The poignant story of Kas, a courageous collie from the Lake District

Kas surveys the view at Branstree

Kas surveys the view at Branstree - Credit: jo sweeney

I’m sure that many dog owners would tell you that their pets love walking the fells. Kas, an-eight-year old border collie, is no exception. He has been walking the fells with his owner, Ged Garvey, since he was a puppy. He loves the open spaces of the Lake District and has walked the famed Wainwright routes many times over. Nothing remarkable there you may think but Kas is blind and has been for most of his life.

Unlike the solitary AW however, Kas loves to meet people on the fells – the more the merrier. The encounters with humans usually mean that he will be fussed over and Ged tells me that he is a very tactile dog, possibly more so than most because of his blindness.

At home in Urswick on the Furness peninsula, Kas has learned to map out his familiar territory and leads a fairly quiet life. Ged explains that he is very gentle, calm dog and even tolerates their cats when they jump on him or pull his tail.

It is in the fells that Kas truly comes to life. Ged explains: ‘He’s in his element, as if he was born to be there.’ Once out in the open he sniffs the air and quickens his pace as he confidently tracks the scents left by other walkers on the paths. Ged remains ever vigilant and will take the lead in more precipitous situations, but otherwise Kas is given freedom to wander at his own pace.

Coming down steep sections may prove to be challenging so Ged will either encourage him down verbally or, in extreme moments, hold his collar and take him in stages so that it is safe for both of them.

‘Gradually, over the years, he has come to trust me as his eyes and has learned that the word No means that he should avoid trouble. Obviously, I will help him when there are obstacles such as gates or stiles. He has also been trained not to chase sheep.’

Kas ventures out in all weathers and enjoys a good fell walk at least once a week. He is equally at home revelling in the snow or swimming in one of the Lake District’s many tarns on a hot summer’s day. ‘He loves the water but thrashes around a bit and tends to stay close to Ged,’ explains Jo Sweeney who partners Ged on many of his walks.

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It was Jo’s idea two years ago to set a challenge to walk all of the Wainwright’s again in as shorter time as possible. They aimed for a year but due to the weather conditions it took the three of them sixteen months.

Ged explains that Kas’s blindness wasn’t apparent when he first got him from a local farm. It was only a short while later, when out fell walking with his wife Celia, that Kas became reluctant to make the descent and they realised that something was amiss.

After a couple of visits to the vet Kas was diagnosed as blind. Ged was in a dilemma: ‘I wondered how he was going to cope and thought about how happy he is in the fells and so after deliberation, decided just to carry on as before’. Ged was proved right. Kas coped admirably with his disability. With characteristic droll wit Ged adds: ‘He walks upwards far better than I do – he has twice as many legs after all.

‘People we meet say how remarkable he is, but, apart from extra vigilance, I forget that he is blind. Kas, in fact, has taught me a lot. I think that our bond has been strengthened because of his blindness. All I can say is that when a dog trusts you completely, as he does now, then that is something very special.’

I can see that there is a definite synergy between Ged and his brave border collie and I can’t help thinking that Wainwright himself, who became chairman and sponsor of the Wainwright Animal Shelter, would have approved of this dog who so loves the freedom of the fells.