Milly Elliott now attends college, socialises with friends in town, and trains at the gym, all thanks to her guide dog, Libby. Joanne Bednall finds out more about this special partnership.
Libby the Golden Retriever is much, much more than a guide dog to teenager Milly Elliott. She is her “best friend”.
In fact, 18-year-old Milly says she loved Libby right from the moment they first met three years ago at the Guide Dogs National Centre, near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire.
Then aged just 15, Milly, who suffers from a genetic condition that causes her eyesight to gradually deteriorate, was one of the youngest people in the country to be partnered with a guide dog.
Although Libby was the first dog Milly was paired with, she knew immediately that the Golden Retriever was ‘the one’.
“Libby wasn’t shy at all and came straight up to us,” recalled Milly, who’s from near Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, in South Wales.
“She struck me as being very happy, active, and curious — in fact, she’s the dog version of me as we have very similar personalities!”
Libby is the life and soul of the party when off duty.
After being matched, Milly says their training went really well and their bond has strengthened and deepened further over time. But she admits it wasn’t always plain sailing initially.
“At first, I loved the idea of getting a guide dog and was so excited, but I soon realised what a big responsibility it was — a bit like having a child,” continued Milly, whose supportive, dog-loving family has previously owned a Golden Retriever and Rottweiler X Dobermann, while one-year-old Bichon Frise X Corgi, Charlie, is their most recent addition.
The benefits of having a guide dog were instant for Milly, whose condition is unpredictable and further complicated by cataracts, a bleed in one eye, and night blindness.
“Libby made such a massive difference to me at school,” she said. “Before, I had to use a white cane to get around, which I found quite difficult and didn’t like — it was nowhere near as fashionable as a Golden Retriever!
“It was a big, busy school and Libby gave me the confidence to get around more easily.
“Before, I was a bit of a loner but after I had Libby, I made new friends and soon had more people to hang out with.”
As well as boosting Milly’s confidence and social life, Libby has helped the student develop her independence.
“My family used to worry about me if I ever travelled anywhere by myself,” continued Milly, who was diagnosed aged eight. Doctors initially feared she would only have another six months of vision, but today there’s still some central vision remaining in her left eye.
“Now my mum can relax when I venture out on my own, knowing Libby is right there by my side.”
Milly loves being independent and says having a guide dog means she can travel more, often venturing as far as Cardiff and even Birmingham to meet friends.
“Without Libby, I would be petrified,” continued Milly, who admits to suffering bouts of anxiety. “She gives me reassurance if I get lost, as it helps to have something familiar with me.”
But probably the biggest difference Libby has made to Milly’s life is enabling her to work towards her ambition of becoming a sports physiotherapist and, ultimately, fulfilling her dream of competing at the Paralympics.
Read the rest of the feature in the February 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.
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