The dogs that change lives #5 – Hounds for Heroes

The last of my dogs that change lives series saw me and Big Les attend Crufts 2011, where I’d arranged to meet Allen Parton.

I already knew of Allen thanks to his book about Endal – a dog that was quite like no other. This is their story:

Allen Parton & EJ – Hounds for Heroes

Allen Parton & EJ - Hounds for Heroes

Two years to the day that he lost his beloved assistance dog, Endal, Allen Parton sits at a Crufts stall, set-up for his new charity, Hounds for Heroes, alongside Endal’s successor, three-year-old EJ.

Allen has come a long way since his injuries in the Gulf War, which robbed him of his memories and left him severely disabled.

Not only does he have his charity, created to help train dogs to assist the injured British service men and women, and a second book coming out, but also a movie of his life with Endal is in production, with a recent Oscar-winner cast to play him.

He says: “The Endal movie is definitely happening. They have Kate Winslet playing my wife and Colin Firth is playing me – filming is eminent.”

But books and films aside, Allen’s mission is to show that there are nearly a million injured service men and women in Britain, left to battle on through trauma, disability and bereavement long after a war has ended.

“Everyday I have to wake up and bring the wheelchair to my bed, and although I don’t remember the incident, each day since has been a struggle.

“We launched Hounds for Heroes in April 2010 and our main aim is to educate the services about us. We set out to raise £100,000 to enable us to buy and train five puppies to meet the specific needs of their owners,” Allen says.

“This is because I realised most charities and their assistance dos are aimed at a 48-year-old woman suffering from MS, who can be trained to open and close washing machines.

“What marine really wants a dog that can use a washing machine?”

The philosophy behind Allen’s charity is to remove the sense of disability and replace it with a feeling of ability, taking away the stigma of using canine assistance.

He says: “We are about ability not disability, solutions not problems. Our dogs will have jackets with embroided medals on and in the colours of each armed force, so that they become a badge of honour.”

Having an assistance dog is a powerful thing, not just for the injured veteran, but for the families as well.

“We have a client who was injured in Bosnia and we were chatting over the phone about him having a dog, and his children ran to their mum to ask why their dad was making a funny noise – it was the first time they had heard him laugh.”

But Hounds for Heroes would not have existed had it not been for Endal, the dog that Allen often claims saved not only his life, but also his marriage to wife, Sandra.

“Endal found me in a place that I shouldn’t have been in and he dragged me further away from that.

“I was lucky enough to be brought back to my wife, as I had no memory of her or my children, but we fell in love again. It was through the love of Endal that brought me back to them,” he says.

EJ, Ikea & Endal - Hounds for Heroes

“Someone once described my life as a jigsaw puzzle blown up in the Gulf War and every day, he went off and got another piece of that puzzle and brought it back to me.

“Although I’m not the person who went away, he made sense of what was left.”

Labrador Endal hadn’t received any assistance dog training other than a year of puppy socialising, learning how to behave in different situations, such as on public transport, and general manners like sit and stay.

Allen says: “People thought he was a fully trained dog but he wasn’t. He was just very intuitive, comprehending my every wish and need.

“To this day we’ll never know how he learned certain skills, like how to put me in the recovery position.”

And it was that particular skill that brought Endal to the nation’s attention when he and Allen were struck by a car in 2001.

“Endal got up knowing to put me in the recovery position, cover me with a blanket that was under the remains of the buckled wheelchair, crawl under a car to retrieve my mobile phone and try to wake me.

“When that failed, he limped off to a nearby hotel to raise the alarm, and for that he won the Victoria Cross.”

On March 13, 2009, 13-year-old Endal had to be put down after suffering from a stroke.

Allen says: “For a long time it was like Groundhog Day because I would forget Endal had died, and so every morning I had to grieve for him, which was quite hurtful – a rawness that he wasn’t there.”

Since then, Labrador EJ, short for Endal Junior, has been Allen’s partner in crime, assisting him without fault.

“When I took EJ on at eight weeks old, he and Endal had a year together, which for me was very important.

“Even from very early on, EJ would watch Endal and when I would fall unconscious, he just clicked that it was a serious sign and took over – the skills were transferred and it was a lovely learning curve.”

EJ has since mastered every command and skill that Endal did, including using a cash machine, retrieving items from supermarket shelves, pulling the plug out of the bath and operating switches and buttons.

Allen says: “EJ knows what he is doing – he really is on the ball and has taken to lead. As a one-year-old pup, he was doing everything that Endal had done, and I didn’t see that coming. I hadn’t realised how much EJ had learned from him.

“We do live quite a choreographed life,” he says. “I just know that when my hand goes down, he’s by my side. He’s constantly there on a physical level and very much on an emotional level.

“I thought I was lucky with Endal, but I am truly blessed to have EJ.”