They say dog is a man’s best friend – and that’s proving no more true than in the case of one Fraserburgh veteran whose bond with a canine companion has grown “stronger than ever” in lockdown.
Richard Packer, 50, is celebrating two years since being paired with Ace, a Labrador X Golden Retriever through national assistance dog charity Canine Partners.
The former soldier lives with a spinal injury and arthritis, meaning he is prone to falls.
That, combined with his post traumatic stress disorder, left him afraid to leave his house and reliant on his wife and son for physical aid.
“Before I was partnered with Ace my life was full of endless hospital appointments, which were often the only time I got out of the house as my wife was working,” Mr Packer said.
“I was scared to go out of the house because of my PTSD and my physical difficulties. I would often fall over and people wouldn’t help – they would just walk around me.”
Despite enjoying watching Fraserburgh Cricket Club in action, his attendance was reliant on a friend, meanwhile claustrophobia ruled out solo trips to the shops.
However, in October 2018, things took a turn for the better when, while attending a veterans’ event in Plymouth, a talk on assistance dogs prompted the father-of-one to contact the charity.
He said: “I was apprehensive at first but then I was overwhelmed by how amazing Ace was – we instantly bonded.”
Once the new partners grew accustomed to each other they were able to overcome Mr Packer’s fears of busy places and Ace was soon flying north to meet his new home.
“He was as pleased to see me as I was to see him,” Mr Packer recalled of their airport reunion.
Canine Partners trains assistance dogs like Ace in a range of everyday tasks including picking up and retrieving items, opening doors and undressing a person. They can even help to load and unload a washing machine and they can fetch help in an emergency.
Mr Packer added: “Ace takes the pressure off me physically, as I don’t have to bend to take off my socks, to get my shoes, or twist my back to put on my coat.
“My mental health is also better as I feel more confident and safer.
“He also acts as a visual sign to other people that I have difficulties and they are therefore more considerate than before too.”
The pair became regular visitors to Fraserburgh Men’s Shed and the town’s cricket club, where Mr Packer is now a coach.
However, since the coronavirus lockdown began in March, they are shielding, leaving Mr Packer house-bound once again and feeling “more shackled now than ever”.
He says he is “apprehensive and worried about the future”, but is getting through it, thanks to Ace.
“I don’t think people understand that if I catch it I could die, and that’s very scary,” he added.
“I think being stuck at home has made me dwell on the bad things from my past more than before.
“After getting Ace my world had started to open up again and now, sadly, it has shrunk again. But Ace has still helped as he gets me out in the garden or in the fields for a walk, and helps me emotionally by just being there unconditionally for cuddles.
“In fact, our bond has grown stronger over this time.”