Allen Parton is a survivor.
Parton was sent to war by Margaret Thatcher. Driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait; 47 British soldiers died in operation Desert Storm. Parton regards himself as one of the lucky ones.
The Royal Navy officer suffered severe head injuries leading to trauma and memory loss. He lost his ability to speak, write and talk.
His memory loss was so severe he couldn’t even remember his closest family. Memories of his children and wife vanished from his mind. His life was fading away. He was under such mental strain and pain that he attempted suicide twice in the five years he was in hospital.
“I was a Navy officer watching my career go, I had no sense of love for my family.” Parton had served in the armed forces for 15 years and was then in a stage where he couldn’t tell “if it was summer, Easter or Christmas”.
As he sat in his wheelchair, EJ and Rookie, two Golden Labradors, lay beside him listening as he told his story.
“My wife had started puppy walking for a charity that trained assistance dogs for disabled people. One day I had to go with her.
“In the corner of the training room the day I arrived, there was this wonderful 11 month old Golden Labrador called Endal, who bounded over to me, then into my life, and stayed for 13 years.
“When I couldn’t talk, he learned sign language: if I touched my head it was hat, if I touched my face it was razor, if I touched my chest it was coat. He learned over 1,000 words of sign, so even when I couldn’t speak with my family I could communicate with my dog. He would know what I wanted.
“He learned to put me in the recovery position, how to operate cashpoint machines, how to cross the road at traffic lights and would even push the buttons.
“On a daily basis he was helping me re-engage with emotions. It was so much so that I actually fell in love with my wife a second time.
“Endal brought me back to my wife. Endal brought me back to my children.”
Parton’s children “were embarrassed” of him:
“I couldn’t communicate and came across as heavily autistic, but I have now got my speech back. That was thanks to Endal nurturing me and working with me, patiently sitting there. Then the signs I could grunt would excite him and here I am, talking to you today.”
Endal had given Parton his life back when nobody else could.
Had he never met Endal he, “fears the worst would have happened”.
“I had two attempts of suicide and I just want to say to anyone that’ll listen – suicide is a very permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Endal’s specialist training was needed again when both Endal and Parton were caught in a hit and run incident:
“One year we were at Crufts, many moons ago, and we got caught in a hit and run.
“Although injured himself, he put me in the recovery position, he dragged out one of the blankets from under my wheelchair and put it over me. He then went under a nearby car and retrieved my mobile phone. After that he then went and got help from a nearby hotel.”
This act of bravery earned Endal the world renowned Dickin Medal for bravery, the highest award that can be granted to animals.
Parton and Endal made national headlines.
“He saved my life, my marriage and brought me back to my children. We wrote a book called ‘Endal’ about this very special dog. The day after the book was launched at Crufts, Endal had a massive seizure and had to be put to sleep.
“He was put to sleep in my lap and I cried like a baby, for the first time since I was injured.”
Endal had loyally served by Parton’s side for 13 years and was named ‘dog of the millennium’ due to the service he provided before passing away.
Endal is not the only significant dog Parton has had in his life. Endal had been playing mentor to Endal Junior (EJ for short), who has now been with Parton for 10 years. EJ is assisted by Rookie.
“Rookie is a dog who, if you have no arms, could feed you. If you have no voice he can help you work an electric device box like Stephen Hawking’s. He knows 938 electronic commands, and is 98 per cent accurate.
“If you’re paralysed he can lift your limbs onto a wheelchair.”
Parton’s experiences inspired him to create Hounds for Heroes the charity of which he is Vice Chairman.
The charity’s objective is to train assistance dogs for injured veterans and emergency services and personnel. More than 50 injured or disabled veteran’s now have assistance dogs as a result.
“We decided we would set up a charity where we’d fully fund costs. It doesn’t matter if you’re a colonel, sergeant or a lieutenant, we’d fully fund the cost of a dog.”
The charity also works with members of the emergency services, such as policemen, firemen and paramedics: “I’m sure everyone will agree that they are as much of a hero as someone out on the frontline of Afghanistan.”
The dogs are called cadets and are named after famous military figures. ‘Fleur’ is named in honour of Fleur Lombard, the first woman to die in a blaze whilst on fire service. Another dog was named ‘Red-Four’, after a Red Arrow pilot who passed away.
“They are all very meaningful names. For us that is what the charity is all about. When the guns fall silent on the battle field, the battle against disability, trauma and bereavement doesn’t end.”
Despite all he has been through, positivity drives Parton and Hounds for Heroes. He says he lives by the motto: “Solutions not problems; ability not disability,” and he strives to make the life of every survivor better through the use of dogs.
“In 13 years Endal took me on an amazing journey and now EJ for 10. Dogs have a huge role to play in physical and psychiatric rehabilitation. We’re only just discovering that.”
Dominic Raeyen, now a trainee pilot who volunteers for Hounds for Heroes, met Parton serving him coffees in a Costa in his hometown. He describes Parton as ‘tenacious’.
“He believes in this cause and it is something he will fight for. This charity has meant so much to him and these dogs have helped him so much. When he finds a cause he just doesn’t stop.”
Parton looked lovingly down at his two assistance dogs, saying;
“A dog for me means having a quality of life, independence and companionship. All of these things I lost.
“After being in the services, I now have a loyal ally who is there and here for me, and I am there for and here for him.”