Meet Katie - the Kendal guide dog with a degree

Katie in her cap and gown

Katie in her cap and gown - Credit: not Archant

Six-year-old golden retriever Katie has guided a Kendal woman through university and now they’re looking to the future.

Ella and Katie on their graduation day in Lancaster

Ella and Katie on their graduation day in Lancaster - Credit: not Archant

Ella Wadsworth and her guide dog Katie, a six-year-old golden retriever, are a perfect fit. 'She's my third time lucky dog,' Ella says. 'I was previously matched with two guide dogs, but it turned out that they weren't quite suited to my needs. Katie is just right and has given me such confidence. She can be stubborn, like me, and can be quite cheeky but is so focused when she is working.'

Ella, who lives in Kendal, has just graduated and has gained a degree in Religious Studies from Lancaster University. Katie was with her for every step of the way and earned her cap and gown alongside her owner.

Graduating has been quite an achievement for Ella who has overcome difficult times and huge upheavals in her life. 'I was born with a visual impairment called nystagmus which means the nerve at the back of the eye isn't connected properly so everything I see wobbles. When I was 16, I had a brain tumour, totally unrelated to my existing condition, which left me with no vision in my right eye and only peripheral vision in my left,' adds Ella.

'At this point I didn't want to go anywhere or do anything and felt it would be an imposition to my friends to depend on them. That's when I started to think about the possibility of getting a guide dog. I thought you had to be older to have a guide dog, but I guess I broke that stereotype.'


Katie - Credit: not Archant

Being partnered with Katie has been life changing for Ella. 'I've had great support from the Guide Dogs Association charity and with Katie by my side I felt there was a way to achieve things I'd given up on.

'Katie has taken me from sixth form to university. Lancaster Girls' Grammar accepted Katie with open arms, and she slept under my desk while I studied. She's a great icebreaker and when I moved on to university, Katie familiarised herself with all the routes and helped me find my way around. Again, the staff were very accommodating, especially the library staff and my dyslexia tutor. I couldn't have made it without them.

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'Naturally Katie attracted a lot of attention but sometimes people had to be reminded of the message on her harness which says "Please don't distract me, I'm a working guide dog".'

Ella now has a place at Cumbria University to study counselling and psychotherapy but has taken a year out to study equine behaviour and pursue her hobbies. She is currently studying equine behaviour at Hartsop Farm Equine training Centre in Oxfordshire where she will take her knowledge and understanding of horses to a higher level.

'I would love to have the opportunity to combine intelligent horsemanship with counselling and psychotherapy with the aim of doing equine assisted therapy and counselling people through horses. Horses are such a natural therapy source. It's popular in America and is a relatively new concept in the UK, but one day I would love to open a business specialising in therapy through animals.' Ella's warmth and determination shine through as she talks about her volunteer work at Witherslack Hall Equestrian Centre. 'I work three days a week as a volunteer which gives me good experience in working with young people. It was Katie who gave me the confidence to take up riding again. It gives me such a sense of freedom and last year I bought a horse called Warrior. He's a 17.2 hands high piebald and was a rescue horse. At first he didn't trust anyone and wouldn't be touched.'

Despite his size and lack of ground manners, Ella has worked to form a remarkable bond with the skittish horse and found another kindred spirit along the way. Through patience and sensitive handling, she has gained his trust and now can confidently groom and ride him.

'Katie comes along too, of course. She fits in happily at the centre; in fact, I think she thinks horses are giant dogs,' laughs Ella.

Although Katie has a responsible job to do when she is on duty, she is clearly a happy playful girl when not working. 'She is really good with people and I'm hoping she could perhaps qualify as a Pets as Therapy dog which would fit in with my counselling in the future'.

Although Ella's eyes get tired when studying and she sometimes can experience complete periods of blindness, she is looking forward to the next stage in her life knowing Katie will be there for the whole journey.

'Katie is just amazing. She's a lifeline for me and fits into every situation. She truly is a girl's best friend. I admire so much about the charity that takes such care in training and making sure each dog is so well matched to their owner.'