A blind BBC journalist afraid of dogs has become the first person in the UK to be given a “guide horse”.
American miniature horse “Digby” is being trained as an assistance animal before being assigned to Mohammed Salim Patel, a journalist at BBC North West Tonight in Salford, Manchester.
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Patel, 23, from Blackburn, joined the BBC’s trainee scheme in 2016 and blogs as The Blind Journalist
Patel and Digby appeared on BBC North West Tonight, with Patel saying he “had a connection” with the horse, despite the pair only having met twice.
He said: “I think to myself:’Is this going to happen?’ But for me it has to because I know the benefits that assistance animals can bring, sadly I can’t get it through a dog.”
Guide hoses are already being used in the US, but this is the first time one has been trained in the UK. Digby will have to be registered with the Guide Dogs Association before he can work as an assistance animal.
Patel, who since the age of 15 has lost most of his sight, said: “Digby is going to change my life.
“At this moment in time I’m reliant on a lot of people to do a lot of things – friends, family, asking them if they’re free, if we can go somewhere if they want to do something.
“If Digby’s successful then it’s a case of, if he’s happy, I just put his harness on and off I go and do what I want to do.”
Campaigners are battling for horses to be allowed on planes and in restaurants, which will involve firstly persuading the Food Standards Agency that Digby can enter cafes and restaurants wearing a nappy.
Digby’s owner Katy Smith told the BBC she was hopeful that Digby would be permitted to work as an assistance animal “as long as we can show that he’s not a health hazard, i.e. that he’s got his ‘thunder pants’ on and they’re working.”
Digby, who is eight months old, will be fully trained by the time he is two. It is then hoped that he will move into a miniature stable in Patel’s garden, the Guardian has reported.
The FDA sad that it while it hasn’t come across a case like Digby’s before, food businesses should take “reasonable” adjustments for disabled people with assistance animals according to equality law.