The Gill family in Carlisle has set up a dog walking and pet sitting business, inspired by an assistance dog provided by the Royal British Legion for their autistic son.
On discovering that a dog could help their son Jake, mum Jo turned to the Royal British Legion for help, and the Legion covered the £5000 cost to pay for Rigby, who helps Jake to enjoy more independence and a better quality of life. But little did the Armed Forces charity know that their contribution would turn into a business.
Jake, now 14, was diagnosed with autism at the age of seven and attends a special school. He suffers from anxiety and struggles with crowds and noise. The family discovered that dogs can help autistic children and tracked down a company which trains Labradors for disabled children.
Paramedic Simon, 50, and Jo, 49, who also have a 17-year-old son called Ben, both served in the Royal Military Police, making them eligible for Legion support.
Jo said: “I was working at a nursery in Carlisle and got made redundant at the end of last year, but it’s turned into a positive.
“With Jake’s anxiety it’s difficult to imagine him in regular employment, and opportunities for him may be few and far between. But he loves being outside and being around dogs, so we came up with the idea to set up a business which Jake can become more involved in once he leaves school.”
Jake even came up with the name: Rigby’s Routes. Their client list is growing by the day, and Jake and his devoted red fox Labrador often join their furry friends on their walks.
Jo said: “We’re so grateful to the Legion, it’s difficult to think back to how life used to be before Jake met Rigby four years ago. They are best friends, they look after each other and we would be in a much darker place without him.”
The Royal British Legion’s Area Manager for the North, Nicola Meredith, said: “Jake and Rigby have been one of the real success stories for the Royal British Legion, and we are delighted that the Gill family have been able to improve their lives to such an extent that they’re now looking forward to building a business for young Jake.
“Our Armed Forces community make so many sacrifices that the public often don’t see, and there are unique challenges both during and after service, so the Legion is there every step of the way for individuals or families who find themselves in need of our assistance.
“This story also demonstrates the value of those donations that people make every year to the Poppy Appeal, it makes a real difference to the lives of service men and women, veterans and their families.”
Rigby is named after a character in one of Jake’s favourite cartoons and the Legion has even made a cuddly toy dog inspired by Jake’s story, to raise much-needed funds for veterans.
Jo said: “We can’t thank the Legion enough for their support and it’s great to know how much they care for veterans and go above and beyond to support us. The Rigby toy took it to another level!”
Find out more about Rigby’s Routes by visiting their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CarlisleDogWalking/