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Featured student of the month: Emily Shanahan

Posted 1 September 2015

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A monthly special featuring a current student from Harper Adams University.

Travelling alone was something that 21-year-old Emily Shanahan thought would never be possible, but thanks to assistance dog Magic, she can now conquer all sorts of fears.

Emily, who studies FdSc Agri-food Marketing with Business Studies, has Asperger’s syndrome, dyspraxia and hypermobility syndrome. She met Magic, an ‘Irish Doodle’ in March, after applying for an assistance dog from Service Dogs Europe.

Emily, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 11-years-old, said: “Having Asperger’s means I find it difficult to interpret people’s tone and body language and if something is a joke or not. I like structure and routine so change makes me feel very anxious.

“Although Magic is still a puppy, once he is trained he will be able to calm my anxiety and distract me from stressful situations. He will learn to react to my signals as well as be constant company for me and reassurance.

“In the short time I have had him, he has already changed my life. I’ve been able to travel alone on the train with Magic’s help, which just wasn’t possible before. He has opened up all sorts of experiences so I can live the life of any other 21-year-old.”

As well as the usual puppy training, Magic will return to Service Dogs Europe in Ireland for additional specialist training so that he can help Emily whenever she needs him.

Hypermobility syndrome means that Emily is also prone to falls and loss of balance, so Magic will learn to open doors and retrieve her telephone. Once fully trained, he will accompany her to lectures and all day-to-day activities.

Emily, a Rainbows leader and keen horse rider from Ellesmere Port, said: “The university has been very supportive of Magic, and has made sure that no one in my class has allergies or will be affected by him.

“When he comes to lectures, he will lie down next to me and knows when it is time to work and not play.

“I want to raise awareness that assistance dogs aren’t just for the obvious, they can also help people like me who have Asperger’s and other conditions. Thanks to him, I am over-coming so many barriers.”

Emily is a member of the Christian Union and Equestrian Society at Harper Adams and following her placement year working for a care farm, hopes to establish her own similar enterprise in the future.

Want to be featured student of the month? E-mail press@harper-adams.ac.uk

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