A multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer has revealed the remarkable ways in which her disability assistance dogs help her adapt to the disease.

Grainne O'Connor, 53, from Kirkby Stephen, has suffered with MS for 20 years, and has written a PhD thesis on the effects of support dogs on people with MS.

Grainne is a client of the charity Support Dogs, and explained how her support dog Rupert quickly learned to take a debit card of a cash machine, a skill which has proved vital as her condition progressed:

"I don’t have much feeling in my hands anymore, but Rupert loves doing it for me.

"It sounds like a party trick but it’s actually essential.

The Westmorland Gazette: VITAL: Rupert helps Grainne perform daily tasksVITAL: Rupert helps Grainne perform daily tasks

"If I to have to take the card out and use it in a shop or a check out, chances are I’ll drop it, so Rupert has also been taught to hand the card to the person on the till."

Grainne, previously a healthcare professional, took on her previous dog, black Labrador Tori, as a pet, when she was made redundant 10 years ago, and applied to Support Dogs to have her trained to assist with her condition.

Grainne said it was tough when she realised that her deteriorating symptoms meant that she would require a new, specifically trained dog from Support Dogs:

"Tori had a menu of tasks when she was trained eight years ago.

"Obviously as my needs have changed, Support Dogs were very thorough in building up to Tori’s retirement, and what they would need to add to Rupert’s set of skills.

"The charity really understands the strength of the bond and the emotional trauma that’s attached to retiring an assistance dog for the first time.

"Rupert could do all the things I needed him to, but I had to bond with another living thing, whereas Tori had been with me 24/7 for more than ten years.

"Both dogs get on OK now. She is 11 and he is three, so she sees him as an annoying little brother!

During her healthcare career and during her academic studies, Grainne gained special insight into how indispensable the dogs can be:

"The dog doesn’t get rid of a long-term disability or condition, but it makes it endurable in the best possible way.

"Dogs aren’t for everyone, but for those people who love them it’s extraordinary because they transform the whole dynamic of their interaction with society."

Support Dogs is a national assistance dog charity, based in Sheffield, that provides and trains assistance dogs for children and adults with epilepsy, autism and serious medical conditions such as MS and cerebral palsy.