British shot put champion speaks of how an assistant dog changed his life

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A BRITISH Shot Put champion has revealed how an assistance dog changed his life during lockdown.

Simon Cook, 58, who suffers from an unknown neurological disease, was partnered with his assistant dog Axel during lockdown after suffering from loneliness.

Mr Cook and Axel were paired together just before the second lockdown last year by a UK charity that specialises in helping people with dogs.

Simon Cook with Axel - UK nEWS
Simon Cook with Axel

Because of his neurological disease, Mr Cook, from Bicester, Oxfordshire, relies on a wheelchair to move around. 

Mr Cook’s physical situation has had an impact on his personal relationships, his most recent relationship sadly broke down just before the first lockdown in March 2020.

As a result of this he really struggled with social isolation and loneliness during the first seven months of the pandemic.

Axel was partnered with Mr Cook by UK charity Dogs for Good

In 2019 he had applied for an assistance dog from Dogs for Good and because he’d had dogs all his life he knew the unconditional love that a four-legged friend can bring.

Mr Cook said: “The first time I met Axel he was so affectionate and it just felt so good, I knew he was the perfect dog for me.

“I was thrilled to welcome him into my life, I’ll never forget the day he arrived, he just changed everything for me overnight.

“Having Axel in the second lockdown improved my life beyond measure, I suddenly found myself wanting to out and enjoy life and because I had Axel I met so many new people and made loads of friends.”

Simon Cook 1999 - UK News
Mr Cook held the British Record for class F7 Shot put in 1999.

Mr Cook’s condition has impacted him from a young age, when he was a child Simon’s ankles would break regularly and when he was 17 years old he had several operations. 

Doctors managed to get him walking again with the aid of full length calipers on his feet. But in his late 20’s issues persisted leading him to have severe back pain which caused him to pass out one night. 

Speaking about the night he passed out Mr Cook said: “I told my wife that my back was aching, the pain was horrific, it was like an explosion in my spine.

“I must have passed out because the next thing I knew I woke up in a hospital bed.

“That was when the doctors told me I was paralysed from the waist down, I was devastated, it was a huge blow because I was still so young and my life changed overnight.”

Simon Cook and Axel - UK News
Oxfordshire man Simon Cook was matched with Dogs for Good assistance dog Axel in September last year

Prior to this Simon worked as an assistant golf professional, which included caddying for Anthony Higgins for a while.

Dogs for Good helped Mr Cook by partnering him with specially trained Axel.

The charity say that every assistance dog is specially trained to help with practical tasks that many people with disabilities find difficult or impossible to do. 

This includes opening and closing doors, helping with dressing and undressing, retrieving items such as mobile telephones or dropped items like keys or a bag, loading and emptying the washing machine, pressing a pedestrian crossing button and reaching up to shop-counters with items such as a wallet.

Speaking about Axel’s impact on his life, Mr Cook said: “He goes everywhere with me now, to hospital appointments, to the pub, on trips to Scotland and shopping, we are inseparable.”

“He’s the inspiration for me getting up in the morning, it’s as simple as that otherwise I don’t think I’d bother.

“He keeps me going and literally picks up anything I drop from my mobile phone to the TV control. He even picked up a packet of sausages in the supermarket for me recently.

“He astounds me every time he performs a task that I didn’t know he could do, but most importantly he’s my best friend.

“My outlook on life has changed since getting Axel and I am now getting out and about walking with him, we have a great life together.”