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Dogs Make Disability An Ability

Dogs make disability an ability – the phrase Karin Forster used to describe the movement she is creating to make the Algarve a better place for people who have difficulties. I was so interested when I found out what Karin was doing and really wanted to try and get the word out for others. Her initiative and passion is really quite remarkable.

Visually impaired and disabled people are often made to feel different and isolated. Without the independence that comes from mobility, they are in constant need of a helper. Getting together with friends and even going to school or work requires assistance. They can’t do all of the things that their visually able or mobile friends do on their own. Pawsitive Dogs is about to change this …

Sit and stay...

Karin started Pawsitive Dogs around five years ago. At that time there was only one dog training centre offering reward based methods in the Algarve. Karin wanted to offer training based on trust between owner and dog. She succeeded with her methods and started gaining more and more clients from northern Europe. Karin’s form of training was not just about ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ but has turned it into a hobby for owners with their dogs and enables them to meet other like-minded people.

After coming into contact with an assistance dog association in Portugal Karin started training assistance dogs for them. Due to lack of support Karin brought over an assistance dog instructor from Sweden to Pawsitive Dogs. Cilla Danielsson from Sweden trained Karin and other instructors who after they had finished their Pawsitive Dog instructor course, also wanted to become assistance dog trainers. Karin and her other trainers work closely with (ACAI) Alertalegria- Associacao de Caes de Assistencia Internacional. An organisation Karin herself initiated in March 2017 and is the chairman of, together with 3 of her students.

Karin has a very good perception of what life is like for the disabled here in the Algarve and is passionate about trying to make a difference. The lack of the support people with difficulties have here is what inspired her.  

‘It got my attention how few blind people I have met or seen, during the 18 years I spent on and off in Portugal and the Algarve. Most are forced to stay home waiting for their family members to come home and bring them outside. A Guide Dog will give them independence and freedom. Something most of us take for granted.’

Karin Forster

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The challenges for families in Portugal with a disabled member are very high and they have very little support from the government. Something I want to show through my blog in the different areas affected. Medical costs are high and specialist treatments often mean extensive travel within or even outside of Portugal. A factor I know personally is a life changing transition which can affect every family member. This puts an enormous strain on already economically burdened families and their children. Buying a Guide Dog can therefore be out of the question. Which is another reason Karin is working so hard to try and make this a reality to local Portuguese families.

Karin tries to use shelter and dogs in need of re homing as much as possible. To become an assistance dog, the dog needs to be well socialised with humans and willing to assist. It also needs to socialise well with other dogs and animals but preferring human company. Depending on what the dog will be trained for size and genetics come in to the equation. The dog needs to be able to have a high stress threshold and be mentally stable.

Bond for a lifetime

We all know that dog and human relationships are bonds which go back a very long time. Dogs became domesticated alongside humans from hunters to settlers. But how can a dog help the disabled? ‘A dog can help a disabled person with tasks he cannot do himself like picking things up, collecting items, retrieving items, pressing buttons and alerting when an emergency situation arises. Staying with his handler during seizures and/or calling for help. The vast versatility of a dog can in principle help with whatever we want the dog to do.’

Karin went onto explaining that apart from medical assistance, even just stroking an animal can help release the calming hormone ‘oxytocin’ which is a mutual benefit for dogs and humans. A dog can help emotionally and be a support during medical tests and exams. For a young person or a child a dog can be someone who doesn’t judge them as well as someone to turn to with ones inner thoughts and feelings.

There are very few training centres which combine Assistance Dogs and Guide Dogs to help a disabled person with visual impairment for example. It is Karin’s hope and belief that she can make a difference in this area with her experience and try to raise more awareness for the drastic need of more assistance dogs. With her team speaking 7 languages and having a network in many European countries the Assistance Dogs can therefore be trained to suit any market. Most of the clients however live in Portugal.

Funding has been difficult for Karin to obtain and she needs bigger companies to help and regular subscriptions like many organisations abroad have. Karin hopes to find volunteers that can help raise funds and organise charity events so she can focus on the training instead.

One day

In a dream world and maybe in the future all of their dogs will be donated. Her project currently tries to donate 2 Guide Dogs to 2 visually impaired in Algarve, preferably 2 young people in need of more independence. Assistance Dogs in Portugal cost around 5000€, Guide Dogs need even more training and have a value of 18,000€. The only Guide Dog School that exists in Portugal until now has a grant but most support is from charity.

Karin has had a huge response from the expatriate community. The Portuguese may still be a little apprehensive however she hopes to change that with a new Portuguese volunteer.

If anyone is interested or wanting to contact Karin in regards to fundraising they can email her directly via [email protected] or [email protected]

I really hope this project continues to grow and people realise how beneficial this work is. Through Marley,  just thinking a dog could be there calling for help when he has a fit or even give him some comfort in hospital really is something any mum could dream of. A dog could just make all the difference in someone’s life.  

 ‘I feel very positive. It is my goal to see more Guide and Assistance Dogs in Portugal. Algarve is my main area to cover as it is easier to have continual close contact with my clients for as long as they have an Assistance or Guide Dog.’

Karin Forster

“The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.” ― M.K. Clinton

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