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Endal Junior - or EJ - is a highly trained assistance dog and for his owner, Allen Parton, who was severely injured in the first Gulf War, EJ is quite literally a life-saver.
In Mr Parton’s words, EJ has given him back a quality of life after losing the use of his legs in an explosion during the war in Iraq:
EJ is able to put a cash card into a cash machine or in a chip and pin machine in a supermarket, he will press the button at traffic lights, post letters for me - and can put me in the recovery position if I collapse, and get help.
Mr Parton spent five years undergoing hospital treatment and attempted suicide twice. He also has short-term memory loss - so much so that immediately after the injury he could not remember that he was married or had two children.
He could not write, walk or talk, but through the love of his family (he remarried his wife four years ago as he could not remember the original wedding) and EJ, Mr Parton is now raising money to train up more dogs like EJ to help other Service personnel who have been injured.
And, at RAF Brize Norton, personnel from 99 Squadron were on hand to give the Hounds for Heroes charity a boost.
The charity’s initial aim is to raise £100,000 for the purchase, training and support of its first five dogs - under its Puppies on Parade Appeal.
A team of trustees from Hounds for Heroes, as well as EJ and another assistance dog Ikea, toured around 99 Squadron’s aircraft, including a C-17 and TriStar jets.
The noise from such an environment could unnerve lesser dogs, but those from Hounds for Heroes have been trained to cope with unknown environments and sounds.
Mr Parton, who served in the Royal Navy and was the face of the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal two years ago, said:
EJ can take stuff off a supermarket shelf, put them in a shopping basket and take them out again.
If I fall unconscious he will put me in the recovery position, cover me with a blanket and either hit the emergency phone or open a window and bark for help - or leave the house and go and get help.
Anything is possible with these dogs. When dogs like EJ are trained they will give injured Service personnel a much better quality of life.
EJ is named after Mr Parton’s first assistance dog Endal who Mr Parton describes as being the ‘best physical and psychological rehabilitation I could have ever received’. Endal was awarded the Dickin Medal, which is the equivalent of a Victoria Cross for animals.
So inspiring is Mr Parton’s story that a best-selling book has been written about it, and a film looks set to be made about his life.
After the visit to RAF Brize Norton, Hounds for Heroes Chief Executive Officer, Squadron Leader Wayne Palmer, said:
This has been a great day and we feel we have a lot of synergy with 99 Squadron.
They are one of the first parts of the healing process and we will be the last part. Our aim is to have the perception of the great British public change and see an assistance dog as a badge of honour.
We look forward to the day that a ‘Hound’ is on the annual remembrance parade by the Cenotaph in London.
This article first appeared in RAF News - Voice of the Royal Air Force.