UK Project Empowers Those With MD, Disabilities to Work in the Community

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

Managing muscular dystrophy (MD) is not an easy task, and it depends not only medical intervention, but also on methods to improve patients’ quality of life. “Supporting People & Pets through Opportunity and Training” (SPPOT) is a community interest company focused on that purpose, helping to train and empower patients with disabilities to work with animals and be better-integrated within their communities.

MD includes a series of diseases characterized by the weakening of the musculoskeletal system, the deficient functioning of muscle proteins and the death of cells and tissue in the muscles. Among those who have a disease released to MD, carrying a defect in the Myosin Heavy Chain 7 (MYH7) gene is particularly rare. Katie-May White was diagnosed with this rare form of MD, but transformed it into something positive by helping create SPPOT.

“Three years ago myself and a couple of friends set up a community interest company called SPPOT and train people with physical disabilities (like myself), learning difficulties, mental health illness and such things, to work with dogs,” explained Katie-May White to Muscular Dystrophy News about the company based in Haverfordwest, United Kingdom.

After the training that SPPOT offers to improve disabled patients’ mental and physical capabilities, the company encourages them to become community dog walkers and walk dogs for the elderly who can no longer do it for themselves, “so that their beloved dogs can get the exercise that they need and love, and so that they don’t have to re-home their companions; all at a very reduced affordable rate,” she said.

In addition to Katie-May White, SPPOT is led by a small group of “passionate and committed” volunteers. Training initiatives at SPPOT are headed by co-founder, qualified trainer and canine behavior adviser Kerri Bee, who has 10 years of experience working with adults with disabilities. So far, four people have completed their training and six others are now being trained, while nine dog owners have already procured SPPOT services.

There are ten other people waiting to receive training, but the company has currently no capacity to train more people at the same time due to funding reductions. SPPOT works with funding from its generated income, fundraising and small grants, which is why they are now asking everyone’s support to win the Aviva Community Fund competition, which gives the chance to receive £10,000 funding for an important community cause.

The winner will be chosen according to the people’s votes, and SPPOT’s application can be viewed here. Winning the competition would enable an increase in the company’s capacities, according to White. “It would mean that we could train 10 dog walkers who could walk up to 60 dogs a week, this would prove an enormous benefit in getting our project firmly off the ground. 10 dog walkers would generate income that would enable us to train more people that would develop the enterprise and the services that we offer to the community much further,” she said.