Andrew’s life changed profoundly when he fell down the stairs of a taxi rank, landed on a concrete floor and sustained a brain injury. Two years down the track, he credits his companion dog, Meg, with giving him the motivation to keep going.
The 34-year-old plasterer was at a staff Christmas party in 2017 when he had his accident. He struck the right side of his head when he fell, an injury that left him unable to stand and struggling to use his left hand.
A long period of recuperation and rehabilitation restored his ability to walk, but his short-term memory is “still a bit shot” and he lives in supported accommodation in Ipswich.
After a brain injury, one of the most significant problems for the individuals involved is future loneliness, as they begin their new life and take on new challenges.
His new address made it difficult for his friends – most of whom live about an hour away, to visit him. He says they "don't come to see me that much".
But fortunately he acquired a new companion in March this year when Meg - a faithful companion dog trained as part of a pioneering project called Brainy Dogs – came to live with him.
"It was nice because she was just there, I suppose" he says of her, "Dogs are really good company, I mean they can't answer you back or talk to you but they're always happy to see you when you get home."
The fact that Andrew had an animal to care for was also important. “I had responsibility for walking her and feeding her,” he says. “It gave me a purpose.”
Companion dogs make a truly profound difference to the lives of people who are living with a brain injury or neurological condition.
The faithful helpers provide care, as well as an important sense of comfort and confidence as people begin to navigate their lives with the new challenges they've been confronted with.
Brainy Dogs is a National Lottery-funded scheme run by Headway Suffolk, a charity that supports people affected by brain injury. It is unique because the animals receive part of their training from prisoners at HMP Hollesly Bay, as well as people on probation, veterans, those suffering with mental health problems and children excluded from school.
The trained dogs provide companionship and care, and roughly 70 people involved in the training programme gain invaluable work experience and social skills, as well as the feeling of having made a profound difference to the lives of others.
Funding from the National Lottery has enabled Brainy Dogs to train and give new futures to 70 rescue dogs to date, and another 10 are set to be trained this year. Meanwhile, 70 offenders have been given vocational training and new opportunities so far.
The fact that 70 clients of Headway have been provided with companion dogs is significant. Many of those who have been helped by Brainy Dogs were not eligible to receive a companion dog from other charities as they were not regarded has having enough need.
Andrew says Meg has played an important part in his recovery. "If I'd have kept going like I was, it wouldn't have got any better", he says, "The money from the National Lottery made it possible for me to get a dog and other people to get a dog".
The National Lottery funding will also help the charity offer one-to-one pet therapy for ten clients each year, as well as care home visits. These will be provided to those individuals who are not suitable for a companion dog.
Despite the challenges that people living with brain injuries or neurological conditions face, with their faithful companion dogs by their side, the future is considerably brighter.
This is a sponsored article in association with National Lottery Good Causes.