BEFORE Sally Whitney got an assistant dog four years ago, she had cripplingly low self-esteem.

The 32-year-old was diagnosed with Lupus in 2008– a long term condition which causes inflammation to joints and other organs– and in 2012 received a further diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare condition which means her internal connective tissues are stretchy and fragile.

She said: “A lot of young disabled people have very low self-esteem.

“I didn’t think I was worthwhile, or that I had anything to offer society.

“Then I had this dog come into my life, and they have this special identity that they give to you.”

Sally, who lives in East Brighton, said she is so grateful to Canine Partners, the charity which set her up with black Labrador and Golden Retriever-cross Ethan.

She said: “There’s a lot of research into care work, and how with human carers there are always emotions to work through– things might be awkward or embarrassing at times.

“But with Ethan, we are a partnership: I feel we are equal and we do things together as a team.

“He just loves me unconditionally and is so devoted, and it’s really hard to have that devotion with humans.”

Sally said she could easily go on about all the physical tasks Ethan does, including paying for her shopping, fetching her a towel and shampoo, putting laundry away and taking off her boots at the end of the day– but their bond has had a much deeper impact on her life.

“There’s a greater sense of independence than with a human carer.

“After I got Ethan I found myself gaining confidence in more areas of my life.

“As well as starting to do some work for Canine Partners, I began academic work as an independent researcher, and that’s something I never thought I’d be able to do.”

Sally is now working on a project with the University of Sheffield and Canine Partners to find out more about the experiences of young disabled people who have assistant dogs.

But Ethan also helped Sally take the plunge into the world of online dating, which is how she met her husband Ed.

“I just don’t know if I would have had the courage to date without Ethan.

“He joined us on our first date and was the ring bearer at our wedding.”

On Tuesday, Ethan beat four other finalists and picked up the Hero Pet award at the Amplifon Awards for Brave Britons 2019.

The canine winner had his own table setting at the ceremony in the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall, London, and was presented with his award by the Duke of Kent.

Sally said that as much as she loves Ethan, she was not expecting him to win.

“I was so unprepared and had reclined my wheelchair.

“It was a big surprise, but obviously he deserves it.”

Ethan was nominated in the hero category as he has learned so many physical tasks, but also how to spot signs that Sally needs help.

“He’s not trained as a medical alert dog, but he’s so sensitive he can pick up on things before I do.”

On one occasion Sally was in her bathroom feeling well, when Ethan suddenly started whining and licking her face.

Before she knew it, he had flung open the door and was rushing up the hall.

“In the meantime, I started to become faint and dizzy and then fell to the floor.

“Because Ethan had noticed ahead of time, my carer had arrived in the bathroom and was able to catch my head before I smashed it on the floor.”

Sally said she would encourage any young disabled person to consider getting an assistant dog through Canine Partners.

“I really don’t know what my life would be like now if I didn’t have Ethan.”

For more information on the charity, go to