Shrewsbury shoppers help with specialist training of assistance dog
Shoppers in Shrewsbury’s Darwin and Pride Hill Centres are helping to train a very special assistance dog this summer – without even knowing about it.
Renowned local dog trainer Mort Smith is using the Shrewsbury Shopping malls as part of his work with a 12-month-old mini labradoodle, who will later serve as an assistance dog for a North Shropshire family with a young son with autism, called Oliver.
“The dog, Kiki, will not only help Oliver around the home but will also help him cope with the outside world,” said Mort, a former West Mercia Police dog handler who has worked with more than 1,000 dogs and owners. “Having Kiki with him will allow Oliver to become more confident and comfortable with his surroundings which we take for granted – but obviously Kiki needs to be fully trained first.”
As part of this training, Mort is taking the dog into the Shrewsbury Shopping centres so that she gets used to the environment, the numbers of people - and so that she can even learn how to happily use lifts.
“I’ve already started training Kiki in and around the town centre, but having access to The Pride Hill and Charles Darwin Centres is a massive help to Kiki’s training,” said Mort. “We’ve started out slowly but will gradually build up to being in the centres for up to 20 minutes at a time, two to four times a week. This initial training usually takes between six and ten weeks and is vital in helping Kiki achieve her license as an assistance dog.”
Shrewsbury Shopping Centre Manager Kevin Lockwood said colleagues at Darwin and Pride Hill were only too happy to welcome Mort and Kiki into the centres to aid in the training.
“Assistance dogs can be life-changing for both the child with autism and their family,” said Kevin. “Mort is training Kiki to provide safety and companionship to this local child, helping to bring independence and a more socially inclusive life to both the youngster and their family.
“As a centre we pride ourselves on being inclusive and so when Mort requested our help in training Kiki, we were only too happy to oblige,” said Kevin. “We look forward to seeing Mort and Kiki in our centres over the coming weeks, and hopefully we’ll get to see Kiki again when she’s working with her family.”