BARRY O'Connell enjoyed his life.

He had travelled with world with the Royal Navy visiting the West Indies, America, Hong Kong and Singapore.

He had served in the Armed Forces in New Zealand for ten years.

He was super fit - a marathon runner, boxer, swimmer and a footballer. He cycled from London to Paris in three days.

He was happily married to Jenny and they had three children and a grandson.

Life was good.

But one day changed it all and Barry was plunged into a life of disability and despair.

Barry was injured when the ladder he was standing on to prune a tree fell away.

Barry had tied the ladder in place but the main branch holding the ladder broke and Barry was catapulted off the ladder to the ground.

At that moment, Barry's life changed forever.

He spent two months in Colchester General Hospital and was fitted with a metal halo to keep his head and spine stable.

Barry said: "It was fitted wrongly and it blew up.

"I woke up to see two bolts staring me in the eye and there was blood everywhere."

Barry was transfered to the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre in Stanmore, Middlesex, where he spent a further three months in hospital.

Finally, in 2007, two years after the accident, doctors decided they had no choice but to operate.

The surgery was extensive and involved fitting four titanium rods to Barry's spine.

His broken vertebrae were plated and bolted - in all, he had 85 bolts fitted.

"They didn't want to operate on me," said Barry, "but it was a case of do or die.

"The operation lasted eight hours and they were 45 minutes from calling it a day.

"The doctors said if I hadn't had been so fit, I would have died on the table.

"I was losing so much blood they did not know where it was coming from.

"My lungs collapsed. I was no a ventilator for five days."

Barry survived, partly due to sheer willpower.

Barry is a straight forward, tell-it-as-it is sort of a guy. Despite the horror of the accident and subsequent surgery, he retains his bubbly sense of humour.

He said: "I don't go out at because of the metal thieves and I daren't go near a scrap yard - I'd be picked up by the big magnet."

However, the surgery and subsequent lack of mobility left him in a dark place.

He said: "For someone who was once so fit and active I struggled to cope with the new lifestyle. "My moods were becoming blacker and blacker.

"I hated myself so much and hated what I was doing to my wife, who was my carer.

"I felt as though I had run into a brick wall. I felt the whole world had stopped. I could not mentally adjust.

"I believe in teamwork but my wife was doing everything. I was becoming Victor Meldrew number 2.

"My wife was doing everything and that was not fair on her."

Barry, 67, of Saxted Drive, Clacton, then came across a charity which was to change his life.

He heard about Canine Partners and applied to get a helping dog.

"I had worked with dogs in Northern Ireland and knew what working dogs could do."

Barry applied for a dog in September 2008 and says Guy, a flat-coated retriever, chose him.

"At my first assessment, they asked me to put the working harness on him.

"He is a really big dog, 5 ft 9 ins when he stands up.

"This lumox put his paws on my shoulder and my glasses flew off.

"The chief executive of the charity nearly had a heart attack, the trainer thought she was getting her P45 but I thought it was hysterical.

"After the second assessment, they pulled me into the office and told me they had never seen a partnership which had bonded so quickly."

Barry got Guy in July 2009 and they became inseparable.

"He means the whole world to me. I have gone from winter to summer, from the darkest day to the brightest golden light.

"He has taken over 90 per cent of my wife's caring role. He gets me up in the morning and gets my clothes.

"He loads and unloads the washing machine, turns the lights on, picks things up."

Barry uses a power chair to go out and said Guy pushes the button to change the lights and allow them to cross.

He takes shopping from the shelves and takes the card, money and receipt from a cash machine.

"I adore my wife but I don't know whether I could have continued without Guy.

"I've got his back and he has got mine."

Barry said Guy would lay down his life for him.

"One day, there was a 40 tonne lorry coming down Old Road and it was speeding.

"It was coming at me and Guy broke away from the chair and laid in the way, looking at the lorry."

For this, Guy was awarded the PSDA's highest honour.

To Barry, he gave even more. He gave him his life back.

To contact Canine Partners, go to