Liam with drugs detection training dog Timber

It’s a dog’s life for former Royal Marine Liam

Dan Hodges Case Studies, General, Getting you back to work

Just one year after being recruited into the Royal Marines, Liam’s dreams of a long military career were cut short by a serious back injury during training. Then the 24-year-old from North West England found a new ambition to become a professional dog handler. With employment support from The Poppy Factory and funding from two naval charities, his new career is now within reach.

Liam with the drugs detection training dog, TimberLiam said: “I always said I wanted to be a soldier and there are photos of me dressed in uniform from when I was little. I was 21 when I joined the Royal Marines. But one year into my time as a recruit, I ended up getting injured in training. There’s an exercise where you dig trenches to test your grit. After seven or eight hours of straight digging, I tried to stand up but I couldn’t. I was hunched up with a lower back injury.

“After that it was a year of rehab. Then they said there wasn’t a whole lot left that they could do, and I was medically discharged in October 2019. It was very disappointing because I was hoping for a long career in the military.

“I have good days and bad days with my injury. On some days I can go all day thinking it’s getting better. On other days I’ll wake up and feel very stiff and find it’s painful to bend in certain directions.

Finding a new direction

“When I left the Royal Marines, I was lucky to have my family and my girlfriend there ready to support me. But it was on the career side of things that I needed guidance. I wanted to take some time to figure out what else was available. Just before Covid-19 hit, I got a job cleaning in a hospital to keep things ticking over.

“Our family have always had dogs. We’re currently on our eighth German Shepherd, and I’ve trained our dogs and friends’ dogs too. I had a friend who’s very involved with the dog training world, and he linked me up with a contact. After that I thought about training to handle detection dogs, but I couldn’t afford the course.

Liam with the drugs detection training dog, TimberSupport for training

“My contact encouraged me to register with The Poppy Factory to see what they could do. Then Adam, my adviser, stepped in and everything fell into place.

“Adam helped me apply for the £3,500 I needed for the training, and the majority of that was awarded by the Royal Marines Charity. The rest come from the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust.  Without their support I never would have been able to get on the course.

“The training by Wagtail UK was amazing, with one-to-one instruction from people who each had more than 20 years’ experience and so much knowledge.

Exploring new opportunities

“There are lots of employers out there who need handlers for detection dogs. Sometimes they have their own dogs so you don’t need to have your own. Now I can update my CV and start putting myself out there. It helps to have your own vehicle, which is something I’m working on.

“I’m just really grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to what the future has in store. With ongoing employment support from The Poppy Factory, I know I’ll get there.”

Supporting Liam in challenging times

Adam Green, Regional Manager at The Poppy Factory, said: “Providing employment support to Liam was an absolute pleasure. A typical Royal Marine, Liam showed drive and determination every step of the way. The Poppy Factory and the Royal Marines Charity worked hand-in-hand to enable Liam to undertake his course, bringing him one step closer to becoming a dog handler.”

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