Meet the dog who saved a North Devon teenager's life
PUBLISHED: 12:07 12 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:07 12 June 2018
Teenager Liam Landymore credits his beloved pet Charlie with saving his life. Chrissy Harris meets a dog and his owner using their extraordinary bond to help others... Photos: Steve Haywood
Liam Landymore sits on his sofa at home in Shebbear, North Devon, gently stroking five-year-old black Labrador springer-cross, Charlie.
“Between the age of seven and 14, I no longer wanted to live,” says the 18-year-old, with searing honesty. “I attempted (suicide) a couple of times. It’s not the best place to be in, mentally.”
Liam has spent years dealing with PTSD and severe depression, which has often led to violent outbursts and seen him smash up his bedroom in fits of frustration.
But there, waiting patiently outside the door, was Charlie. When it was quiet, the gentle dog would walk in and sit on his owner’s lap until he had calmed down.
Outside, when Liam became overwhelmed and anxious, Charlie would be there again, walking close enough to be touching Liam’s leg. The two were inseparable.
“He’s my best friend, no doubt about it,” says Liam, adding that if it wasn’t for his dog, he wouldn’t be here.
“I started getting better when this dog came into my life. When I didn’t want to be here anymore, I got Charlie. From then on, we’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions together.”
Liam was 12 when he was referred to local charity Dogs Helping Kids, where founder Tracey Berridge offered to help the troubled youngster train the family’s pet Charlie to become a personal support dog.
Liam had a new focus in life and quickly developed a real talent for working with animals. He went on to win an Animal Hero Award in 2016, presented at a glittering red carpet ceremony in London where he met Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden and legendary guitarist Brian May.
Since then, Liam has become a passionate campaigner for cruelty-free training methods, setting up his own website, called Liam’s MOB (Men on Board) which aims to inspire men – and women – to use force-free training methods.
The teenager has also recently travelled to Georgia, America to meet inmates helping to rehabilitate rescue dogs.
“The trip gave me so many experiences and at times it was really emotional,” says Liam, who has also been working with some of the nation’s top dog experts to educate people about animal training and safety.
“I learnt so much from everyone, dog training wise, how shelters work out there, how people take those problems on and try to make a difference, however small. I would love to bring a similar scheme over here. I just really enjoy seeing people build bonds with dogs and have fun with them.
“I see kids like me having fun with their dog and forgetting about all their worries. Once you’re training an animal, you get so focussed that you don’t think about anything else.”
Liam still has bad days and knows that his illness will always be a part of him.
But having Charlie by his side helps him to work through the tough times.
“Dogs are so calm and cool and they don’t judge like people do,” says Liam. “Charlie knows about everything I’ve been through but he never judged when I told him about stuff. He just looked at me as if to say ‘it’s cool, I’m here’.”
As well as his pet, Liam says his family has provided vital support every step of the way.
Liam is working with his mum to run the Haven Dog Centre, which runs force-free training classes for dogs and their owners.
The pair hope to expand their business to include a sensory garden for dogs, an enrichment area, as well as canine health treatments.
“It’s exciting,” says Liam. “Who knows what the future holds but I know I’m just happy doing what I’m doing.” And Charlie?
“I just want to thank him for being my best mate and saving my life.”
Mum Rachael, a fully qualified professional dog trainer, is fiercely proud of her son and how far he has come.
“I think he’s just brilliant,” she says. “When you think where he came from when he was seven, a little boy lost and at rock bottom.
“Now, he’s thriving.”
Rachael describes the agony of watching her child withdraw from the world and her feelings of helplessness.
“It was just so devastating,” she says. “I just had this desperation to keep him alive. You’re terrified of going to sleep. He couldn’t look anyone in the eyes and the only trust he had was with me. He would either hold my hands or if he couldn’t he would be constantly holding onto my clothes.”
Rachael, who recently graduated from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for dog training and behaviour, says animals have the power to reach humans when all else seems to fail.
“Charlie has stuck to Liam like glue,” she says. “There is just this huge bond between them. The change in Liam has been brilliant. I’m really proud of him.”