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Theo crowned Guide Dog of the Year 2008

Guide dog Theo – who has totally transformed the life of his 24-year-old owner Katie Meakin from Coventry who has additional special needs relating to her learning, spatial awareness and physical dexterity – has been crowned Guide Dog of the Year 2008.

Theo - Guide dog of the yearBefore being partnered with Theo, Katie did not go out on her own but now she has the confidence to travel to the centre of Coventry by herself. Katie and Theo made the trip to London and were presented with their prize at the Awards ceremony hosted by Guide Dogs on Monday 8 September by TV personality Peter Purves and Guide Dogs’ Chief Executive Bridget Warr.

Theo, named Life Changing Guide Dog of the Year, went nose-to-nose with the winner of Outstanding Work (Ashby, from Dorking, Surrey) and Beyond the Call of Duty Guide Dog of the Year (Yaron from West Kirby, Merseyside) to decide which was given the overall title.

Sue, Katie’s mum, explains why she nominated Theo for Guide Dog of the Year: “Never in a million years did we think that Katie would be eligible to be a guide dog owner. The thought of Katie travelling independently without a sighted person just hadn’t entered our minds.

“However this all changed when Theo entered Katie’s life. When Guide Dogs originally assessed Katie for guide dog ownership they had doubts about if she was a suitable candidate. Katie had no dog experience and so three months later was given Theo to get her used to feeding, grooming and the general skills required for dog ownership. We never thought he would be anything more than a friend for her. How wrong could we be!”

Theo was previously rejected as a guide dog as he was not mature enough at the time to safely guide a blind or partially sighted person. However, Guide Dogs Central Midlands District Team visited Katie and Theo regularly to set new targets and assess the partnership. After six months Katie and her family were told that the bond between them was so strong that there was a slim chance that with some additional training, Theo could progress as a potential guide dog for Katie.

“We were delighted - training for Katie and Theo commenced in January 2008 and with a sheer determination to succeed, Katie qualified as a guide dog owner on January 29”, Sue explains.
“Initially it was thought Katie would only work Theo on one set route from our house to the local shop…well surprise, surprise Katie is not only covering this route but also travels by bus into Coventry for coffee at Marks and Spencer’s. Theo has been an absolute godsend, transforming Katie’s life, giving her independence we never dreamed possible. For most life may begin at 40, but for Katie life began with Theo!”

The Guide Dog of the Year Awards aim to recognise the life-changing work of the 4,600 guide dogs currently providing freedom, independence and confidence to their blind or partially-sighted owners around the UK.

Vicky Bell, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs, says: “This year we received many fantastic stories of life-changing guide dogs, and heard about the huge differences that they have made to the lives of their blind and partially-sighted owners. It is fantastic that Theo’s outstanding and life-changing work has been recognised and we are able to share his story with the public, and celebrate his amazing achievement.”