When I enter a room, more often than not, a little black dog-shaped shadow will follow behind me. If one were to glance at this delicate shadow, adorned with a dainty face reminiscent of a character from a Disney cartoon, it would be hard to fathom the profound impact that my lively, spirited, and exuberant Cassie has made.

How our journey began

The beginning of our story starts with an ending and one of the saddest moments of my life. I lost my previous guide dog Edie suddenly to cancer at the beginning of 2019. Edie was such a huge part of my life and had guided me through university, my first job, and my move to Wales from Manchester.

She was my guiding star, but now I felt like the sky was dark. Within a matter of weeks, I had lost my guide, my best friend and my independence. The emptiness I felt stretched so far into the distance that I could not imagine ever having a partnership again; let alone the freedom that me and Edie had shared.

A year passed, and just as I was beginning to get used to my cane when my independence was impacted again at the beginning of 2020, this time due to COVID. I was a key worker, working for a bank in Cardiff city centre, serving the public throughout the pandemic, but with restrictions in place everywhere I went I felt very alone.

Then in October of 2020, a black Labrador came to save the day.  She walked into the bank to meet me and stood proudly in my queue. Little did either of us know what amazing things lay in wait. Very quickly that little Labrador bounced into my heart, and, with some hard work, we qualified as a partnership.

Getting to know each other

Cassie had big paws to fill at the bank; and while the branch was quieter than it had been with my “Barking Banker” Edie, Cassie brought a sleek and professional attitude that was endearing to my customers, and my colleagues alike. They were very impressed with her, and she quickly earned her ball-catching qualifications and became an official member of the team. Throughout the rest of the pandemic, she would guide me to and from work, around the banking hall and would take me for my daily exercise to the park!

The park is where the limit of Cassie’s professional behaviour firmly lay, once lead and harness were removed my little black lab would cause chaos! She would dig up flowers, jump in the river and invite herself to picnics, often without being asked! At one point after the destruction of a particularly lovely rose bed, we were banned from the park!

At home, Cassie was slowly being accepted into the “territory” by our two cats Simba and Beyonce. Whilst both cats had been very against even the idea of a dog in the beginning, they soon figured out the benefits of having a big black security dog to keep their home nice and safe whilst they napped. When vet’s day rolled around everyone realised that they were all friends, and it was the mean humans that were the problem!

Very quickly she also got nicknamed “Crashy Cassie” because one way or another she would always cause a commotion. Whether it was a tail swiping a coffee cup across the room, paws that just couldn’t stop in time, or a nose that would knock things down Cassie was always crashing! With each crash though came a snort of laughter and a happy, slightly embarrassed wag that helped me to see the funny side, no matter what the situation!

And in this way, we were together, Andrea and Cassie overcoming challenges, no matter what they were. She travelled with me to new places, on planes trains and buses, we joined LOOK and met our new colleagues, and together we achieved the level of independence I previously had with Edie.

Cassie’s biggest challenge

Image of baby James in a grey babygrow sat on the floor smiling next to guide dog Cassie who is sat next to him

Little did Cassie know but her greatest challenge arose when I became pregnant in early 2022!

Throughout my pregnancy Cassie was by my side, guiding me, offering a reassuring nose and making a real effort to ensure that both the bump and I were safe. When the time finally came for my little boy to arrive it was Cassie who calmly guided me onto the maternity ward, wagging her tail, ready for our next chapter.

Throughout my time on the maternity ward, Cassie was as supportive as ever and took her role as a birthing partner very seriously; she observed medical staff to ensure they were looking after me, she kept my partner Chris in check, and when James, my little boy, arrived she celebrated by offering her new assistant, a crinkly hedgehog called Sonic.

Navigating life with a baby

When James arrived, I couldn’t have imagined how close he and Cassie are, yet when James sees Cassie and calls “Ca Ca” I remember that Cassie has been an amazing dog-sister as well as Guide Dog.

She has guided me to playgroups, to nursery and up to the front of the church to have him christened, she has taken me across the country for his first holidays, and to meet family and friends. But she has also cuddled him when he’s cried, kissed him when he’s happy and played with him when he’s bored. She has been the best dog-sister a little boy could want, and then some.

As James grows, I know he’ll come to understand more about Cassie and her role as a guide dog, I’m sure he will see all the amazing things she does for me and the amazing teamwork that we share; but I also hope that he’ll understand just how special she is, and how she saved me.

Thank you, Cassie.

Happy Guide Dogs Day!

You can find out more about Guide Dogs from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.