Dementia Dogs

No two jobs are ever quite the same as a freelance photographer, but this one was pretty special.

The Dementia Dogs project is run jointly between Alzheimers Scotland and Dogs for Good, and aims to provide working service dogs to couples that are dealing with dementia. Everyone has heard of Guide Dogs for the blind, and there are many parallels between the projects, but while the Guide Dogs are long established, the Demenita Dogs project is still in the pilot stages.

Having had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with the project’s clients, it is clear that it is a project that has the potential to have a huge impact on people’s lives. That might explain why the project has been winning awards for innovation recently.

I was hired to take some fresh images to help promote the project, and part of that involved visiting couples that had taken on some of the first fully-trained Demenita Dogs in Scotland. Over the course of two and a half days, I met and photographed five families, each with their own story to tell. What was immediately obvious was just how much of an integral part of the family unit the dog had become, and in a very short space of time.

Every couple’s requirements were different, and each dogs was trained to adapt and work to help in unique ways. Some will fetch a medicine bag when a timer goes off, allowing people to spend time at home alone while their partner is out. One would even roll out a yoga mat when instructed! One client told me that having the dog as part of their lives had taken them out the house for the first time in months.

When I took on this job I was expecting to enjoy a good technical challenge, and it absolutely ticked that box: taking quality images in people’s homes, and under time pressure is hard enough without factoring in working with the dogs. It’s got to be said, photographing black labs is tricky! I confess though, that I went away astonished at the impact that these animals can have on the families that they live with. On the face of it, it seems a simple thing to introduce a dog to a home but the level of training the animals receive is incredible, and the support and commitment shown by the project’s team both to the dogs and to their clients is truly impressive.

Every photography job brings it’s challenges and rewards; you learn something every time, but the lessons from this one were about a lot more than the camera. Thanks to Fiona and the team for the opportunity, and to the project’s clients for allowing me to use a few of the photographs in this blog.

To find out more about the project, follow this link: http://dementiadog.org