Leading electrical retailer Currys’ charity partner, My Canine Companion, urgently needs funds to support its work, training and providing service dogs for children on the autism spectrum.
“Since we’ve emerged from the pandemic, the fundraising environment has become hugely challenging, with traditional street collection-type activities harder than ever to organise,” says Niall Ruddy, chief executive of My Canine Companion.
He cofounded the charity with his wife, specialist dog trainer Cliona O’Rourke, 11 years ago. Over the past decade it has placed more than 350 service dogs with families all over Ireland.
“A service dog provides independence for the child. They don’t have to hold their parents hand all the time, for example”
These are typically a poodle cross, bred for temperament and strength. The animal moves into its family home as a 10-week-old puppy. Over the next two years the charity then works with the puppy and the family, developing its skills as a service dog. “The child and the puppy grow together,” explains Ruddy.
Each dog costs €10,000 to train. This time last year Currys Ireland announced a charity partnership with My Canine Companion, with a commitment to raise €170,000 for the organisation.
The money will help to train 17 service dogs for children on the autism spectrum, providing enormous assistance to families. The number represents the 16 Currys stores in the country, plus an extra one to denote its online presence.
To date, the electrical giant has raised a staggering €123,000 and has announced it will continue the partnership into 2023 to raise at least another €50,000.
“We rely entirely on public donations, so Currys’ help is greatly appreciated,” says Ruddy.
The impact a service dog can have on the recipient family is enormous.
“The primary benefit is safety. When the dog is qualified to work with its handler, normally the parent, they hold the lead and the child is attached to the dog using a belt. The dog is trained to stop if the child bolts, which can be a common problem for some children with autism, who may have no sense of danger,” explains Ruddy.
“Our motto is bringing families together because very often, when one child has autism, the family has to do things separately because it can feel too hard to bring all the family out together. A service dog provides independence for the child. They don’t have to hold their parents hand all the time, for example,” he adds.
Demand for My Canine Companion’s services is enormous. Each year it opens 70 places on its programme. This year it received 2,500 applicants.
“We urgently need donations in what is a very challenging time, which is why we are so pleased with all the help we get from Currys,” says Ruddy.
A helping hand
Staff at Currys voted for My Canine Companion as the charity they most wanted to partner with, but the electrical retailer has abenefited from the partnership too, points out marketing and ecommerce director Pauline Browne.
“We were doing various activities for charities at store level, but before this we didn’t have one charity partnership to work on, so it has helped to bring everyone together,” she explains.
While stores have continued to run events at local level, the whole team has come together for a number of fundraising events for My Canine Companion, including sponsored walks, hair dyes and raffles.
Earlier this year, Currys introduced a digital micro-donation service in store, giving customers the option to make a small 50 cent contribution to the charity at the till. “Irish people are unbelievably generous,” says Browne.
The electrical retailer has also worked with The Willow Tree Autism Project to provide specialist training in autism awareness and understanding, to help staff provide an enhanced service for people with additional needs.
Currys has introduced a range of supports for customers too, including a booklet and store map for people with non-verbal autism, special reduced sensory shopping hours on a weekly basis, ear defenders for people who are sensitive to noise, and sensory toys and fidget spinners.
“Our colleagues have got so much out of our partnership with My Canine Companion in terms of a much greater understanding of how to help,” says Browne.
“For us it’s about inclusivity. If we can support and help families who need it, we will. All in all we’ve come on quite a journey over the past year, thanks to My Canine Companion, and that will continue.”
To support My Canine Companion and help change a child’s life, click here.