WHEN Steve Oliver met Quintus he knew he was one in a million.
The chocolate labradoodle would not only transform his life but he would go on to get one of the most important jobs a dog can have – as an assistance dog for Canine Partners.
Grandad-of-four Steve had spiralled into depression when worsening arthritis forced him to give up his career of 40 years as a coach and lorry driver.
But then he found out he could become a volunteer puppy parent for the assistance dog charity and he knew it would change his life and give him a reason to get up each morning.
Now, as Canine Partners launches a huge recruitment drive to boost its team of volunteers, he is urging people to sign up as puppy parents.
Steve joined Canine Partners’ West Country puppy training group in 2013 and he was asked to look after eight-month-old Quintus, taking over from another puppy parent.
He continued training Quintus, with support from his wife Sue – teaching him the basic skills he needed for life as an assistance dog, while ensuring he was always well-behaved.
Steve took him on busses and trains and visited supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, shopping centres, parks and banks. And they made sure they met lots of other people and animals.
Quintus even visited Sue’s office to help her with her job as a financial services manager.
Steve and Quintus also attended puppy training classes and had home visits from Somerset, Gloucester and Bristol satellite trainer Heather Loan who gave Steve guidance on the charity’s reward-based training techniques, praising the puppy and giving it lots of treats, toys and playtime when they get something right.
Then, when he was 15-months-old Quintus left Steve to begin his advanced training at Canine Partners’ southern training centre in West Sussex where he developed the skills he learnt with his puppy parents.
It was there that he was matched to Rosie Pocock, who has limited mobility due to ME and a spinal injury – and the pair have been inseparable ever since.
Steve, 62, a dad-of-two who lives in Trowbridge, said: “Becoming a puppy parent got me out of a dark place. It has given me a purpose in life.
“I got through it with the help of Canine Partners actually. I’m doing this to help other people, but it has actually helped me.
“It gets me out of the house and I’m socialising a lot more now. I also had so much support from the other puppy parents. I could pick the phone up to anyone.
“I cried when Quintus moved out to start his advanced training but then within a couple of weeks we had our next puppy and we started again.
“And when we saw how much they help their partners it makes everything even more worthwhile.
“I would say to anyone thinking about becoming a puppy parent to just do it – get out there and try it. It’s only a year’s commitment whereas if you have got a pet dog it’s for life.
“You love them all. They’re all different.”
Steve is currently looking after his fourth puppy for Canine Partners a 13-month-old golden Labrador called Jordan.
Puppy parents look after a trainee canine partner until it is about 14 months old. They receive full ongoing support, both at their homes and at puppy training classes. Food, equipment, vet bills and temporary holiday care is provided.
For more information or to apply call 08456 580 480, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit caninepartners.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/puppy-parents