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Innovation Award finalist 2023 - Headway Suffolk Main Image

Innovation Award finalist 2023 - Headway Suffolk

Thu 09 Nov 2023

Brainy Dogs

Headway Suffolk enlist man’s best friend to help brain injury survivors.

Brainy dogs started after Headway Suffolk’s CEO read Endal by Allen Parton, a Royal Navy veteran who sustained a head injury and was given a companion dog

“As I read the story, I thought our clients could benefit by having an Endal. Later, I was watching Bondi vet when he visited the prison to see dogs the prisoners were training to be rehab dogs. Bondi is near Ipswich in Australia, and I thought: anything Ipswich Australia can do, Ipswich UK can do."

“The concept was to offer trained dogs for Headway clients, something they could love which would love them back, without judgement. As a result of brain injury and personality change, people often lose their friends and family. The Brainy Dogs fill this gap.

“It is much more than clients adopting dogs. Some have visits from dogs, some come to our centre and work with the dogs.”

(Helen Fairweather, CEO Headway Suffolk)

What’s the impact?

Having a dog gives brain injury survivors responsibility and motivation to get up each morning. It improves their self-confidence, as they often stop to speak to other dog walkers which helps with their communication skills, something likely to be a problem post injury.

People who adopt have a dog to love and a dog to love them. A dog fills the gap left friends and family who may be lost following a brain injury.

Having a dog helps brain injury survivors be physically fit, thanks to the essential need to walk. It helps with brain recovery, as the brain recovers better when someone is physically active. People with a brain injury like to undertake every day activities and walking a dog is a ‘normal’ activity.

Some people want to own a dog but can’t for a variety of reasons, such as the fear of commitment or rules set by landlords. Brainy Dogs visits these clients on a weekly basis. They still receive all the benefits from having a dog on that one day of the week and the visit gives them something to look forward to.

All clients who attend Headway Suffolk hubs can benefit from the presence of a dog and clients can walk, groom and cuddle the dogs. The dogs also visit the communication group as it’s been found that clients improve their communication if they are giving commands to a dog.

The project has attracted much media attention, raising the profile of brain injury and Headway. Brainy Dogs has been featured in the Daily Mirror, Reader's Digest and on BBC national television, as well as local media. As a result of the project the CEO has visited 10 Downing Street and has spoken to two Prime Ministers about Brainy Dogs, brain injury and Headway. She was also invited to Buckingham Palace!

“The visits I get from Oakley have improved my life because everything was so boring before. She gives me a sense of purpose and she just brightens my life”.
“My dog has helped me accept my brain injury.”
“People talk about my dog when they see me out and not the fact half my skull is missing.”

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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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