Sir Jack Spratticus

Rehomed from Border Terrier Welfare UK 2012 – Proud member of #BTposse – Winner of The Friends For Life Award 2018, Crufts – Owner Trained Assistance Dog for Mental Health

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A need for ALL mental health problems arising from childhood trauma to be recognised, accepted and treated within the NHS.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020


As you may be aware, it is Mental health Awareness Week 2020 (MHAW). This year the theme is kindness however this is an opportune time to give a someone a voice. This voice attempts to share a story which may in fact demonstrate what happens to an individual when starved of kindness from a very young age. Kindness is an essential ingredient of care a person receives at any age. Kindness is good for our health. One might suggest there is little acceptance or kindness shown towards some diagnoses. A problem with a lack of awareness is this may contribute to assumptions that some diagnoses are rare. 

This introduces a trauma related disorder called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (formally known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Vanessa received this diagnosis recently along with a less severe trauma related disorder called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD).  The focus of this will address the former one, as there is  considerable disregard for this problem within the NHS. Future accounts will look at DID in more detail, as well as cPTSD.

It has taken over two and a half decades to be accurately diagnosed. Therefore this 48 year old’s voice is full of trepidation. Extracting sense and putting words down in order on paper requires a large amount of time and concentration. Because of the disbelief surrounding this “disorder”, a level of risk is involved as well. I am keen to share a brief introduction to her story with you. A lived experience within the UK mental health system 1993 – 2020 might suggest Vanessa is a specialist. In many respects I suppose she is, but purely from ‘service users’ prospective. Unfortunately, the problems she really suffered with had never been recognised, screened for, or diagnosed. As a result every treatment approach (although intended to help) resulted in a poor long term outcomes. This gives her some understanding for why she never really felt heard, understood and has remained unable to “recover”. Her incapacity to hold any sense of herself, or to recognise her needs in order to look after herself have remained unattainable. 

An incorrect diagnosis …

The predominant diagnosis originally given, was for Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) (previously known as Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD), together with disordered eating. The latter, an issue for 37 years, is currently being challenged. Vanessa is actively persuading long term positive behavioural changes to improve a malnourished status. BPD is documented to be a disorder in patients psychiatrists loath (Lewis & Appleby 1988). This was Vanessa’s overall experience, especially during lengthy hospital admissions. These were frightening, and excruciatingly lonely experiences. She had no idea her years growing up hidden within a toxic environment were being replayed thus perpetuating numerous, well entrenched beliefs. A time waster, a manipulative individual, an attention seeker and untreatable are among the charming attributes she was provided with. Sadly for Vanessa, as well as many other adults survivors, little has changed in over two and a half decades. There ares still no National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines provided for DID. How atrocious and sad this is for anyone who began life marinated within, and unable to escape from, a toxic home environment. One that significantly predisposed her to develop the most severe of all trauma/dissociative disorders.

… and treatment

Unbeknown to Vanessa, BPD did not reflect her reality until small, yet stark, realisations began to creep in approximately five years ago. BPD did not capture the profound developmental disturbances Vanessa experienced, nor the traumatic origins of symptoms. For over two and a half decades Vanessa was trapped in a wretched ‘revolving door’, being admitted onto (sometimes sectioned under the Mental Health Act), and discharged from, psychiatric wards and general hospitals innumerable times. This became her specialist occupation and all she was known for. Sadly her copious medical notes portray an individual whose primary goal was to self destruct. She had been resuscitated in 1993, was transferred to Kings College London Liver Unit in 1995 and very nearly met her demise whilst hooked to a life support machine in the Royal Devon & Exeter at the beginning of 2001. These are examples when prolific overdosing left Vanessa fighting for her life. Alarmingly these instances had zero impact on her reducing this impulsivity.  Familiarity tends to be experienced as safer, even when this is predictable source of pain results.

Charity ribbon for DID
Design by Crazyville

If Mental Health Services in every Trust were only open to a discussion about Dissociative Disorders, and, the training opportunities available (e.g. at Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Disorders). In Vanessa’s case, the majority of the treatment provided was unhelpful in the long term. An approach that incorporates heavy use of medication (old style medications in her early years effectively sedated her), electroconvulsive treatment, and force feeding, reinforced a dissociative state.

Why is DID difficult to diagnosis?

There is evidence of individuals given the label of conditions such as BPD, when, truth be told, a dissociative disorder is at play (Korzekwa et al, 2009). Vanessa has been shocked by the lack of awareness for dissociative disorders within the NHS. The difficulties in diagnosing DID are directly linked insufficient education health professionals receive. Surprisingly for those who have any understanding for DID base that on a 1976 film “Sybil” In this separate identities were presented in a overelaborated and dramatic way for the film industry. A similar film, “Split”, that came to our television screens a few years ago. Neither presented DID realistically. For example, Vanessa’s friends are unlikely to be aware of her different identities or “parts” as she is well rehearsed in concealing symptom, not being believed and a fear of being rejected, for example. There is a lot more to write about DID, however for now lets just say she experiences herself as having separate alternate parts that have different ages, hold different ideas, likes and dislikes, even different hand writing styles as well as relative autonomy. At various times, different parts take over control to govern her body and behaviour. Taken together, all of the alternate identities make up her personality. 

So, people who have survived unimaginable traumas, potentially go on to be provided with care from a system that, because of lack of education, and use of screening tools does not actually help them. No one should ever have to deal with such a cascade of difficult to horrific events. Our mental health system has effectively adopted a stance where it is dissociated from the effects trauma has on children. In my opinion this is an appalling and nonsensical approach as childhood traumatisation IS responsible for costly long-term psychiatric problems including dissociative disorders. 


Dissociative disorders require and deserve sensitive and specialist understanding for. Pointing local NHS Trusts/clinicians/future health professionals etc. in the right direction is Vanessa’s passion. There has to be purpose given to, and something positive gleaned from, a tortured existence. Her need is for individuals to become informed and better equipped (thus Continuing Professional Development) to really help those, at the earliest stage, whose lives are blighted by dissociation. There has to be hope for an approach where kindness lies at the heart of how professionals help anyone suffering. This total disregard for DID can not be allowed to perpetuate. NHS trusts can ill afford to ignore the reality of DID. The correct diagnosis is a prerequisite for any persons well-being.

As she proceeds down her journey Vanessa will begin to ‘knock on doors’, and be persistent in doing so. She will press on, seeking pertinent opportunities to speak to anyone working within the NHS, academia, community groups etc. In the meantime, further discussions will be presented looking into what exactly DID is and the effects this has on the quality of daily living, for example. 

‘Rich Tapestry of Life’ (2012)
Tapestry deigned to reflect what it is live with DID
(originally designed with BPD in mind)
by Vanessa Holbrow

Finally, remember, kindness costs not a penny and yet has the most profound effect for any person; especially anyone in need. Kindness has the remarkable consequence on the quality of life for the bestower as well as the receiver. It is important to raise kindness towards oneself is also vital. Kindness, or self-compassion, may well be related to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health. Are you able to appreciate just how big an impact a small gesture of kindness can have? We don’t need to do big things to make a difference. Please don’t underestimate the value of a kind word or a smile you give someone today. A smile alone has the potential to make a profound and immeasurable positive difference. Know that it does make a difference, even if you don’t see it.


Bellis M, and Zisk A. Biological Effects Of Childhood Trauma (2014) Child  Adolescc Psychiatry Clin N Am. 23 (2): 185 – 222.

Howell F. (2011) Understanding and treating dissociative identity disorder. New York: Routledge.

International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (2011) Guidelines for treating dissociative identity disorder in adults, third revision. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. 2011; 12:115-187.

Johnson JG, Cohen P, Kasen S & Brook JS. (2006). Dissociative disorders among adults in the community, imparting functioning, and Axis I and II comorbidity. Journal of Psychiatry Research. 40, 131–140.

Kluft, RP. (2009). A clinician’s understanding of dissociation: Fragments of an acquaintance. In P. F. Dell & J. A. O’Neil (Eds.), Dissociation and the dissociative disorders: DSM-V and beyond. New York, NY: Routledge.

Korzekwa M, Dell P, Links P, Thabane L and Fougere (2009) Dissociation in Borderline Personality Disorder: A Detailed Look. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation.10, 3: 346 – 367.

Lewis G, Appleby L. (1988) Personality disorder: the patients psychiatrists dislike. Br J Psychiatry. 153:44-49.

Ross CA, Miller SD, Bjornson L, Reagor P, Fraser GA, Anderson G (1991). Abuse histories in 102 cases of multiple personality disorder. Canadian J Psychiatry. 36:97–101.

Spring C, and Allan E. (2017) Dissociation and DID. The Fundamentals. Positive Outcomes For Dissociative Survivors.

Further information and resources
European Society for Trauma and Dissociation

First Person Plural, dissociative identity disorders association

International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation

Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors

Dissociative Disorders

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Jack’s story features in”Good Dog”, a new book by the author Kate Leaver.

“Celebratory, joyous and moving, this is a book for anyone who has ever loved a dog – and known their love in return.” (review)

“Kate Leaver begins by telling the story of how she met her beloved rescue shihtzu, Bertie, and how powerfully he helps her through periods of depression. Along with Jack she meets 9 other remarkable dogs, who’ve changed human lives – from Missy the pug, who helps 11-year-old Cody live his best life despite his autism diagnosis, to Pip, who helps her teenage owner manage diabetes, and Jingles, who works with inmates in a prison”.

“Celebratory, joyous and moving, this is a book about the profoundly healing, curative qualities of dogs – and how we need dogs in our lives more than ever. The dog-human bond is the most extraordinary cross-species friendship on the planet. Dogs give people so much: affection, companionship and profound emotional support. Now, more than ever, we can see the clear health benefits of living with a dog by our side. Drawing on science, research and in-depth personal interviews, Good Dog demonstrates how vastly a dog can improve our mental and physical health as well as our quality of life. With each story, it becomes more and more obvious how profoundly dogs can support us, comfort us and eve n save our lives”.

April 2020

Burnham on Sea’s website feature written by Ness and edited by

A Crufts-winning Burnham-On-Sea dog and his owner are set to be featured in a heart-warming new book about the friendship between dogs and their owners.

Vanessa Holbrow, known as Ness, and her re-homed Border Terrier, Sir Jack Spratticus, won the Crufts Friends for Life award in 2018, as we reported here.

Now, the incredible bond between them is set to be featured in a new book that is being published in e-reader format this month. It will celebrate those dogs who change and even save lives.

Ness has previously credited her dog with saving her life as she battled various mental health problems.

She told this week how the new book deal has come about: “Towards the start of 2019 I was contacted by an author, Kate Leaver, who is a journalist and speaker. She currently writes for many broadsheet papers and magazines including The Guardian, Telegraph and British Vogue.”

Kate Leaver (

“Kate sounded lovely on the phone, chatting to me about her plans for her second book. Her first book, called ‘The Friendship Cure’, which came out in 2018, is about the art and science of friendship, and why we need each other more than ever.”

“Kate speaks to many individuals from scientists to strangers on the internet; from psychotherapists to friends, to conduct a relatable, moving and funny investigation into the topic of friendship.”

“Kate was keen to hear about how Jack helps me. Once she had been given the go-ahead by her publisher she came to meet us. We collected her from Burnham and Highbridge Railway Station and brought her back to my flat – my flat is adorned with various prints, paintings and photographs of Border Terriers so there’s no doubting my adoration for Jack, and the breed – where we spent a few hours talking about Jack as well as the daily troubles I face.”

“The book, explained Kate, is really about our relationship with dogs and how they can change our lives. She starts by writing about how Bertie, Kate’s dog, has helped with depression, then she tells 9 other stories about dogs who’ve been helpful and wonderful and good.”

“Each chapter is named after the dog and it just tells enough about the person and their plight so that we can understand a bit of what they go through and see how the dogs helps that. So, whether it’s autism or PTSD or diabetes or depression, she talks to people about how dogs can help and support them.”

It took Kate less than a month to come back with Jack’s Chapter and Ness says: “I was hesitant to read it, however I was taken aback by her easy to understand and beautiful writing style.”

“It was extremely surreal reading about Jack and myself; more so due to the disorder I suffer with, and to have this opportunity is extraordinarily helpful as I am two years into trauma work with a counsellor.”

“We’re ploughing through and addressing the developmental trauma I survived; as well as decades of severe and chronic traumatisation. A severe dissociative disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder resulted, formally known as Multiple Personality Disorder. I received this diagnosis only very recently (actually during the first week of lock down) following an assessment with a Trauma and Dissociative Specialist in January 2020. This meant many things, but essentially this was a relief as finally someone concurred with my inner belief, having been treated for something completely different for over two decades.”

Ness adds: “Last month Kate got in touch, to say her book called “Good Dog” would be out in April 2020 in Australia – Kate is originally from Australia – and she’s also just found out it will be out in the UK on the 4th March, 2021. It’ll also be out sometime in North America too at a later date.”

“Due to the pandemic there is a virtual launch of “Good Dog” on April 29th and it’s already up on Amazon here in Kindle format.”

Kate’s publisher, Harper Collins, is working with Kate’s favourite book shop Harry Hartog Bookeller, to put on an event which Jack and Ness have been invited to.

Ness says: “It will be lovely and so interesting to see Kate’s friend and author, Holly Ringland, interviewing her. All I need to do is make certain I sort out the technical side of this out so I can ‘go’ to the launch of “Good Dog” in Australia. Due to the time difference I expect to get up early morning, bright and breezy! I suppose this may be the only time where a decent pair of pyjamas will pass as the dress code!”

“This has given me hope that someday I will fulfil my own dream. I yearn to be able to share an unbelievable story. For now, my priority is to somehow recover a life away from Anorexia, and other self harming behaviours that has beset three quarters of my life, as well as come to terms and learn to exist with a hideously complex disorder. Sadly, this is much maligned, enormously misunderstood – that is if it is believed within the NHS.”

“I am hugely grateful to Kate and, of course, Jack, without whom I’d not have had a second chance at life.”

“When I rescued Jack, little did I realise the profound impact this little brown terrier would have in rescuing me on a daily basis from disabling invisible symptoms and a fiendishly confusing past and damaged existence. Not only have I the best companion, but a relationship that constantly saves my life!”

For anyone affected or interested to find out more, see the website Positive Outcomes For Dissociative Disorders or MIND for more information.


Sally Walkers Cards – Sir Jack Spratticus

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“Party Golden Boy” (


Mum and I are fortunate to have met Sally Walker by chance in The Cottage Gallery, located in the beautiful, bustling Somerset village of Wedmore.

The Cottage Gallery, formerly the site of the old village garage, nowadays it is cram packed full with may be described as one of the most eclectic mixes of British artists showcasing bronze, paintings, pottery, jewellery, textile and wood. The Gallery is said to have “built a reputation for inspirational art no matter what your taste or your pocket”.

Mum has bought Sally Walker Cards for the time they have been available in our shops, I do not doubt. Alongside her cards, paintings and prints are also available, as well as commissions available in oils, acrylic and water colour.

Mum was delighted to meet Sally. Following an introduction Mum politely challenged Sally for an absence of a Border Terrier on a range of dog cards. A category of cards illustrating a dog breed, in relevant attire.

Last week Mum and I, in The Cottage Gallery, were surprised to find … guess what?

A Sally Walker card showcasing a Border Terrier:


Assuming most people do this, I turned this around in order to view any details …


staring back at me in bold writing was a title “Sir Jack Spratticus”


Immense infinite appreciation for the meaning this gives Mum – the illustration itself is out of this world. The fact this is my boy, is unbelievable!


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The Little Dog Laughed

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Wednesday July 2018

Hello Vanessa
Thank you for getting in touch and sharing your photos and story of Sir Jack Spratticus. He was a joy to draw. Jack is part of our 20th annivesary celebration diary. Mr April to be prescise! These will hopefully be ready for September and I’ll send you complimentary sample asap. You will also receive a bespoke print and you are welcome to have your own caption or dedication added. Also if I go on to use the artwork on other products you will receieve complimentary samples of those too! I’ll be announcing the winners online ina couple of weeks.
Kind regards and congratulations once again!
Anna Danielle

Mum has no recollection entering this competition with several photos (including the one below that won) along with a synopsis about me, Jack. So Anna Danielle’s email arrived into Mum’s inbox as a shock!

“Anna Danielle, artist and designer studied printed textiles at Winchester School of Art, back in a decade that now requires much scrolling to reach the correct tick box. Anna’s final degree project featured cows. Lots and lots of cows. Each student was required to have a quote or sentence that best described their work. Anna’s artwork has always been animal based, simple and full of gentle humour. Consequently, being in a bovine frame of mind she chose the line from the Over the Moon nursery rhyme “the little dog laughed to see such fun”.

As a result, this later became her final choice of company name which then led directly to her next subject matter.  Scruffy Mutts. And she has been here pretty much ever since!

It was during the second year of her degree that Anna Danielle had her first experience of designing greeting cards. That was her eureka moment.  Almost twenty years on she is still creating cards and gifts inspired by her love of all things four legged and furry. Anna primarily works with watercolour and pen and gets much of her inspiration from the photos and anecdotes loyal Little Dog followers send to her via email or her Facebook page.

Recently her artwork has evolved to include the AppleMac as part of her artistic process. By combining her watercolour sketches with flat computer generated colour backgrounds, her digs&manor collection has given Anna’s artwork a new lease of life and gained her many new fans” (The Little Dog Laughed)

With thanks to a local business here in Somerset The Country House Gift Company Mum & I have had sneak preview of the now available to purchase The Little Dog Laughed, 20th anniversary celebration diary. Here you can see me as Mr April 2019 and on a greeting card.

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On the look out for misdemeanours!

With enormous appreciation to Anna Danielle, her company The Little DogThe Little Dog Laughed.

And of course to Elaine, Melissa and Alex from The Country House Gift Company not only for stocking these and other The Little Dog Laughed merchandise, also for keeping Mum & I posted regarding “Border Patrol” (2019 Search for a Superstar Winner, 20th Anniversary Celebration 2019 Diary)

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“Everyday is a Game Day!” Susan Garrett



A belated entry.

Back during the Summer Mum & I won a second year with “Recallers” therefore becoming a Alumni member. This is the brain child of an incredible highly influential renowned dog trainer and Multi time National & World Agility Champion Susan Garrett.

The Philosophy of Recallers:

“To provide a higher level of dog training education over the Internet … To create a curriculum that is inspiring and effective … To enable everyone to be their own ‘dog training coach’ and ‘solution seeker’ … In a supportive and reinforcement based community”.


While with Canine Generated Independence (2017) (CGI) we were introduced to Susan Garrett’s “Free Online Dog Training Workshop” Facebook page. And as a result of this Mum decided to join Recallers. So much was gained from joining the Facebook page. What initiated this fascination with Susan’s method? It began almost from the start when Mum was introduced to their well shared game called ItsYerChoice. Susan states this to be a “critical core foundation game”.


Where all dogs like me “learn all things of value must be earned” (Pft! EARNED?!) … The premise of the game is that the “work” is what earns the reward not just the presence of those rewards in the environment”

After I had mastered this game, so quickly, Mum and I were hooked and were hungry for more! And therefore decided to invest in a years membership with Recallers. And both of us have genuinely not looked back.

Now I suppose you may want to see the video that was one of the fifty that won us another year!

I know, I know it’s dreadful, I agree. However in light of the fact that Mum has been in hospital, for skin grafts, for the first week we had to create a video (we had two weeks). Mum had made miserable attempts at composing something after the operation in hospital, with no Wi-fi link and no skill in ever producing an actual short film.

Mum and I are forever grateful to those at Recallers HQ


All the games Mum made into pocket sized pack!


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Animal Star Awards – Highly Commended

Giving recognition to animals 


for the extraordinary things they do for humans and vice versa.

Firstly and most importantly


As an animal lover, Mary Burgess wanted to create an awards brand to recognise animals (ANY animal, these awards are not confined to a domestic dog or cat) and the people who love them and whose lives would not be the same without them.

Mary is the founder of the Animal Star Awards (ASA). The awards were launched on the 5th April 2017 by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth.


  • Assistance Animal of the year
  • Lifetime Achievement (A person that has dedicated their life to animals)
  • International Animal Charity/ International Rescue Centre  Of The Year – A charitable organisation or rescue centre 
  • Rescue Animal Of The Year – Animal must be Resident in UK. 
  • UK Animal Charity Of The Year – A named UK charitable organisation
  • Best Remembered Pet/Animal – sponsored by #LucysLaw
  • Vet Of The Year – A named person
  • Animal Education Award – A UK based educational dept or Veterinary School/College/ Veterinary Practice with in house learning facilities & CPD
  • Veterinary Nurse Of The Year
  • Best Rescue Centre UK 
  • Best Pet related business – either Store/Salon or Online
  • Best UK Pet Blog/Blogger Of The Year
  • Animal Hero/Animal Enthusiast Someone that goes over and beyond for animals
  • Animal Behaviourist/Healer/Trainer Of The Year

NB. Jack was nominated in the category: Rescue Animal of The Year category.  Recently recieved news while mum was in hospital recently, in acute pain. Mum could see who was calling which made answaring the call possible. Good thing too as the news was: I have been choosen to be a finalist. The best analgesia!!

This year nominations opened on the 19th January and closed Sunday 6th May. The awards are not just about domestic pets, they consist of 16 categories and supports various charities. There are no public vote categories, each group will be judged by a panel of experts.



  • Dominic Dyer – Author – Chief Executive The Badger Trust – Broadcaster – Campaigner
  • Phil Lassman All Dogs Matter
  • Lisa Baldock – Hearing Dog’s – Motivational Speaker
  • Nicky Stevens – Founder Charity IAPWA
  • Anneka Svenska TV presenter/ Animal Campaigner

Other well known people supporting ASA include Nigel Marven (wildlife presenter), Charlotte Corney (Director Isle of Wight Zoo), Former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor David Fuller, Dan Richardson (actor Patron of the Born Free Foundation), and Lydia Lucy (singer – Finalist The Voice).

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The very first awards ceremony was held at The Mandalay Hotel, Guildford on Saturday 3rd November 2018. A time for the red carpet arrivals is another aspect of the ceremony mentioned.

Guildford was chosen to host the wards ceremony because it is the hub of veterinary medicine (UK). I hold no doubt Mary will ensure the awards are amazing. A night to remember for certain. Friends and industry experts supported this extraordinary woman. Rachael Hawnt, a finalist earlier this year on the BBC One show ‘All Together Now’, provided the entertainment.

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The Winner is the remarkable Monique Nerman & King Tommy. What an honour to be standing next in line to King Tommy, wholly!

Screenshot 2018-11-21 at 07.43.35MaryBurgess, as founder of these awards, is phenominal and deserves coverage. 

Animal Star Awards – Twitter 

Animal Star Awards – website

Animal Star Awards – Facebook

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A Campaign: a new Facebook page #complexness

This has been set up due to a passion: a passion to give voice to the parts of mum that have come to a recent, profoundly insightful albeit shocking realisation.

Lightblub moment

… a shocking realisation

The primary purpose and hope for this page is to bring about change and to document that. Below is the thumbnail photo for the page


Trigger warning in no way the intention. However aware content may trigger instability for those vulnerable. Mum can not be held responsible as the intention is to bring about positive change, and raise awareness. May I suggest from personal experience you reach for your nearest confidant if affected.

Excellent resources:

To put this into context childhood trauma, which is stated to fall into the category of Complex Trauma, is not well understood within the mental health system. In fact Mum would go as far to say that is not acknowledged. Unlike PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which is suggested to be a ‘single incident’ trauma, Complex Trauma (also known as cPTSD has its origins in unresolved detrimental experiences in childhood (trauma). In essence, childhood coping mechanisms (in mum’s case, for example, self-injury, an eating disorder) become symptoms in adult if left unresolved.

Mum sought information from research papers which present a complex picture of Mum’s lived experience. Mum faces a reality, her reality, coming into focus. As a young adult entering the psychiatric system (in the 90s the ‘name’ given to the mental health system) the only clue as to what may be going on for her, was the behaviour she presented. I’ll give you this, Mum was a significantly challenging individual due to prolific self-destructive behaviour. The various forms of self harm gave her the permission to exist. However, at this time she would not of had the awareness of why she turned out like she did. The only thing that mattered ultimately was to self destruct. She felt guilt for even existing, for occupying a space on earth. She had no depth of self-awareness or understanding of why/what she was doing. Today Jun 2018 she now has a much clearer picture of a few of her selfs, and how they may fit in and join together in parts.

Ironically resulting pathways in ‘treatment’ served to retraumatise her, again, again, again again, again etc… and again.  Professionals practicing with-in the psychiatric system then (early 90s); and the mental health system now, in my opinion, hold inadequate understanding. They have not been given the necessary skill set and specialist knowledge. This is paramount to assure the best chance for survivors of childhood trauma.

Research and specialist groups and charities are recognising this, and to Mum’s shock convey what Mum has experinced and continues to the present day. She represents a perfect example, a lived experience, mirroring what research papers convey of how the mental health system is not helping a select group of clients. For example, a group of specialists dedicated to this client group, the European Society for Trauma and Dissociations (ESTD), state “patients with histories resulting in traumatisation often do not respond to treatment as usual where treatment focuses primarily on symptoms … (i.e. hence why anorexia/bulimia for mum has not responded to [only] two specialist inpatient stays ) … This can have a devastating impact on patients future, creating a ‘revolving door system’ hence expensive modes of treatment, which do not lead to good outcomes for patient (or the NHS, financially)”

Complex Trauma and often resulting dissociative disorders HAVE to be acknowledged by professional bodies such as NHS England, National Institute of Mental Health, NICE, so that NHS Partnerships may have a chance to initiate hope and special treatment options.

art artistic black and white blank

Hope for others

Mum HAS to contribute something to prevent as many as possible going down a familiar pathway “supposedly being helped” within the NHS mental health system. So they do not end up being ‘treated’ as she was/is. So, their own experince of Complex Trauma is not perpetuated.

The first period (book) of Complex Trauma is hard enough to now face.

Now a second book has emerged. Twenty years “treated”, sadistically and wholly inappropriately many times. This created a second book/phase of complex trauma in its own right. It is stated that if unresolved and unprocessed, traumatic experiences hinder a vast range of functioning. Mum within the psychiatric/mental health system was unable to process traumas leading to her first admission (I will reiterae on mums behalf this is very new and clear realsiation for her) and therefore progress. A grossly dysfunctional, virtally lethal start and resulting self-destructive behaviour: there was no hope for her when hositalised, for exmaple. She in effect remained on high alert, easily triggered, and the negative way of coping that had emerged, intensified.



   That newborn stood no chance …


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A request to open a Vintage Tea Shop

“Coffee, Cake & Curtains”

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Wright Digital Media

I was kindly asked to open a “vintage tea shop” in April, 2018. So duly went off with mum to learn how to untie an oversized bow!

To thank the owner of ‘Coffee, Cake & Curtains’ we thought to write a short blog to document this; and admittedly for my record of events.

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This is also to acknowledge Wright Digital Media ( for the superb photos taken of me for the tea shop, which were kindly given to us.

Mum and I had a super day, talk about treated like Royalty! I did untie the bow. However, I did not let go of one end well secured to the door and so having opened this charming Tea Shop I deemed it closed!


Mum made a dodgy spontaneous speech as such (this put into context why some random Border Terrier was opening a jolly smart Tea Shop – it wasn’t long after winning Freinds For Life 2018, Crufts in case you too are wondering).


The Tea Shop serve daily “the finest tea, coffee, homemade cakes, pastries, freshly prepared sandwiches and rolls”. I fancied the cream tea myself, actually amend that to the full works! When entering one is captivated by the most enchanting environment with all the trimmings; attention to detail is second to none.

There are homemade made dog beds for the likes of me to be nearer the scones! You can admire their irresistible fabrics, curtains and upholstery, “giving you inspiration about your own interior design projects”.



The Tea Sop is open everyday (check website for details) and is tucked away in The Borough Mews, in the fine village of Wedmore, Somerset.



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Wishing all those at ‘Coffee, Cake & Curtains’ every success

& enormous thanks to Wright Digital Media.

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Auto-bark-ography! An update 2018


Breed Rescue Dog of the Year

Breed Rescue Dog of the Year Dog: Sir Jack Spratticus the Border Terrier Owner: Vanessa Holbrow, 46, from Berrow, Somerset (Neil Munns Photography)

Taking me, a Border terrier (BT) called Jack, on as a re-homed BT in 2012 helps mum live with complex mental health illnesses. Namely these issues are Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD), Dissociative Disorders (DD) and an Eating Disorder (ED) (which is 90% a restrictive type, Anorexia). I give mum a life she never dreamt off in terms of companionship and I help her to get out and about (this was prior to us finding an Owner Trained Assistance Dog (OT AD) organisation). This I will elaborated on later. Mum maintains it is literally a Godsend to have discovered Border Terrier Welfare UK (BTW), and it is by no means an understatement to say this has been a life changing ‘find’. Mum and I from the beginning have been learning and growing together, overcoming difficulties from our pasts and learning coping strategies. Mum was introduced to an extraordinary Twitter group in 2013. #BTPosse is a Twitter group of over 1000 Border Terriers and their owners who support each other, share photos, thoughts, news and laughter on Twitter and Facebook and arrange Tweet Ups all over the country, where they meet for a day of fun, dog walking and picnicking; and then an OT AD organisation in 2017. The OT AD organisation is “a not for profit organisation, helping disabled people within the UK wanting to train their own assistance dog to an extremely high standard”. Which is where our next chapter continues. For now I shall start from the beginning of my life with Mum aged 13 months.

On 24 August 2012 I walked into mums life with an air of bravado. I say an ‘air of bravado’ because this was a fragile exterior, masking deep fear and confusion. This was my fourth home. Between you and I, to be rejected again was my reality. On appearances those on the outside may have indeed questioned why I was being re-homed to an individual with  complex psychiatric illnesses. Furthermore mum lived in a small block of flats with no enclosed garden. Pfft! to that I thought to myself at the time. I need squirrels to chase at least! Mum’s complex psychiatric history is an extensive one, thirty six years living and fighting to manage daily living. Mum has struggled to the extent that two thirds of her life since graduating in 1993 with a BSc in Applied and Human Biology has been sectioned in old style asylums to begin with and then general adult psychiatric hospitals, specialised  eating disorder units and general hospitals. The latter of which mum has been hanging on to life by a hairs breath several times on life support 1994 and 2002 due to attempts on her own life. Along side this, on more times she can dare mention, mum as an adult has fought back from being insanely underweight, due to self imposed starvation. Beyond the usual conditions brought on by malnutrition and an unviable body weight, a plethora of other conditions result and remain, for example, Osteoporosis.

Gradually over the last twelve years, with the help of intensive and less intensive therapy mum has turned things around to a certain degree. Problems partly stem from an unrelenting traumatic and lonely, neglectful existence during her formative years and as a young adult. Therapy enables mum to gain insight, and as a result of this a chance to gain a sense of self, which is in itself excruciating for mum to face. Trauma therapy continues to this day.

Before I came along Mum started on her journey to becoming a dog owner. Mum started volunteering as a dog walker for the RSPCA, moved to rented accommodation permitting dogs (in light of recommendation from community mental health services) and attended dog training classes without a dog. Mum explained to me that in order for her to feel in any way able and have the chance to hold confidence enough to become a responsible dog owner, this was a definite prerequisite.

I offer mum someone to love and care for. One thing that is novel for mum is my love and acceptance of her. I help her to strongly consider looking after herself, to believe in looking out for herself first and foremost. I help her initiate the want to discover a sense of self and the strength to process that complexity. She adores me I know, furthermore I am integral to her working hard to stay on track (safe) because I sense I am very special to her. Being a extraordinary character would be one descriptive word for myself. I am also adorable and mischievous despite unsavoury terrier habits! An extraordinarily adaptable poser is a further attribute and love nothing more than being in front of the camera. A designer, Izabela Peters, spotted one of my photos and this resulted with me being on a cushion and a draught excluder of all things! I model for ‘Scrufts’ handmade dog collars and leads, with mum taking the photographs for this. Before I came into mum’s life she never realised she was able to take a decent photograph. Towards the end of 2017 we had the surprise of a lifetime to win a competition. ‘Dog Friendly’ (the largest database of dog friendly places to stay in the UK) ran a competition to find twelve dogs with the friendliest faces to feature in this years Dog Friendly Face of the Year Calendar. The competition attracted more than 3,000 entries and 35,000 votes. Celebrity judge Paul Martin chose me as one of the 12! The winning photo is heading this piece of writing. Below is one of my good self taken me at the Excell Centre, London where the awards were held.

On the side, may I also mention, in 2014 I qualified for the Buckham Fair, Re-homed/Rescued Dog Championships. I qualified for this show at Mid Somerset Show where I received a first (mum was in tears). So the following week mum dragged me down to Beaminster, in torrential rain might I add, to be judged along with approximately 70 dogs. Mum was questioned by four judges on different aspects of our story. Then there was a big finale and it was not until this stage mum and I realised how many amazing dogs we were up against. Martin Clunes talked to mum and stroked me. Following this ten dogs were pulled out to stay in the ring. Number 26 was announced (my number!). After a further circuit of the ring and one final look at us. In reverse order the positions were announced. To my complete shock and delight I came 2nd! It may be worth sharing with readers that in 2016 having been nominated, I was short listed for The Kennel Clubs Eukanuba ‘Friends For Life’ (FFL) competition. At the age of 4 I was nominated for the huge impact I had had on mum’s life. That nomination went no further.

However, in 2018 I was selected from the Breed Rescue category for The Kennel Club FFL competition, which celebrates the close bond between dogs and their owners; and showcases how dogs can be true heroes and make an extraordinary contribution to our lives and in many cases, change our lives. I was one of five dogs to make it to the final and the public then voted for the winner.  The remarkable finality was actually winning, and so mum and I received £5000 for our chosen charity. This had to be Border Terrier Welfare UK. Mum and I were presented with our award by Geri Horner (nee Halliwell), who described us as a ‘beautiful partnership’. Meeting Professor Noel Fitzpatrick was unbelievable. What a remarkable individual and I know this is a vet mum watches on the television daily, and is an important part of her routine (which she indeed told Professor Noel!).

Crufts 2018

20180311 Copyright Free for editorial use image, please credit: Picture shows the Friends for Life finalists Gayle Wilde, Sarah Mohammadi, Vanessa Holbrow (winner), Hannah Gates and Clare Syvertsen, joined by Geri Horner (middle), (Sunday 11.03.18), the fourth and final day of Crufts 2018, at the NEC Birmingham. 

Mum credits me with helping her, but in reality we have helped one another. Mum took the role of dog ownership seriously. She researched the breed thoroughly prior to rehoming me and took me to various training classes. In the early days we consistently incorporated into our daily walks moves we had learnt in training classes, for example, heel work to music, and agility classes. Our first class (in obedience), the initial paramount lesson to master was how to refrain from barking and lunging for others dogs, for example. I could not understand the logic of mum and I being confined to no more than the space of a cupboard every time I exhibited unacceptable behaviour. We were excluded from the first few months of obedience sessions. Every time I opened my mouth, mum quietly took us into the cupboard (a small room in reality). In time I learnt why. If I didn’t bark then I was allowed to take part in the class; if I challenged myself to leave a dog alone that was starring at me, I could stay in class… bingo! To keep my focus solely on mum was the foundation to learning more acceptable behaviour. That was all that was required; I had cracked it! Little did I know there were many many more lessons to come.

May I remind at this stage of writing we are 4 – 5 years prior to finding an owner trained assistance dog (OT AD) organisation and thus training to become an assistance dog began. Years before this there were significant challenges to overcome. This had to be partly due to a miserable start in life before I was handed into the care of BTW. To behave acceptably and with manners around other dogs was certainly something I did not excel at. Socially I had been deprived. ‘Turning on’ mum without letting go until a good bite had been executed wasn’t an unusual occurrence (I had no bite inhibition). It was a frightening time for both of us, I know it was for mum as I was unpredictable when out walking. I was her first dog so our learning curves to overcome immense challenges and to bond I have to say, we fully embraced. Mum had to filter individuals opinions regarding my behaviour. For example, a common theme was I required a muzzle whenever out. Mum was determined that with consistency, love and firm boundaries we would eventually turn a corner. And that we did. Step by step, many of which were backward steps we turned more corners. This came with an inventory of failures, tears and unimaginable anxieties on mum’s part. It took approximately a year before off lead walking along a dog friendly beach was possible. To say the least, our trust and connection has grown considerably. I offer mum a new chance and opportunity in life, one of worth and purpose, and mum offers me a safe and loving home. We’re both as mad as each other (actually mum is the maddest!) and not afraid to challenge others when it comes to the understanding people have of mental health illnesses, with a passion to breakdown the stigma attached to mental health. Mum has spoken on local BBC radio on several occasions, has given talks to nursing students, written articles for Rethink and other mental health charities. Raising money for mental health charities will continue to help spread awareness and raise understanding, as well as supporting the charities themselves. This has occurred due to my coming into her life. For example, 2015 we raised £2000 when I gave mum the challenge to shave her head; 2017 we baked 725 dog treats. That number represents the number of people in the UK diagnosed with an eating disorder. And we have just walked 7 miles raising £1400. al this is for Beat (UK Eating Disorder Association). Together we have several aims, one of which is to continue supporting charities including BTW (this started with items sold in aid of BTW “Spratticus Creations” cards 2012 – 2014 which mum made using original photos of myself. Then mum learnt to make Jewellery 2014 which is now sold in a local shop.

The Jewellery is proving a success and a therapeutic activity for mum, so now I have jewellery and other homemade products named in honour of me “JackSpratt Jewellery” or “JackSpratt Design”).


Mum and I mostly in spring and summer, arrange tweet-ups here where we live. Which is very close to a 7 mile dog friendly beach. Where all my pals near and far are invited to join to spend a day out together. Causing mayhem on the beach! At the same time mum meets her now best friends can meet up and could get to know new members. They always include a stop in dog friendly pubs or cafes of course. I reiterate this is prior to finding an OT AD organisation.

Mum’s ultimate aim, with the support of her Community Psychiatric Nurse since 2013 to date, was researching whether there was any chance I could become her legit Assistance Dog (AD). In effect that is exactly what my intention had been up until this time, but we needed this to be under a genuine organisation and of course legal. I was also keen to add AD tasks to my repertoire of ‘tricks’ mum had trained me to perform. To have the privilege to remain together, for example in public buildings, and for mum to have the reassurances/help from an approved assistance dog would have a positive impact on the quality of her daily life. Mum and I would spend hours working together, having fun e.g. learning to skate board. Our walks were never without fun, playing impromptu games, and dance moves, and utilising anything to aid our training e.g. weaving through bollards. Why were we so keen? Why not! An opening for and the potential to help mitigate some of the symptoms that disable Mum would open up her life in ways one is unable to put into words. This we predicted would be the pinnacle to our journey, but never imagined possible as psychiatric service dogs were only recognised in USA (or so mum thought).

Further residential treatment has been recognised as necessary to enable mum to address complex & lengthy historical trauma. Within the NHS this is out of the question. So, between me, a private trauma counsellor, her local community psychiatric service, friends and mum herself, we do our best to minimise the risk to her health. She has no family, apart from an aunt who could not live further away – in Tasmania!

2017 is a year that stands out significantly for our journey. August 2017 marks the beginning of a dream becoming reality (and proof that an old dog can be taught new tricks!). At 6 years of age I am perfecting tasks which will be elaborated on later. Currently I am midst my training in obedience (even though I passed my level 1, 2, & 3 in obedience in September 2017, photo below, it is imperative obedience training continues as part of daily routine) together with being able to perform tasks. Furthermore, it is essential I train to work while amongst distracting public environments. So am currently clocking up the necessary number of hours in Public Access before there is any chance of mum & I being ready for the Public Access Test. All this is ultimately so I may help mitigate disabilities specific to mum, and this I must do in order to become an official (and legal) AD. My behaviour or even presence alone is not to provide emotional support (though obviously this is a quality I hold). What I mean to say is this is not sufficient alone to class me as an AD. My behaviour, currently being shaped, is to perform tasks which enable mum to function in an ordinary way a non-disabled individual may take for granted. So mum formulated and adjusted tasks specific to her needs that she is now training me to accomplish. The tasks I carry out for mum, may not be a task for another person. Humans are individuals, hence how they experience any said disability is unique to them.

Medication retrieval; deep pressure therapy (DPT); alerting mum should she disassociate by nose nudging or tactile stimulation; emptying the washing machine; picking up dropped items; carrying items down the stairs; going back up the stairs to retrieve a forgotten item; retrieval of the landline, television remote, mobile phone – all on cue. These are a selection of the tasks I have learnt and some require further work and proofing in order to reach the high standard required. Having said that I already benefit and empower mum on many levels, by performing tasks, so that she may live with complex mental health illnesses independently in the community.

Perhaps now would be a good idea to elaborate a little into what it means to live with mental health illnesses. Since this is in essence what I help alleviate the extremes of. Beginning with Dissociative Disorders (DD), these are a range of conditions that include Depersonalisation and Derealisation. I will try to keep this simple as this certainly is in no way straight froward. No wonder mum doesn’t know whether she is coming or going!

Dissociation is an entirely normal response to overwhelming trauma and something mum suffers with to this day (it is a little more complex to that we all experience, for example not remembering a part of or all of a car journey. A mild example of an episode of dissociation). It is a way mum has survived enduring ongoing abuse that otherwise would have been unbearably painful. It is not uncommon for those like mum with cPTSD to also suffer with other disorders such as DD. The brain can utilise dissociation as a coping method. Mum, I suspect narrowed down her consciousness, and failed to ‘join up’ the different strands of her experiences. This is said to be particularly experienced by child abuse survivors, who are emotionally unable to cope with trauma in the same way an adult can. So mum may have an emotional memory (eg terror, disgust, shame) of what happened in what she was exposed to but no ‘visual’ record. On the other hand mum can have a vivid mental picture of what happened, but this is disconnected from her feelings, so it is as if it didn’t affect her: she feels numb or nothing. Empty. A stranger to herself. The traumatic experiences are ‘unintegrated’ and take on a life or identity of its own, separate from her main stream of consciousness. For mum she experiences difficulty as well as emotional pain making a connection between what happened and how she feels, or its impact on her in terms of how she feels or behaves now. Mum struggles to connect with the fact some things happened at all. These same difficulties can be related to things that happen day to day and not necessarily with respect to past traumas. Mum may suffer with another form of DD, Dissociative Identity Disorder. This is due to her experiencing  changes in her identity. Following on from this, different facets of her identity are in control of her behaviour and thoughts at different times.

Mum is diagnosed with cPTSD. The impact of complex trauma as a child where there is no way to escape is very different to a one time or short-lived trauma. The effect of repeated/ongoing trauma – caused by people – changes the brain, and also changes the survivor at a core level. It changes the way survivors view the world, other people and themselves in profound ways. Symptoms are numerous, for mum perhaps the more prevalent ones are re-experiencing the trauma(s) through flashbacks (emotional and visual) or nightmares, helplessness, ‘terminal’ aloneness, deep yearning for someone to come and rescue her (yes subconsciously  this may continue on years after trauma has ceased), increased arousal i.e. difficulty falling or staying asleep, feelings of detachment, derealisation and hyper-vigilance. There are a number of ways I am being trained to perform tasks that can help mum with the complex web of conditions I have attempted to present you. Trauma for any person, but in this case for mum, unfortunately has devastating consequences on her. Furthermore, will contribute to eating disorders, depression, panic, Personality Disorders and as I have a ready mentioned DD.

Before this I think it is best to give you the lowdown on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), then that covers the majority of mum’s mental health conditions and puts into perspective why, and how, I may help mum. I feel this background is important as it does what we are also passionate about which is to help spread awareness and breakdown stigma attached to mental health illnesses. Individuals with BPD may often suffer from other psychiatric disorders (comorbidity) and I hope evidence for this has been made apparent. Unfortunately mum lives with problems that are thought to commonly co-occur with BPD notably depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety, panic disorder. Combine that with a wide range of symptoms BPD can cause, one may see what a complex existence mum has! When you hear about BPD, symptoms such as a fear of abandonment; mood instability; unmanageable anger; an uncertain sense of self; a pervading sense of emptiness; suicidal behaviour; urges to self-harm; stress-induced paranoia; episodes of dissociation. Despite its often-misunderstood title, BPD is essentially a label describing a range of persistent problems that affect various aspects of a person’s life.

So how on earth do I help mum cope with what appears to me such a chaotic, mind numbingly nonsensical concoction of disabilities?!! From the previous few paragraphs  one may speculate how I help mum.

To elaborate on the specific tasks I perform. I locate and retrieve mum’s medication to her on the cue “find green”. She takes a range of prescribed medication four times a day, and as required to alleviate symptoms related to psychiatric conditions and pain relief. I am able to retrieve these where ever she is in her flat. Note there is no risk to me as they are contained in a dosset box, which is then in a thick zipped canvas bag. Some may wonder why “find green”? Well, cue words for me materialise as mum shapes my behaviour, and we go with what emerges to work for us as a team. The ‘once upon a time’ meaningless word is now a meaningful, effective command yielding a reliable behaviour.

Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) is remarkably effective. The cue word mum and I have found works is “lap”. I have never been a lap dogs so I really had to learn to adapt to this alien position, and remain there. On hearing this word, even if I am comfortably settled myself, I will lie across Mum’s lap which has various consequences for mum. For example, the weight of my self on mum’s lap reduces anxiety, and panic. DPT also has the potential to disrupt a dissociative state, interrupts racing and intrusive thoughts. Basically mum’s brain has difficulty processing a lot of information – arising internally from thought processes, for example, together with external stimuli which may be something as subtle as a trigger such as bright lights or someones voice. DPT is said to be a firm tactile sensory input that provides proprioceptive input (i.e. sensations from body tissues that underlie body awareness to the whole body). So, when I lie across mum’s lap (I also lie across her chest in response to the cue of her distress) this in effect administers a calming, organising effect. It is widely known that DPT decreases this “fight or flight” sympathetic activity and decreases the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) which is hugely impactful for people like mum who experience stress, anxiety, or fear on a regular basis. DPT has a wide and varied effect for mum by helping her also to ground herself in the here and now e.g. when DD states tempt mum to detach from reality and expose herself to further emotional agony and intense cognitive dissonance.

DPT also has another major affect on mum in her battle and determination to minimise and/or stop self injury. Many people may have heard of this, we have called it self injury as opposed to self harm to distinguish between the many facets of self harm many of us, whether we know it or not, engage in (e.g. smoking, excessive drinking). Therefore I am able to perform tasks such as picking up, holding and retrieving items, whether mum has dropped them on not, on cue. To date I have managed to pick up all manner of items, including mum’s mobile phone, purse, keys, and even bags my size and drag them down the stairs for mum. I even untie her shoe laces and empty the washing machine for her.

The following is not recognised as an AD task but felt it important to include in this piece on how I help mum. Some things that aren’t talked about as much are the difficulties with object permanence (or object constancy) and time perception. Object permanence is understanding that objects continue to exist even when they can’t be observed. Time perception is the subjective experience of time. These things are important when it comes to maintaining friendships and relationships. It can cause a lot of problems if you forget that someone exists as soon as they leave. Where mum is concerned, logically she knows there are friends who care about her, but when she is not around them, it’s very difficult for her to remember that. She has trouble creating an image of them in her mind. Even if it’s only been a few days since she spoke or saw them, it feels like it’s been weeks, if not months. So she has significant problems holding onto a consistent mind image when it comes to relating to another. Even after a few hours without a friend/professional, she starts to feel like it’s been much longer and she can feel herself forgetting her last interactions, and what they look like. Each time she reconnects with anyone, and that includes me (after her stays in hospital for example), she fears forgetting people exist. She takes a picture of her therapist for example to help her remember time spent with her was real. She may avoid seeing friends because she does not feel like she knows them and it creates incredible amounts of anxiety for her to reconnect. I am a constant in her life, and that helps instigate her to maintain contact with her friends. In turn her friends own dogs who are my pals, and that contact is paramount for my welfare.


Mum says that in teaching me, she continues to gain a sense of self, and consolidate what Community Mental Health Services guide her in, for example looking after herself and building healthy boundaries. Mum and I are a great partnership because we continue to build on our skills socially, and now people know her as ‘Jack’s mum’ and not necessarily because of mental health problems. I am a proud member of a twitter group called hashtag Border Terrier Posse (#BTposse) and as a consequence have made many Border Terriers pals who I meet up with regularly at ‘tweetups’ (a meeting of Border terriers!). Furthermore, Mum has made the best of friends life can bring. Mum and I arrange ‘tweet-ups’ (on a dog friendly beach here I live) where approximately twenty of my pals come along to zoom around the beach creating controlled chaos, and make certain we leave a trail of terrier mayhem! So although mum struggles holding a sense of continuity and consistency about people in her life, I have a purpose in aiding mum in her desperate need to hold on to the physical connection or to seek reassurance of others’ love or that they are there, because people with BPD may struggle to hold onto the concept of self without the help of others. Survivors of trauma often feel so little connection and trust with people, they remain in a terrible state of aloneness, even when surrounded by people. Mum describes it as a glass wall between herself and other people. She can see them, but cannot connect with them. People like mum may need others to constantly remind them of the fact that you love and care for them. I can do this for mum. Although I must reiterate this is not a task that would legally qualify me to become an AD.

There are tasks that help disrupt sudden emotional overload. For example, in response to the cue word “legs”, I return to mum (if off lead) approaching from behind and sit between her legs leaning in to the inner right hand side leg (when we are away from home this we have found becomes acutely useful). For mum tactile stimulation is invaluable as this also helps dilute fear or hyper vigilance. I will lick mum’s face in response to the cue word “kiss kiss” or if she appears drowsy/motionless. We have found this may be performed in conjunction with the “nose nudge”. This is a further task performed on hearing the cue word “nose” or in response to mum’s watch timer (which she sets to go off regularly when out walking alone). I will nudge her knee with my nose until I get a response (i.e. a reward). The nose nudge for mum as well as aiming to disrupt emotional overload, overwhelming fear, disassociation and hyper vigilance also prompts mum to engage mind/body regulatory exercises e.g. deep breathing/mindfulness.

These are a few of the tasks whereby mum has been shaping my behaviour in order that I may be able to reach the status of Assistance Dog. I have had to be trained so that I behave to a professional standard within a public building. For example, in cafes and restaurants I now settle in a down, quietly under a table or close to mum, and not cause any disruption. Compare this to a time only a year ago in a favourite dog friendly cafe, where I would have been allowed to hoover up crumbs at the end of a days service. I’ve had to change habits mum has allowed me to perform so at times it’s been a challenging and perhaps confusing experience!

In  essence, when a child’s needs are not met and they experience  repeated traumas, this has the potential to profoundly affect their development. Mum, I expect, often continues, albeit subconsciously, wanting those unmet childhood needs in adulthood: safety, protection, being cherished, guidance and loved. This can be where I have a vital influence and active part in helping mum. However, the natural behaviour I have, for example companionship, licking and comforting mum are not considered tasks even if they helped her.  So in order to help mum I am being trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate the symptoms and disabilities related to complex mental health illnesses mum experiences. I hope this piece has provided an adequate overview of how training me to become an assistance dog helps mum’s intense cognitive dissonance and vulnerability. In addition, I want to provide insight to what it is, to live in the shoes of mum, and many like mum. I have also, without intention, conveyed how a rehomed dog has, against all odds, become an AD in training with a hope to ‘graduate’ in the not too distant future. The difficulties outlined make mum’s daily life a challenge. She is so grateful to have me & friends who love, and accept her, and she is doing her best to do the same for herself. The training mum and I do has been a welcomed learning experience. The training, by positive reinforcement alone, is wholly rewarding; relationship building; exciting; fun; and provides the motivation she needs to continue spreading awareness and challenge the stigma and misunderstanding attached to mental illness. Every day is an opportunity to learn and give what we can to those around us, one thing I am reminded of every day is the inspiration I give, and difference I make.

To conclude, the final message to convey is how indebted we both are to charities such as Border Terrier Welfare, UK. The #BTposse and other profound opportunities. Without these life changing openings Mum, I strongly expect, would not be here to help me tell you this story.

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Bake-A-Thon for Beat


I am fundraising for Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity. The Just Giving link to this is:

An eating disorder has affected my life badly for 34 years now. When in treatment my journey has crossed the paths of others, the majority younger, suffering and battling to ‘recover’. I have witnessed their lives fractured at such vulnerable ages. So I am doing this to reflect all those affected by eating disorders, especially the friends I’ve made during treatment. This is the most insidious evil disease, it’s also a fierce liar and stokes up an incredible amount of emotional agony and conflict. I am passionate to raise awareness and to talk about this so something positive comes out of the years battling this torrid existence surrounding food, weight and nutrition.


Eating disorders are a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially. They are serious mental illnesses and include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Over 725,000 men and women in the UK are affected by eating disorders.

Although serious, eating disorders are treatable conditions and full recovery is possible. The sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery. We know at Beat from our daily contact with people affected, they can and do make a full recovery – their lives no longer dominated by a fear of food. (

Information and resources on all aspects of eating disorders.

For free posters and services cards to display in your school, workplace or clinic, simply email with your name and address. The Beat Guide to Understanding Eating Disorders is available to purchase as a hard copy, along with a selection of other resources. To order any of these just download and complete our literature order form and send it to Alternatively, call 01603 753321.

If you find our library useful, we welcome donations, fundraising efforts and grants so that we can continue to provide these resources – to donate to Beat, call 01603 753308 or give online.




Sock It to Eating Disorders

Pull on your silliest, wackiest, boldest socks and let’s Sock It to Eating Disorders together!

On Friday 3 March, join thousands of supporters across the nation and don your silly socks, take a #SockItSelfie, and raise vital funds for Beat.

Wear your silliest socks to school, work and university and donate to Beat. Every donation, big or small, and every silly sock worn, will help more people to access Beat’s helplines and online support groups, information, and message boards.