Alli lies outstretched on the carpet, eyes half closed, dozing in a ray of sunshine which is beaming through the window.
Her daydreams of bones, treats and rabbits are soon interrupted.
“Alli Up”, Laura Skully urges. The cream Labrador springs to attention, fixes her stare on her owner and pants, eagerly awaiting further instruction.
“Fetch my jacket,” Laura demands. Without hesitation, Alli scarpers across the room, grasps the jacket in her jaws and brings it to Laura, 26, a psychology student from Blackpool.
Currently studying at Edge Hill university, Laura suffers from a chronic pain condition known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
Due to a further condition known as associated fixed dystonia, Laura is confined to a wheelchair, and relied heavily on the assistance of carers before Alli came along.
Alli, an assistance dog trained by a charity called Dogs for the Disabled, is now one of her lifelines, and provides her with a freedom and independence that once seemed out of reach.
“She does so much for me,” Laura says. “At university, before I got Alli, I was having carers at least twice a day, but now I only have them for a bath.
“She helps me get dressed, ready for bed and when I drop things, she’ll pick them up.”
Laura gives her assistance dog a well-deserved stroke on her head as Alli sits quietly by her side.
“She’s given me more independence. When I had carers I was tied down to the times, whereas now I can go to my friends and not have to be back for seven o’clock.
“No 20-odd-year-old wants to be getting ready for bed at seven o’clock.”
Watching Alli at work is astonishing. Opening doors, removing items of clothing, emptying the washing machine and even picking up a ringing mobile phone, it can only be a matter of time till she learns to answer it.
“She genuinely loves it,’ Laura says, “If someone else goes to do something for me, she looks at me as if to say ‘I want to do that, I’m supposed to do that!’
“What she is able to do is just unbelievable.”
The bond between the two of them is genuinely heart warming and there is a real sense of companionship, too.
It’s a valuable service that Alli provides and looks like dedicated hard work, but the 18-month-old dog does everything she is asked with such enthusiasm and vigour that old clichés like ‘man’s best friend’ really do shine through. “Each dog is personally matched to meet the needs of each disability,” says Laura, getting ready for a walk with Alli, “So each partnership will vary, and the way Alli has been matched to me is absolutely perfect.
“I can’t thank the charity enough for what it’s done for me.”
Established in 1988, Dogs for the Disabled relies entirely on voluntary donations, and in the current financial climate is finding things tough. The waiting list is long but funds are short.
“I waited quite a while for Alli, but she was definitely worth the wait,” says Laura.
“She’s helped my disability after all the hell I have gone through.
“She’s definitely been the best thing to come out of it.
“She not only changed my life but our family’s.
“Yes, she is an assistance dog but she is also a family member and pet as well.”
After we go for a walk outside, where Alli obediently and patiently walks alongside Laura’s wheelchair, the two friends play inside, Laura tickling Alli’s belly, much to her delight.
“Ignoring all the help, she’s such a companion and I couldn’t imagine life without her.”