Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's guide dogs lick the rest of the UK

Animals and their Northern Ireland owners hailed at awards

BY CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

It was a life-changing friendship.

Blind from birth, Torie Tennant has campaigned tirelessly for the past three years and now with the support of her loyal guide dog she has gone on to win a top award.

The 23-year-old's life has been transformed since she met her canine companion Ushi.

With her new-found independence, Torie began to volunteer at Guide Dogs NI where she soon began speaking at events across Northern Ireland to encourage others to get involved as well.

Most recently, Torie has been busy lobbying at Stormont to have audio announcements on buses – and she is determined to keep going until she gets a result.

Now with Ushi firmly by her side, Torie has won the Young Persons Achievement Award at the Guide Dogs Annual Awards at the London Hilton.

She told the Belfast Telegraph none of this would have happened without Ushi.

"Ushi will be proud, I know that if it wasn't for Ushi I wouldn't be able to do what I have been doing.

"I really wasn't expecting to win the award and I was just so shocked – but it was brilliant.

"Winning was definitely the best part of the night."

But it will be business as usual for Torie as she intends to get straight back to work fundraising and volunteering.

"Now I'm just going to keep going with the work I've been doing and not let it go to my head," she said.

Another successful Northern Ireland nominee at the star-studded event was Belfast guide dog, Zeta.

Proud owner Andrea Hope from Belfast has been blind all her life and when she met Zeta five years ago it gave her freedom. Zeta was crowned guide dog of the year for outstanding work and received praise from all around as, despite suffering from several allergies, she thrives on her work and always seems to know what her owner needs.

Andrea says Zeta loves to work. "She's allergic to yeast, couch grass and house and dust mites. She needs quite a few injections and medications and I wipe down her paws and her ears," she said.

"That doesn't stop her, though, as she loves to work and be in the harness," added Andrea.

Along with Torie, Andrea also volunteers with Guide Dogs NI and the organisation said it couldn't be prouder of their achievements.

Northern Ireland manager Fiona Brown said: "Guide Dogs NI couldn't exist without the support of amazing volunteers like Torie and life-changing partnerships like that of Andrea and Zeta. They are inspirational ambassadors for Guide Dogs NI, so we couldn't be prouder than to see them recognised in this way. For two of the winners in the Guide Dogs Annual Awards to have come from Northern Ireland is a huge honour for the team."

BACKGROUND

The Guide Dogs Annual Awards in London recognise outstanding dogs and their owners for their achievements. The ceremony was attended by owners – and their dogs – from all around the county and was hosted by television presenter Adrian Chiles.

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