Skip to content

This blog post showcases care leaver Mei’s journey with her assistance dog Koda. Their story was documented on BBC1, ‘Our Lives: My Life Saving Dog’, it highlights how assistance dogs can transform people’s lives and support with mental wellbeing. 

How the documentary came about 

The documentary first came about last December when I met Eye Film (the company who created the documentary) whilst at Break, where I used to live in supported living and also worked as a Co-Production Apprentice. Eye Film were originally there to make a film for the Department for Education about the Staying Close Staying Connected initiative. I worked with them to support creating that content and didn’t think much more of it. After that my health started declining and I couldn’t work, I realised I had to call it a day and focus on what was going on with my health and what was really stopping me from working. 

All of a sudden, one evening mid-December, the week before I left my job, I got a phone call from the Managing Director of Eye Film saying that they had the chance to pitch a story for a BBC slot and that they wanted to propose my story with Koda. I was really intrigued, it had already been an amazing journey with Koda and I wanted to help increase awareness about assistance dogs.  

There was a quick turnaround time to send the proposal in and we originally got down to the last two pitches but didn’t quite get the slot. Amazingly, two weeks later I got a call to say the other idea had fallen through so the BBC had said yes to our idea! 

It was very much a back and forth journey – I originally met the film company 2 years ago, when Koda was just 6 months old. 

Picture – Mei and Koda in the forest
More about Koda 

I got Koda back in June 2021 at 11 weeks old. She didn’t have any sort of training and came from a breeder who just bred their pet. She is the first assistance dog in her family line! 

How we ended up together is really touching. I’d starting looking at puppies but thought I probably wouldn’t actually get one, but, her advert kept popping up. It was between her and a boy from the same family and my heart was telling me I wanted a girl. By the time I made the decision the boy had already been taken and it just felt like fate. When I first went to see her, my plan was just to meet her and then go back another time, but the first thing she did was flop onto my lap, and I couldn’t not take her home that day. 

My journey getting Koda wasn’t planned, I wasn’t on a waiting list for assistance dogs like many other people, and at the start I was her sole trainer. 

Koda is now 2 years and 3 months old and has turned out to be completely and utterly amazing. 

Our training journey 

I started off our training journey on my own. I did basic obedience and assistance dog training, doing loads of research along the way and going with my gut. There was a lot of learning as I went, and it wasn’t a straightforward process but was really rewarding when it worked. I was definitely finding my feet as a first-time dog owner, the basics of how to look after and care for Koda along with training her. After a year and a half of sole training I then met Ruby, a trainer, who has worked incredibly with us since then.  

Koda has now passed her Pets As Therapy Temperament Assessment test, but it’s still an ongoing process, we’re still working through things and she’s constantly learning new things and ways to support me. 

How does Koda help? 

Predominantly at first, she was there to help with my mental health and there are so many additional ways she has grown in supporting me since she first came home with me. 

She does Deep Pressure Therapy which helps ground me and calm me down, in particular when I’m having an anxiety attack. She disarms self-harming behaviours such as pinching and hitting – she really is a safety net for those behaviours. Also just having a dog around is good for my mental health. 

As my health has got worse, she has supported my mobility massively. She works with me, doing very light guiding. For example, she finds people she knows or has seen before if I ask her to, she can find exits, and she knows how to find home or my car e.g. in rain. If we’re near where we live, and I tell her to go home, she will take me, and if we’re in a big car park, she can find my car and either sit and point to it or lead me there. When I get exhausted, tired and fatigued, it can take more brain power to do those things and in those times Koda is essential. I couldn’t go out without her. 

The other things she does for me include picking up things when I drop them and giving them to me, orbiting to create space around me or blocking spaces behind, in front or around me so that people don’t get so close. 

She really does a multitude of things, and it’s an ever-growing list. Dependent on my health she learns to do different things, but ultimately, she gives me the confidence to go out and live my life and makes me feel safe. 

What does programme show? 

The programme is important as it shows how assistance dogs aren’t just born assistance dogs, there is so much training that goes into it. It also highlights that assistance dogs aren’t perfect from the get-go, and you must nurture together. There is so much training, which never ends, and it can be gruelling at times. It’s not an easy process and takes a lot of mental stamina. 

However, it also showcases that these dogs do so much for us. They allow us to live our lives. It highlights that having people distract our assistance dogs can be incredibly detrimental to owner’s health and lives.  

Having Koda for me means I get to be a 21-year-old, I get to have fun and I get to live my life to the greatest level possible.  

Meeting to the Children’s Commissioner 

Having Koda has given me the amazing opportunity to meet the Children’s Commissioner, for both the documentary and as part of her Care Experienced Advisory Board – without Koda I wouldn’t have been able to take part in these opportunities. In some sense, when training assistance dogs, we don’t think we’ll ever do something as big as that. So, the training we’d done before had really helped us do that and to build up to that moment.  

I can’t over-emphasise just how much Koda has helped me, and allowed me do what I’m passionate about – advocate for young people in care. I want to ensure that all young care experienced people’s needs are met, that mental health is prioritised, that there is support for and awareness of disabilities and invisible disabilities, that children’s cultural backgrounds are taken into account, and that the stigma around children in care is lifted. 

Here is the link to the BBC documentary – ‘Our Lives: My Life Saving Dog.

Related News Articles