Editor’s note: One very important aspect of a free society is charity. Organizations that do good and people who need help rely on the giving of others to sustain themselves. Since we at TOL advocate for a free society, we also advocate for giving, particularly around the holiday season. With that spirit in mind, we are going to spend this week telling you about our favorite charitable organizations to help guide some of your end-of-the-year giving. Check out Helen’s recommendations! If you’re hankering for more giving, check out the rest of our giving series!

Fourteen years ago, my best friend developed Multiple Sclerosis, the so-called “Scottish Disease.” Scotland has the highest incidence per capita in the world, and it famously killed J. K. Rowling’s mother. While being told that one has such a disabling illness is devastating enough, it’s what that means in practice that counts.

MS, among other things, causes ataxia. My friend rejects medical definitions for the term and says the following: ataxia means walking like a bloody drunk. And doing all the things drunk people do. Like dropping one’s house keys and then falling on one’s face in the process of picking them up. Like not being able to put one’s card in a cashpoint machine. Like not being able to load laundry into the washer.

And, of course, not being able to tell the difference, people actually think one is all drunk, all the time. This has been known to attract social censure.

Enter Dogs for the Disabled

Twenty-five years ago, Frances Hay noticed the difficulties people with physical disabilities faced, and like many people, she was familiar with the use of dogs to assist blind people. She wondered if it were possible to train dogs—using similar principles to the training of guide dogs—to do the things that physically disabled people couldn’t. And in that moment, one of Britain’s best-known animal charities—Dogs for the Disabled—was born. Rather than have me—fairly pointlessly, I think—describe just what it is that an assistance dog can do for a disabled person, take a look at these selections of video footage. My friend was partnered with her first dog from Dogs for the Disabled over ten years ago, and it quite literally transformed her life.

In more recent times, Dogs for the Disabled has begun training autism assistance dogs: it seems that all the stories about ‘man’s best friend’ are, in fact, true, and a trained dog can have an astonishingly calming influence, particularly on an autistic child:

Teresa says: “Jacob does not understand the consequences of his actions, peoples’ points of view, and he doesn’t recognise danger. Jacob will run out into a road without stopping and looking first, and in the past there have been times where he has cleared a supermarket shelf to hide on as a result of his lack of confidence.”

In 2009, when Jacob was eight, the family received a formal diagnosis of autism and shortly afterwards Teresa decided to look into getting an Autism Assistance Dog from Dogs for the Disabled.

As the Atkins household has many pets, you might assume that the addition of a dog would be an easy process. However, Teresa explains: “Jacob was quite afraid of dogs and didn’t want to explore the idea of working with an Assistance Dog.”  So the Atkins family was delighted when Dogs for the Disabled offered to work with Jacob to help him overcome his anxiety.

Teresa says: “The charity was brilliant! When Tom, a yellow Labrador, came to us Jacob was shown how to train him to rollover and wave which had a tremendously positive impact as Jacob came to see Tom was lots of fun.”

The family was very excited about the arrival of Tom and the impact was instant. Jacob’s confidence increased as Tom became a great ice-breaker at school. Teresa continues: “Jacob has become very popular. He is always crowded in the playground when we walk to and from school as he loves showing everyone Tom’s tricks.”

For what it’s worth, I suspect animal charities are among the most traditional of charities (and irreducably associated with Britain, a country famed for liking dogs more than people). To the extent that our readers find them a bit staid, may I just point out that assistance dogs make it possible for blind and disabled people to live independent lives. Having witnessed it, all I can say is that the transformation is extraordinary.