Fundraising bid to get therapy dog for Wigan youngster

A five-year-old boy with autism could soon have a new best friend thanks to the efforts of a caring fund-raiser.

Friday, 22nd March 2019, 2:04 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd March 2019, 3:08 pm
Stefanie Hurst with son Freddie Winnard and back (l-r) Paul Johnson, Andrew "Pinky" Pinkerton and Shirley Ward

Freddie Winnard was diagnosed with the condition when he was just two and has never spoken a word.

His mother Stefanie Hurst believes a therapy dog could make a huge difference - so her friend and colleague Andy Pinkerton is trying to raise £8,000 to get one.

Miss Hurst, who lives in Orrell, said: “When he was born he had to have an emergency surgery to form his bowel together. It was a little bit touch and go from there, so he was in hospital for a couple of weeks. He came out and has had a few issue since then.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“When he was two-and-a-half, he was diagnosed with autism. He is still non-verbal, he has never said a word. His developmental age is roughly just under two years. He has got severe sensory needs. With that he is classed as sensory seeker as he puts things into his mouth that he shouldn’t really do - stones, mud toys, anything to get that sensory need.

“He is constantly running and climbing. He never sits still. He struggles to concentrate and focus on a task.”

Miss Hurst and her partner Dean Winnard have tried several things to help Freddie, including working with a speech therapist and using sign language.

But Freddie, a pupil at St Aiden’s Primary School in Billinge, still needs one-to-one assistance all the time and they now hope a therapy dog will help.

Miss Hurst, 31, who also has a two-year-old son named Ollie, said: “We are hoping a dog would encourage some more social skills and independence skills for him to grow. The aim is that it calms his sensory needs so he is allowed to be able to focus. There is research that because a dog is a good companion, it helps with speech.”

The cost of getting a therapy dog has proved to be prohibitive, but sports therapist Mr Pinkerton, who works alongside physiotherapist Miss Hurst at Total Fitness in Marus Bridge, has decided to help.

He has pledged to raise the £8,000 needed for a dog and donations have been pouring in.

Mr Pinkerton, who is registered blind and lives in Winstanley, said: “The generosity is unbelievable. I’m overwhelmed.”

The 55-year-old is now gearing up to take on a physical challenge as a fund-raiser - climbing the height of Burj Khalifa in Dubai on a stair climber. It is the tallest building in the world, covering 828m and 160 storeys.

Mr Pinkerton, who previously worked for Wigan Warriors and Sale Sharks, will be joined by Miss Hurst and friends to take on the climb on Saturday during an open day at Total Fitness.

He normally does just five minutes on the machine as part of his training in the gym, but will push himself to climb the height of the building.

He said: “I’m looking forward to doing it and getting the job done. I will raise enough money for Freddie - that’s my target.”

The father-of-two hopes he could even surpass his target to help a second child who could benefit from a therapy dog.

Miss Hurst is delighted that Mr Pinkerton is fund-raising. She said: “It’s all overwhelming. We have had so much support already. Everyone has been so generous already, it’s crazy. I didn’t expect it to get so big or for anyone to donate, never mind how generous some people have been already.”

To make a donation towards the cost of the dog, go to