Jenny Pape and Kashmir - Adult guide dogs service

From tragedy to triumph.

Jenny and Kashmir - the partnership that just keeps giving.

Jenny Pape and KashmirTo see Jenny Pape and her guide dog Kashmir moving quickly and confidently through the busy suburban streets around their home near Wokingham, Berkshire, you’d be hard pushed to imagine the sequence of events that brought them together.

It takes a very special kind of person to turn the grief of the sudden and tragic death of a loved one into a unique life changing tribute to that person, but that’s exactly what Sue Ratcliffe did when her husband, Gary, was killed by a hit and run driver when cycling.

The money she raised in Gary’s memory paid for the breeding and training of Kashmir – the Labrador/Retriever cross guide dog that has totally transformed the life of Jenny Pape.

“Before I got Kashmir my world was tiny.” Jenny continues: “As my sight got worse I went out less and less as my confidence sunk lower and lower. Before my sight loss became an issue I was always busy. I was a ‘serial volunteer’. I was a school governor involved with the PTA and, enjoyed working with the local authority to establish a community association in Lower Earley.

“Then all of a sudden at the age of 50 my eyesight really began to diminish and I had to surrender my driving licence and my world shrank to just a few short walks around my home. I thought my life was over and unsurprisingly I became very depressed; I was in a pretty bad place for quite a long time.”

Jenny’s sight loss was caused by multi-systemic sarcoidosis - an auto-immune inflammatory condition which can affect any organ, including the eyes, where it manifests itself as uveitis - an inflammation of the middle layers of the eye - and secondary glaucoma. She has undergone numerous eye operations too; all of which means she now has 20 per cent vision in her right eye and just 5 per cent in her left.

Jenny’s journey to independent mobility was slow to get started as she explains: “My depression robbed me of all my confidence and I struggled to learn any long cane skills as a result. However, I was lucky enough to meet the first of two remarkable women who turned my life around. A friend of my husband put me in touch with Margaret Reeves, who’s the same age as me and who had been living with retinitis pigmentosa for many years.

“She patiently helped to build my confidence back up and made me realise that I wasn’t the only person of my age that had to face up to the challenges of sight loss.

“In 2010 I felt strong enough to take on the challenge of applying for a guide dog. At first the thought of training was intimidating and made me anxious, however when I got to the hotel in Northampton where we were based, I found I was with two other ladies: One was a beginner like me and the other person was an existing GDO who was re-training – which was the perfect balance for me.

“I thought training would just enable me to do a few basic routes around my home. I got a shock when I realised just how hard the training would push me towards being much, much more independent than I had ever imagined. And because of that I totally embraced everything I was taught and did it ‘by the book’; after all Guide Dogs had been doing it a lot longer than I had.

Jenny sums up the difference Guide Dogs and Kashmir have made to her life: “I now have total faith in Kashmir and feel more comfortable with her as my guide rather than another human. She’s never guided me into a ditch unlike a certain member of my family who did so while he was busy talking!

 “Before Guide Dogs I wasn’t living at all - I was merely existing. Thanks to Guide Dogs and Sue Ratcliffe’s commitment to fundraising for the charity my life has taken off all over again. What a wonderfully positive legacy from such tragic circumstances!”

To find out how you can get involved, or if you’d like to know more about our services, call 0345 1430224 or email the Reading Team.