THEY are often referred to as man’s best friend – loving companions capable of demonstrating astonishing loyalty and cheering us up in times of need. And now one heroic dog has bagged a top award after lifting her owner from a “deep pit of depression” and transforming her life.
Monica McGill and her faithful chum Waffle have been given the prestigious Guide Dog of the Year Life Changing gong at a glitzy ceremony in London.
The annual awards – hosted by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – celebrate the life-changing effect the animals can have on those with disabilities, as well as raising thousands of pounds to go towards training up more pups to take on the crucial role.
Monica was matched with the four-year-old Labrador retriever cross after she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa – an incurable eye condition that decimated her sight – just before Christmas in 2008.
The 46-year-old, who works as a research co-ordinator at the Western General Hospital, was only made aware of the disease when she attended a routine eye check-up, and says the devastating news left her battling depression and panic attacks.
The loss of her sight left her so paralysed with fear she even admits she used to sit at work hungry or in need of the toilet because she was too scared to move out of her office.
Monica, from Linlithgow, said: “It was a big shock and I lost a lot of confidence. I just thought, ‘this is terrifying’. I honestly got to the stage where I didn’t want to leave the house.
“I was scared the whole time – scared of leaving the house, of going to work, of moving around at my workplace.
“I was getting more and more isolated and depressed, and it was when I was thinking about how I could solve my problems and get my life back that I contacted Guide Dogs.”
After a year-long search for the right dog to suit her needs – and an application process that involved matching pet and owner based on a range of factors, including personalties and walking speeds – Monica was introduced to Waffle.
“The moment I had that harness in my hand, I thought ‘this is the thing I have been looking for’,” she said. “I had that initial boost of freedom and independence. Without even knowing it, I was a dog person.
“I was very fortunate that I bonded very quickly with Waffle – but she was a little bit more reserved. I’m very lucky. And I would say my bond with her over the last couple of years has got stronger and stronger.”
Now the pair are inseparable, with Waffle even lying patiently beside Monica’s desk while she works.
Monica said: “I can’t imagine life without Waffle. I’m back to my usual, confident self. Waffle has enabled me to keep working – and to keep working full-time.”
Richard Leaman, Guide Dogs chief executive, said: “Every moment of the day Guide Dogs is helping people like Monica get to where they want to be in life and the awards evening is a truly inspiring occasion which reminds us of how life changing our work is.”