By Becca Husselbee
A blind woman who has been helped for 14 years by a guide PONY has spent her life savings on an operation to save her equine friend’s life.
Ann Edie, 61, has been helped by tiny pony Panda since 2003 – when the pair were matched by a special guide pony trainer.
Panda, who stands at just 29 inches tall, has helped Ann live a normal life, navigating around her home town in Albany, NY.
She guides her owner up and down stairs, around barriers in the road and even retrieves items such as keys.
Ann has adapted her home to suit Panda’s needs, building a stall outside, where she sleeps at night, and training her to ring a bell when she wants to go outside.
But after the pony was diagnosed with an intestinal blockage last year, Ann has desperately been trying to save her four-legged friend.
She has undergone several rounds of emergency surgery – leaving retired Ann and her husband, Dennis, with vets bills of more than $30,000.
But now, as their savings are running out, kind-hearted strangers donated more than $10,000 towards the campaign.
Ann said: “She is so much more than just a means for letting me, as a blind person, travel smoothly and efficiently around my community. Her joy in her work and in her life always puts a smile on my face.
Having previously used guide dogs, Ann has championed the use of miniature ponies for doing the same job, and explained that as horses are herd animals they can predict where a moving object is heading and adjust.
Ann said: “I’ve found that a horse’s intelligence lends well to guide work.” and also suggested that people who may be allergic to dogs or want guide who will live longer than a dog, are more suited to a pony.
Panda was first taken ill back in March 2016 with an intestinal blockage and was rushed to hospital to undergo surgery. A mass was removed from Panda’s colon which vets said could have been fatal.
The pony spent three weeks in hospital after his emergency surgery and was away from his dedicated owner Ann, who said: “it was hard on both of us.”
Hospital staff saw the special bond between the pony and her owner and allowed Ann to sit with Panda for hours after she travelled nearly three hours to the hospital every day.
However due to Panda’s extensive treatment, vets bills have risen to a huge $30,000, meaning retired couple Ann and her husband, Dennis, who also acts as a guide, are struggling to pay the costs.
Alexandra Kurland, who trained Panda back in 2001 and is a close friend of the pair, set up the fundraising to help with Panda’s large vet bills.
Alexandra said: “The amount is unthinkable, but even more unthinkable would have been giving up and losing Panda.”
“Panda’s connection to Ann was built around her clicker training. Instead of correcting Panda if she made a mistake, she was reinforced for getting things right. That helped her to be an confident, enthusiastic puzzle solver.”
“Panda has always received nothing but praise and appreciation from Ann. That sits at the center of their bond. Panda knows she can trust Ann because she works so consistently and so well, Ann knows she can also trust Panda. That’s a great way to begin building a very special connection.”
Alexandra first met Ann when her guide dog Bailey passed away and said: “Ann was one of my riding clients. When Bailey died at the age of eleven, we decided to explore the possibility of training a mini using clicker training to be her working guide.”
Ann, who has been blind since she was born added: “I never want people to feel sorry for disabled people. We have always tried to support ourselves and contribute to society.”
“The support of others through the fundraising page has been great, as we are both retired it would have taken us a long time to try and pay the bills for Panda’s treatment.”
“Being able to have Panda home was worth every penny.”
Ann, who has previous used guide dogs, said that Panda was just as good as any dog and as soon as she felt better she wanted to get straight back to work.
“People are fascinated by what she can do and she never forgets anything she learnt. She even picks things up herself.”
The little pony, who has assisted Ann for nearly 14 years, can now go for small walk but is eager to get back to work.
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