thinking, " Where am I?" His right-hand side had lost all feeling and he had lost 50 per cent of his memory. The effects were catastrophic. Because of his poor memory, which meant that he could only remember things for forty-eight hours, Allen couldn't recognize family or friends, let alone remember the names for items like " bed." He only knew Sandra was his wife because the nurses would say " Your wife is here." Even more terrifying, he couldn't recall getting married or having children. In a flash literally Allen had gone from a healthy father of two to an angry, wheelchair-bound invalid who couldn't talk properly and whose words spilled out of his mouth in a haphazard, disorderly fashion without making sense.

Allen spent the next five years in the hospital and rehabilitation. When he finally came home, Sandra, who had given up her job as a nurse to look after her husband, was at her wits end. Then she saw an article about CPI in a local newspaper. Desperate to do something for herself, as well as looking after Allen, she became a puppy walker to Ferdy, a yellow Labrador. The distraction and light-relief provided by a lively puppy in the house helped the whole family, even though Allen still found it difficult to talk and communicate.

One day, in the summer of I997, Allen's usual bus for his day center failed to turn up. Sandra told him in no uncertain terms, that she wasn't prepared to have him moping around the house. He would have to go to the CPI center with her. Although he didn't see it then, fate had just stepped in. Allen's life was about to change in almost as dramatic a way as his accident. But as he sat in the training center that morning, in his wheelchair parked in the corner of the room, refusing to speak or join in, Allen didn't realize this. Instead, he would rebuff anyone who tried to ask him a question by telling them to talk to his wife. He felt horribly self-conscious and it was easy to see why. Not only was he unable to speak clearly but his body was continually twitching. He refused to make eye contact with anyone and was very self-conscious and uncomfortable.

Not far away from his chair, sat a group of puppies, resting in between training sessions. One of them happened to be Endal. He started looking at Allen and as he did so, Allen glanced back, said Nina who is constantly observing dogs and thinking about the applicants to see if they might fit. Endal then looked up again and seemed to say Mmm, I quite like you and then Allen put his hand down to give him a pat. Immediately, Endal leaped up on Allen's lap and gave him a big slobbery kiss. Allen smiled as though to say, This dog really likes me! Then, almost without knowing why he was doing it, Allen began to rub Endal under his jacket. It so happens that Endal LOVES being rubbed at exactly that spot. He looked up at Allen as if to say You are my man!"

It was nothing short of a miracle a dramatic turning point which both Allen and Endal had needed so badly in their lives. And it sent a tingle down her spine, says Nina. As Allen left the center that day, there was a certain sparkle in his eyes, which hadn't been there for a very long time. He could hardly wait until the next week when Endal was coming back to the center with his puppy walker. Allen made sure that he was there too and over the next few weeks, Endal made a beeline for him as soon as he came in through the door. The two would sit next to each other and Endal would reach out and touch him with his paw. As Nina point out, until he met Allen, Endal hadn't been anything special. It was the combination of his character with Allen's that made the winning ticket.

But before Allen could take Endal home, he had to go through an intensive two-week residential training course. During that time, Nina noticed a dramatic change in Endal's behavior. Instead of doing jobs half-heartedly, he'd leap to it! " Keys," he'd say, " you want me to get keys? Great. Hang on and Ill run and get them." He seemed to understand how much Allen had been through.

Endal's most amazing skill is his ability to use his initiative and read situations quickly. This was exactly what Allen needed to help him cope with his severe injuries. Would Endal be able to help? They would soon find out when he joined the Parton household full-time in autumn I997. Still unable to speak properly, Allen also suffered from word blindness when he simply couldn't find the words to give Endal a command. "One morning, I realized I'd left my razor upstairs. I could see a picture of the razor in my head but couldn't think of the word. So I just patted my cheeks. To my amazement, he ran up the stairs and came down with it in its leather case."

Over the ensuing months, Allen and Endal began to create their own sign language. A pat on the head means that Allen wants his cap. Instantly, Endal darts round to the back of the wheelchair where the cap is inside Allen's bag. Hands held up mean gloves are required and Endal finds them and brings them round the front to Allen. Endal understands wash day as he loads and unloads the washing machine.

One day Endal and Allen were shopping at the local supermarket. Allen was showing some photographers how Endal can differentiate between tins and bottles and nose out whatever Allen asks for on the shelves, such as a bag of chips. As they were leaving, Allen realized he needed money from the cash machine outside. With the sunlight shining on the glass screen, making it difficult for Allen to see, and with the money and receipt slot set far up the back of the machine, Allen was struggling. Suddenly, without being asked, Endal jumped up to retrieve the card and money after Allen had finished his transaction. The photographers asked him to do it again and again so they could get their pictures. From then on, the yellow Labrador was known as "Endal the Cashpoint Dog."

But the most amazing example of Endal's initiative happened in May 2001 when the pair was invited to a stand at Crufts. After checking into the hotel, Allen took Endal outside. As usual his lead was clipped to the chair. Suddenly a Ford car reversed towards them at 40 mph. Endal was between Allen and the car so, instinctively, he pushed the dog out of the way. Seconds later, the car knocked the chair over and Allen blacked out. When he came round, he found Endal pulling his body over, using his teeth on his jacket, to put Allen into the recovery position. The dog then ran back for his mobile phone, which he got out of the bag, and thrust against his face. After that, he went back for his blanket from the chair and then ran up to the hotel reception, barking for help.

The story hit the national headlines. Endal, it appeared, was the first dog who had ever put a human into the recovery position, without being taught. Once again he was a familiar face on the television and in the news. Everyone wanted footage of this remarkable dog.

His Citation for his Pro Dog Gold Medal Award read: " The range of activities of which Labrador Endal is capable in assisting his wheelchair-bound owner is exceptional by any standards. This must be an almost unique example of interdependence between dog and man."

In Allen's words, "Because of my own self pity, anger and bitterness, I was stuck in the darkest soulless place a person can ever be void of any hope! Without the emotions love, hate, happiness or sadness, I was beyond human help, even out of reach of my loving wife and two young children. I defended myself from people by being horrible and rude, that way I could be left alone."

" One dog cut right through that defensive armor and saw the real Allen Parton. Like a shinning star, Endal came bounding into that dark place and touched my very heart. He just said to me with those Doggie eyes 'Hold onto my tail and Ill pull you out of here, at your pace and with no conditions.' He has to this day never stopped pulling. His unconditional love has healed so many of the hurts and his mischief making brought laughter into my saddest days. His zest for life has rubbed off on me."

" He never judges me, he never looks away because of my condition and his aiding of me when I at my weakest makes us both an invincible team. I can put my hand out to my side day or night and he is always there. He has taught me to love, laugh, and live again.

When asked about the future, Allen says firmly, Most CPI dogs retire after about ten years, but I'm going to ask if I can keep him. I couldnt imagine another dog. After all, he's my Be All and End All.

Tail End:

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