Spencer and Stan are brothers from Colchester in Essex. Spencer, five, was born at 24 weeks and has chronic lung disease and autism, while Stan, who’s six, has recently been diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called MED13L. Their mum, Natalie, told us that “Stan’s condition is so rare that there are only around 20 people in the world who have it. He was diagnosed around Christmas time, and it was a scary time for us all. The boys’ conditions have had a huge impact on the family, we went through quite a horrific time when Spencer was born as he spent seven months in hospital. I also have a twelve year old son, and having two little brothers with such complex needs has really affected him, more so than we anticipated.”

“We heard about Family Fund when Spencer was born, we were awarded some money towards hospital visiting costs as an Urgent grant. Then, a couple of years ago, my husband managed to get week off work over Christmas, and we used holiday vouchers from Family Fund to book a Christmas break to Centre Parcs. It was a magical experience, seeing the boys’ faces on Christmas morning, going swimming on Christmas day and not having to worry about anything was lovely.”

“We’d been talking about getting a dog for about three years, so it wasn’t something we just jumped into. We thought about it decided that the positives of getting a dog outweighed any negatives. We did lots of research into breeds, as obviously we wanted one that would be good with children, and we finally settled on a Hungarian Vizsla. We applied to Family Fund for a grant towards the cost, as pedigree puppies are expensive but we felt that this one was right for our family."

"He’s named Woody, after the Toy Story character, and the difference he’s made already has been amazing. They nickname Vizslas ‘velcro dogs’ as they love physical contact. Spencer doesn’t normally like human contact but he’s happy with Woody’s contact, so having Woody around has helped him a lot. Stan used to get really anxious and scared around dogs, but he’s probably the child that’s bonded with Woody the most, they’re like best friends. It’s lovely to see, there’s no anxiety, there’s no panic and he’s so much more relaxed. The therapy side of having Woody has helped more than we ever imagined.”

“If we hadn’t been able to apply for the grant, I think we would have tried to save up for the dog anyway, but it’s so hard with other outgoings, things for the children, school trips, it all adds up! The grant helped us get the breed that would best suit our family, of course there are other breeds but they wouldn’t necessarily have all the therapy benefits or be good with children, especially kids with disabilities. I’d say if you’re in need of something for your child with complex needs, Family Fund are there to help, things can be really expensive so I wouldn’t think twice about encouraging others in a similar position to apply.”

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