Sandra with an assistance dog

This month ADUK’s Development Manager Vicky, chatted to Sandra about being ‘just a dog trainer’ and the time when a 5-year trustee term lasted 12.

ADUK: At ADUK HQ, when I heard the news that Sandra Fraser was retiring from her Trustee roles with both Dog A.I.D and ADUK I knew that we could not let Sandra slip away quietly into the night. So I put my best reporter act on and put Sandra in the spotlight!

Sandra maintains that she is still ‘just a dog trainer’ but even I, who have only been with ADUK for a short while, can see that is not the whole story!

But let us not skip ahead because first, I want to go back to how it all began, so I asked Sandra to tell us how she first got involved in Dog AID.

Sandra: I first got involved as a volunteer dog trainer when Dog A.I.D was very young.  Delores Palmer, one of Dog A.I.D’s founders, was recruiting dog trainers in the Midlands, one of whom I knew, and they encouraged me to get involved. It was great working with so many trainers and for such a different organisation, we really felt like we were helping people, learning every day from each other and the clients.

In 2003 when Dog A.I.D became a charity I was invited to join the board. It is fair to say that I had no idea what a trustee was meant to do – I just loved the organisation and training dogs. We were a small group of 4 or 5 at that point so I said yes and learned on the job, and of course when I get involved in something that’s it for me! When I joined Dog A.I.D’s Board and said I would give it 5 years… here I am retiring 12 years later!

ADUK: I asked Sandra about how she became involved in ADUK and why she feels that the charity and its work is important.

Sandra: Dolores had heard about ADUK through the community, but it was very early days for the charity. Dog A.I.D were actually only ADI Candidates when we first became involved. We got a huge amount of support from the other ADUK Members to help us along that accreditation journey. And that is one of the reasons that I think ADUK is so important, that support for new candidates is so great and I am glad to see it happening still.

Likewise, it is so good to see those new areas of expertise coming in with Candidates, from all those things that ADUK members do not currently offer. ADUK gives those opportunities for us to share good practice and all those ideas and experience is just so valuable.

ADUK: Sandra casually drops into the conversation that she has been involved in Dog A.I.D for over 20 years, so I am keen to know what achievements she is most proud of in that time.  

Sandra: I think our first ADI assessment was a great moment for us. None of us had any experience of this kind of quality assurance work, we were just dog trainers, and we took it on not knowing what we were doing really!

We divided it all up and contributed to all the sections. It felt like a huge unknown going into it, you’re trying to put all this paperwork and evidence together, it is not until when you have been accredited that you think ‘OK we got there, we are doing it right!’.

Getting our first Dog A.I.D office was also a great achievement. We had this little office in the local CVS and then the building was sold so we asked Guide Dogs, as fellow ADUK members, and they gave a space which we grew from. That’s yet another benefit from being part of ADUK!

ADUK: I wondered what Sandra hopes to see us doing when she checks in on us over the next few years.

Sandra: I hope that there is even more collaboration, especially dual trained dogs, they have to be in ADUKs future. People aren’t one thing, they don’t come with a single disability or issue and collaborating with the other Members and sharing and learning from each other’s knowledge and experience is vital. All that knowledge is there, let’s use it!

ADUK: I asked Sandra if, after 20 years of working in the assistance dog sector, she had any nuggets of wisdom to share with our new Candidates.

Sandra: Yes! I would say to focus on quality, not quantity. I would say have good policies and procedures, and make sure they are robust and usable. Don’t put them to one side, good policies will back you up and help you in the long run.

Also, I would say do not get sucked into trying to help EVERYONE, you can’t. Instead, help those you can help well, and don’t spread yourself too thin – if you do, learn quickly that you can’t do it for long!

ADUK: With our allotted Teams online meeting time running out, I am keen to know what new adventures await Sandra.

Sandra: Well, lots! We are moving to Kent– so that is on the bubble at the moment. I will carry on with some dog training, certainly with my own dogs and I would quite like to keep my hand in ADUK somehow, I would like to help some of the Candidates if they need anything.

ADUK: Sandra had already confessed to me that she had wanted to say a few thank yous at the last board meeting but chickened out, so I insisted that she get it all out here. She also managed to sneak in another ‘I am just a dog trainer’ statement and I think by now we all know, that whilst Sandra Fraser may be a dog trainer, she is not JUST a dog trainer, she is much more to many people who have received her generous support over the years.     

Sandra: I am just a dog trainer and so I have learnt so much from all the CEOs. I wanted to thank them all, they have all been very friendly and supportive and I have always felt very welcomed.

I wanted to make a special thank you to Peter Gorbing, who is a mine of information and who is always so grounded in his approach to supporting others.

I also want to offer thanks to all the Dog A.I.D clients and dogs that I have worked with over the years, I learnt such a huge amount and that knowledge is what has grown Dog A.I.D, you learn from each person you work with.

I hope that we all continue to listen to and learn from our clients and dogs and always think about how we can improve how we work with both.