Disabled woman’s life-saving dog: ‘Before Ethan came along, I was pitied or invisible’
A young disabled woman has been given a new lease of life thanks to her beloved assistance dog who helps her around the house - and even pays for her shopping.
Sally Whitney gets help every day from Labrador Ethan, who helps her with scores of normal tasks, like getting dressed and even fetching food from the fridge.
The 31-year-old has violent seizures lasting several hours and needed carers to monitor her every move and help with everyday tasks.
But thanks to assistance dog Ethan, the academic researcher is fulfilling her dreams with a new sense of freedom and independence.
Sally, from Brighton, said: “I cannot imagine my life without Ethan - he helps me from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed and he is with me all night.
“In the morning he helps me in the bathroom - I have a shower and he will close the door behind me.
“If I drop the shampoo, he picks it up and he gets me my towel.
“Then he goes into the bedroom, opens the draw and gets out my pants - he always goes for the pink lacy ones.
“What is impressive is when we get home, I’ll say ‘Ethan boots.’
“He waddles over and you can see him thinking he has to put the boots down before he can open the door and pick them up again.
“Then he will take his own jacket off - he undoes the Velcro, takes it off and puts it away.”
Ethan has a huge vocabulary and can fetch items Sally requests from the fridge by tugging on a rope attached to the door handle.
The black Labrador cross Golden Retriever, who turned five on Christmas Day, also calls the lift, helps with laundry and even makes contactless payments when she goes shopping.
Wheelchair-bound Sally said: “It is amazing - I say ‘purse’ and he goes into my bag, finds my card and then jumps up onto my knee.
“I say ‘touch’ and he leans over to pay - he is very excited when it goes beep.
“Then I ask him to get the receipt and he breaks it off with his mouth - everyone claps and he does this pose and pricks his ears up. He absolutely loves the attention.”
The assistance dog helps keep Sally alive by spotting early warning signs of a seizure and runs to get help.
She said: “If I jerk, pass out or fall, he will leave the room and get help from my carer or my husband Ed.
“Because of the bond between Ethan and I, he is more perceptive to my symptoms than I am.
“Recently I was in the bathroom and for some reason he started nudging my face, threw open the bathroom door and found my carer.
“Then I became dizzy and just when I was about to fall, my carer arrived and caught me.”
Sally was diagnosed with Lupus in 2008 - an autoimmune disease which means her own immune system attacks her organ and tissues.
Four years later, she was further diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome where the tissues which should hold her organs in place are stretchy and fragile.
The former medical student had to have carers by her side around the clock and struggled with the “emotional pressure that came with it.”
Sally contacted Canine Partners in 2015 who matched her with one-year-old puppy Ethan.
The UK charity support disabled people and source and train assistance dogs.
Ethan has helped Sally integrate into society, have access more services and improve her sense of identity.
She said: “Before Ethan came along, I was pitied or invisible.
“Some people would say ‘you are too beautiful to be in a wheelchair’ and ask me why I was disabled.
“But Ethan is that stepping stone in between - he draws people to me which means I can have proper conversations with other adults that don’t surround my illness.”
Spurred on by her new found confidence, Sally signed up to online dating in 2016 when she met 34-year-old maths teacher Edward Mitchell.
Ethan joined the pair on their first date to a restaurant at Brighton Marina and was also present when Ed popped the question.
The loyal Lab even acted as the ring bearer and walked Sally down the aisle when the couple tied the knot a year later in August 2017.
Sally said: “I had Ethan on my left and my poor dad had to walk behind me.
“Ethan sprinted from the back of the church to the front with the rings - he does everything with enthusiasm and zest.
“The vicar took the rings and lifted them up to heaven as if it was a miracle they reached him.”
Sally’s new found confidence and determination has extended into her professional life and gave her the family she “never thought was going to happen.”
She is now an academic researcher and co-leader of Living Life to the Fullest - the University of Sheffield’s flagship project which explores the lives, hopes and contributions of disabled young people.