Golden Labrador Merlin brings "a bit of magic" into their lives
By Kate Northrop
MAIDSTONE, United Kingdom — A couple from the United Kingdom could not think of a better way to spend their lottery winnings than bringing support dog Merlin into their daughter's life.
Golden Labrador Merlin is the greatest gift a family could ask for after winning £1 million (US$1.4 million) in a National Lottery EuroMillions drawing in August 2017.
The timing of their win, they say, made a huge impact on their lives.
"Our lottery win, eight months after Charlotte was born, could not have come at a better time," Amy Pryor said. "The win took a lot of pressure off us and has enabled us to focus on what is most important, Charlotte."
Adam and Amy's daughter was born seven weeks premature with a cleft palate, along with other conditions, including a chromosome 11 abnormality that resulted in developmental challenges and eyesight, hearing, and mobility issues.
Much of Charlotte's early life was spent going on back-and-forth trips to the hospital. At the same time, financial concerns were looming over the family's heads with rising bills and the end of Amy's maternity pay approaching.
Thankfully, the couple struck gold and gained a reprieve when they won £1 million in a EuroMillions draw in August 2017.
A furry support animal would come into the picture almost a year after Amy made a fateful call to Supporting Paws, an organization recommended by one of Charlotte's support workers that trains assistance dogs for a variety of disabilities and needs. Having grown up with dogs and dreaming of one day welcoming one into the family, Amy knew this could be the perfect fit.
Now, Merlin the golden Labrador is well into his training at the Pryor household, part of which includes learning to distinguish Charlotte's hearing aid from a toy.
"Merlin is a dream come true," Amy said. "[He] is still in training, but we can already see the positive impact he is having on Charlotte. He is learning to walk while attached to Charlotte's wheelchair, which in turn is encouraging Charlotte to go out for walks, and I see her looking around for him."
Merlin's homework also includes community access training, which means learning the appropriate behavior to be able to accompany Charlotte wherever she goes, especially to hospital appointments.
"He has a lovely temperament, which has a calming influence, and he already feels like one of the family," Amy related.
Trainers from Supporting Paws evaluate the needs of each client. From there, they can better tailor the training of the dog to suit their lifestyle. The cost of acquiring a service dog from Supporting Paws is generally around £9,000 (US$12,263).
"As a person with autism and a parent of a young person with autism and learning difficulties, I have seen first-hand the difference a support dog can make to a family's life," Charlotte Chaney, from Supporting Paws, said.
"Merlin's training has been tailored to Charlotte and her needs," Chaney added. "For example, unlike most dogs who are trained not to jump up, we've trained Merlin to jump up so that he can engage with Charlotte while she is in her wheelchair. Similarly, we've trained Merlin not to react to noises that Charlotte may make, which for other dogs would be a trigger to alert someone that something is wrong."
Without the lottery winnings, the couple said, Charlotte's life would have looked very different, and owning a pet, let alone a service animal, would have never been within the realm of possibility.
"Our lottery win has enabled us to do so much, from buying a bigger home with space for a specialist sensory room, to Amy giving up work to take care of Charlotte," Adam explained. "But Merlin is by far our favorite purchase."
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