DOG agility competitions can be just as challenging for human participants as for the canine contestants, so it’s hard to imagine how someone who has been confined to a wheelchair most of her life can compete successfully in such an activity.
But Pauline Angus, of Bracklesham, is determined not to let her severe disability get in the way of the things she loves to do, and she and her dogs are well-known and popular in the dog agility community.
Although Pauline, 37, was born with arthrogryposis, she has always lived life to the full – and her life every day is certainly packed with a wealth of activities centred on her lifelong love of dogs.
Against all odds
One thing she is hoping for in the near future, however, is to be able to buy a 4x4 all-terrain wheelchair which would enable her to reach the beach near home for the first time in six years.
She has just identified the ideal vehicle and is waiting to receive a quote from the supplier to know what the full cost would be.
The standard model is priced at £11,500, but Pauline will also need special adaptations such as a chin control and leg rests and these essential extras will add to the cost.
Every Wednesday morning she attends a dog agility class at the Therapaws therapeutic canine centre, at Sidlesham, which has agility equipment and a swimming pool.
Her trainer there, Karen Fuller, is so impressed by her pupil’s determination to compete against all the odds that she is launching a fundraising drive to help raise the money to buy the all-terrain wheelchair for Pauline.
“I started dog agility six years ago when Brenna, my German Shepherd Dog (GSD) was two years old,” said Pauline.
“Brennan’s too old for agility now but I do tracking with him successfully in Oakley, Surrey.
“A 4x4 wheelchair would make keeping up with him a lot easier, also it would mean I could carry on with training in the winter – usually I have to stop in September or October due to the fields getting wet.
“I compete at agility now with my epileptic border collie, Jet, and I have a new competition dog, Dash, a miniature Australian Shepherd dog.
“He’s just 18 months old and they’re not allowed to compete until they are two years, but I’m training him now – he still has lots to learn but he is enthusiastic.
“I know of only two other disabled people who compete, but the dogs adapt very well, though they sometimes need a little extra training to work with someone in a wheelchair.”
On the last Friday of every month, Pauline goes to a dog training centre where she works with her dogs in the paddock, but a more robust vehicle would enable her to train them in the centre’s sand school – her present wheelchair gets stuck in the sand.
Pauline’s busy life also sees her acting as a volunteer screener and adoption after-care team member for the German Shepherd Rescue Elite charity.
This work is done mainly over the internet or by telephone and involves screening potential volunteers and people who hope to adopt a rescued dog, as well as giving advice to anyone who is having problems with a rehomed animal and giving them invaluable training tips.
“I love all dogs, but especially German shepherds,” she says.
Pauline believes a 4x4 wheelchair would make a big difference to her everyday life.
“The beach by my house has a lot of stones to get over to access the beach, and there is also a bridleway near the house that is deteriorating.
“The new chair would be great for that and it would also allow me all-year-round access to Eartham woods, where I can usually go only from April to September, weather permitting, as it can be too boggy there.
“The dogs love running on the beach and getting into the sea, which is great exercise for them, but at the moment I have to take them to Worthing, which is about a 40-minute drive.
“Sometimes we go to West Wittering, however most of the time it is too busy there for us.
“It’s quite frustrating as I can see the beach from my house, but I can’t get to it.
“I’ve just had a demo of a 4x4 wheelchair which I think would be the right one for me. I drove it on the stones along the top of the beach and then down on to the beach and it was great. We also made sure that it would fit into my van.
“We’re just at the beginning of trying to raise the money for it, but Karen Fuller, my trainer, is hoping to arrange some sponsored walks and come up with some other fundraising ideas.
“She is also trying to rally support from the dog agility community.
“I take part in competitions from March to September every year, within a two-hour travelling radius of home, so we’re fairly well-known on the dog agility scene, which is a very friendly community. The same people go to all the shows.
“One of my carers, Lezley Dhonau, has also drafted a letter for me to send out to companies which might like to sponsor me in return for advertising on the side of my van or on my wheelchair.”
If you would like to help Pauline raise funds for her new wheelchair, or to find out more about her dedicated work with dogs, please call her on 0780 1474470 or 01243 670523.