Digby the two-foot-tall American miniature horse is about to become the United Kingdom's first ever guide horse.
Due to a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa and a lifelong aversion of dogs, Mohammed Salim Patel has been issued a guide horse to increase his mobility and support him in performing daily tasks. Patel, a 23-year-old journalist for BBC North West, has not only an allergy and fear of dogs but a love of horses that makes Digby the perfect fit.
The future guide horse is just 8 months old, and will be in training for the next two years, learning the streets of Blackburn, Lancashire, where Patel currently resides. For now, Digby lives and trains in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and will eventually help Patel with household chores, such as moving laundry out of washing machines and mopping sections of the kitchen.
On February 5th, Digby took his first tour of the BBC studio in MediaCity, Salford, where he'll be assisting Patel once his training is complete. Needless to say, his future colleagues were thrilled to meet him!
According to Digby's trainer, Katy Smith, Digby's tour of his future workplace went well, saying, "I'm so pleased with him. The way he's coped with traveling, the way he's coped with going into the studio for the radio, and then out on the streets, going into the market, and having a cup of tea, and also... a slice of toast."
While Digby is training to be the UK's first guide horse, horses as service animals are already in use in the United States. Smith points out that guide horses create a better opportunity for bonding, since they tend to live much longer than their service dog counterparts: "There are about 14 training in America to help visually impaired people and they have a long life-span as they can live until 45 or 50 year old. You may have to have two or three guide dogs and then you have to think about the emotional bond to them."
I, for one, don't think anyone will have a problem forming an emotional bond with Digby.
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