Mankind and mutts have a long and storied history together. Experts say that canines and people once shared caves together, and for at least several thousand years, the domesticated dog has been a constant companion.
Not everyone likes a precious pooch, though. In fact, for one British journalist, his fear of dogs has proved a major impediment.
The BBC’s Mohammed Salim Patel suffers from retinis pigmentosa, a degenerative condition that starts with loss of night vision before gradually attacking a sufferer’s central vision.
Fortunately for Patel, it rarely results in complete blindness.
However, the 23-year-old from Blackburn, Lancashire, still struggles to do ordinary tasks — and relying on a guide animal such as a seeing-eye dog was never an option.
“I have a condition where I lost my vision and I have come across lots of people who have guide dogs,” he explained to the Lancashire Telegraph.
“But I have a big phobia of dogs that I was not able to work out.” Fortunately, another option only recently became available to him.
Katy Smith of Northallerton, North Yorkshire, has been training a very special animal for Patel: an American miniature foal named Digby.
Although the journalist won’t fully receive Digby’s assistance for a couple years, he has already begun working with the tiny horse as part of its training regimen.
“I’ve always like horses and went riding as a child,” he told Horse & Hound. “Katy approached me before Digby was born saying she was planning to train a guide horse, and I snapped up the offer.”
That will make Patel the first person in the U.K. to receive a guide horse, and though training miniature equines to lead the blind might sound odd, Digby is part of a growing trend.
Not only can the animals live for up to five decades, they’re every bit as capable as dogs — and then some.
“They can empty a bag of bread to get a slice out and push it towards the toaster,” Smith said. “They stick their heads in the washing machine and pull clothes out.”
They’re even housebroken to some degree, and a special bag they wear while out and about keeps the horses from making a mess in public.
Dan Shaw, a Los Angeles resident who received the world’s first guide horse in 2000, thinks his animal Cuddles is an ideal companion.
“I’m an animal lover,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “To lose a dog after eight to 10 years, and then have another to train and have to do that three or four times in my lifetime … that’s painful.”
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