A former Huddersfield teacher campaigning to raise awareness of a deadly disease that has affected her family has spoken about her encounter with royalty.
Jacqui Harrison and her border terrier Spike were among the crowds greeting the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall when they visited the revamped Halifax Piece Hall – and Jacqui was lucky enough to speak to them both. She was also photographed by the press holding Spike and talking to Camilla.
“It was the dog the photographers were after,” said Jacqui. “I think I was a bit incidental!
“Charles and Camilla both went on separate walkabouts. I met Charles first. As soon as he got out of the car he spotted the dog. He said what nice looking dog it was.”
Jacqui’s family has been devastated by Huntington’s – a neuro-degenerative disease that affects muscle co-ordination and movement and causes mental decline and psychological problems.
She and her friends raise awareness of the disease through Hounds4Huntington on Facebook – making stuffed dogs in exchange of a donation to the Huntington’s Disease Association.
Jacqui had previously sent one of the stuffed dogs to Camilla – and was able to remind the duchess about it during the visit to Halifax.
Jacqui was also the subject of a radio documentary talking about Huntington’s and her decision to undergo predictive tests to find out if she might be at risk of developing the condition.
“I wanted to make myself known to her having corresponded with her before,” said Jacqui. “She said she loved the little dog I had sent and had listened to the radio programme.”
Jacqui lost her grandfather, mother and uncle to Huntington’s and now cares for her brother Mark, who also has the disease.
Huntington’s generally affects people in their 30s and 40s. Typically, patients die about 10 to 20 years after symptoms start. About 8,500 people in the UK have Huntington’s and a further 25,000 will develop it when they are older.
The disease is caused by a defect in a section of DNA called the huntingtin gene, which normally carries the instructions for making the huntingtin protein vital for brain development. But a genetic error corrupts the protein, which then starts to destroy brain cells.
Jacqui, who taught at Huddersfield Technical College and now lives at Bailiff Bridge, said the Hounds4Huntington campaign was going from strength to strength. She has made more than 1,000 of the little dogs which have travelled as far as India and Iran.
Jacqui said meeting Charles and Camilla had given it added publicity.
“It was a bit of a surreal day,” she said. “The photo with Camilla looks as if meeting her was pre-arranged, but it was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time. Every time someone shares the picture on social media it gets people talking about it.
“It was a really nice day. It was good for Halifax and good for Yorkshire.”