Digby the Guide Horse
Mohammed Salim Patel, a BBC journalist from Blackburn, is blind and could benefit enormously from the help of a guide dog. Unfortunately, he is terrified of dogs! Mohammed, aged 23, suffers from the degenerative condition Retinitis Pigmentosa.
So, what could be done to help Mohammed? The solution is Digby the guide horse!
First Guide Horse in the UK
Mohammed Salim Patel will soon become the first person in the UK to benefit from a guide horse. Digby is an eight-month-old American miniature horse and is being trained specifically for Mr Patel by Katy Smith in North Yorkshire. It will take two years to complete Digby’s training but when he is ready to work, he will be able to help Mohammed in much the same way as a dog.
Mohammed has always loved horses and so Digby is the perfect alternative to a guide dog for him. The horse will be able to lead him around his local streets in Blackburn and is likely to attract a great deal of attention from passers-by. Mohammed has said that he intends to allow extra time in his daily routine for people to meet Digby!
Horses have one significant advantage over dogs when it comes to working as guide animals – they live much longer. Those who have guide dogs build amazing bonds with their animals but are only able to enjoy their relationship with their dog for a few years. They then have to wait for a replacement.
A miniature horse offers the prospect of a longer lasting partnership as they have lifespans of up to 50 years. In addition, many people are allergic to dogs and some, like Mohammed, are scared of them. Horses could be the way forward for many blind people in the UK.
Building a Relationship
Mohammed had only met Digby once prior to a recent training session in Blackburn but the horse had clearly remembered him. Digby is well on the way to becoming the perfect companion for someone who truly needs one. But there are potential problems ahead. The law will have to be changed if Digby is to be allowed in restaurants and cafes. Guide dogs are permitted but because the law specifies dogs as opposed to animals, Digby could be refused access to establishments which serve food.
One of the biggest issues with access is hygiene, in other words, toilet habits! But these have been overcome by fitting Digby with a device like a nappy that will prevent unfortunate accidents.
About Retinitis Pigmentosa
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is the name given to a group of inherited eye conditions which affect the retina at the back of the eye. RP causes permanent changes to your vision but the seriousness of the condition varies from person to person. It is a rare genetic disorder which causes a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. Symptoms include difficulty in seeing at night and a loss of peripheral vision.