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Man’s unusual choice of guide animal because he has a phobia of dogs

The UK’s first guide horse made his shopping run debut yesterday.

American miniature Digby led Mohammed Salim Patel through the streets and down aisles.

The journalist, 23, has degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa – and a phobia of dogs that rules out a guide dog .

He said: “Being led by Digby is liberating. I know guide dogs do the same but experiencing it through Digby, a companion I will hopefully have for life, it’s the start of something big.”

The pair already have a close bond and trotted out in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, to test Digby’s progress.

Mohammed got the idea from a documentary on guide horses in the US. But he said he was laughed at when he asked agencies about them.

Then he met trainer Katy Smith of KL Pony Therapy in Northallerton. He said: “I will have a new life thanks to Katy and Digby.”

Katy, 57, is teaching Digby with help from US trainers, police and the British Guide Dogs Association. She said: “Digby is the right one. He has the right attitude and cheeky character.”

It will be two years before Digby joins Mohammed in Blackburn, Lancashire. They are also working to change legislation so he is treated like guide dogs.

Mr Patel said: "I have a condition where I lost my vision and I have come across lots of people who have guide dogs.

"But I have a big phobia of dogs that I was not able to work out and it was good when I heard about horses being trained.

"I have always loved horses but it is good to see the benefits to people who are visually impaired.

"It will be a couple of years before he will be coming to live with me as he has training to do.

"He needs to get used to being out and about Blackburn.

"I also think I will have to give myself an extra hour to try to get around my daily routine as people will all want to come and see it and touch it."


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