The relationship between an owner and their dog is usually dual – you help them and they help you.
Sometimes this can be magnified and the word ‘help’ takes on a much deeper meaning.
Enter Simon Creighton and Dexter.
Simon, 45, is a former Army serviceman suffering with his mental health. He is starting afresh in Angus after becoming homeless following the end of his marriage.
Dexter is a one-year-old Rottweiler who was rescued from Spain after a puppyhood of physical abuse that left him blind.
Together they have formed an alliance of mutual recovery.
“When I first got him he would not go in a car because one of his experiences was being thrown out of a car, which was what left him blind,” says Simon.
“But now I just say ‘up’ and he goes in the car and relaxes. It is a great improvement.
“In the three months that I have had Dexter he has made me get out of the house, and made me smile.
“He is great company and helps massively in all aspects of my mental health recovery.”
Moving to Dundee
In October 2019 Manchester-born Simon’s marriage broke down, also causing a division in his family.
He was classified as homeless and got in touch with veterans’ charity Spaces, who referred him to Scottish Veterans Residences. Soon he was off to Scotland to live in supported housing at Rosendael, Victoria Street, Broughty Ferry.
“I came up here with nothing but the clothes on my back,” says Simon. “It was like five-star accommodation and in an amazing building.”
At Rosendael some staff brought in their dogs and Simon, who had never previously owned a dog, used to borrow a German Shepherd girl called Blaze for a walk.
“The staff became like my family and it was a lovely place but unfortunately living under the same roof as 40 blokes just wasn’t for me.”
Lonely at new home
He applied for his own accommodation and Angus Council found him a suitable property in November.
“That was when it all hit me,” he says. “At Rosendael there were staff and other residents keeping me company but here I was all alone.”
After three weeks in his new home, he discussed getting a dog with Rosendael housing assistant Caroline Sanderson.
Dexter was underweight and had been subjected to awful physical abuse including being hit over the head with a garden shovel. He had lost his sight due to being thrown out of a moving car.
“Jess introduced me to Dexter and I fell for him straight away,” says Simon. “It was really tough at the beginning.
“I had never had a dog before and because he couldn’t see he sometimes banged his head against the wall and I was feeling guilty about it.
“Slowly he has learnt all of my commands and it is amazing how he has adapted to his new home and playing with a ball the same as any other dog.
“I have also managed to get 15kg on him. He is now 40kg which is almost a good weight.
“What is really amazing is that he loves people when it is people who have hurt him so much.”
‘Everything he does makes me smile’
It is not just Dexter who has thrived with his new companion.
Simon adds: “That Dexter needs that extra bit of care means that I am focusing on him rather than rather than me, and I have been able to meet people when I am walking him.
“I know he is a dog and it sounds stupid but if you do something for him – for example wiping his eyes – he shows his appreciation.”
“People have said to me over the years that a dog is a man’s best friend. Not having one I didn’t understand it but now after having him for three months I totally get it.
“Dexter is also the perfect example that this breed’s bad reputation is way off the mark.
“Everything he does makes me smile.”
‘Dexter shows that there is joy as well as pain’
Simon says he is also grateful for the invaluable training and support he continues to receive from Jessie and Caroline.
Jessie says: “Dexter suffered a head trauma that led to his blindness but he is still so loving and happy-go-lucky.
“It is a lesson we can learn from dogs. Simon has seen that Dexter has gone through so much trauma yet still has the attitude of ‘let’s go and carry on with life’.
“And Simon has done the same. People dwell on sadness rather than seeing the joy of life. Dexter shows that there is joy as well as pain.
“I never intended Dexter to be used as a therapy dog but there is a unique situation with these two. Dexter has given Simon a purpose.”
“We are delighted that Simon is thriving in his own home with Dexter and it’s been our pleasure to help him transition towards independent living” says Martin Nadin of Scottish Veterans Residences.
“As a charity which helps ex-servicemen and women who find themselves homeless, we are also focused on providing continued support to ensure residents can successfully move on from our residences.”
This article is part of a series for The Courier and Evening Telegraph about people who owe a debt of gratitude to their dog.
We want to talk to more pet owners whose canine companion has helped them come through a tough time in their life.
If you live in Dundee, Tayside or Fife and want to pay tribute to your poochie pal (or pals) please email email@example.com.