Blind hospital worker's faithful assistance dog retires aged 11

Jill Southgate

Jill Southgate and her assistance dog Yazmin, who is set to retire - Credit: QEH

Assistance dog Yazmin, who belongs to a medical secretary at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn, is retiring at the age of 11 following nine years of service.

Yazmin will enjoy her retirement at home with Jill Southgate’s husband, who is also retired, while Mrs Southgate welcomes a new assistance dog in the New Year.

Mrs Southgate has worked at QEH since 1981 and said Yazmin had "made such a difference" to her life, giving her confidence and safety over the years, and that they had a special relationship.

Mrs Southgate, who is blind, initially worked with an electronic typewriter but now uses a computer with a voice synthesiser called JAWS, provided by the NHS to carry out her work.

Mrs Southgate is an advocate for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and gives regular talks in schools and in the local community. She has also worked closely with the hospital trust to raise awareness and empower staff to take action and work inclusively with colleagues and patients assisted by guide dogs.


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Training for guide dogs usually takes around 14 months, during which time they learn the basics, which include walking, recall and navigating public spaces and transport. They then take a further three months at an advanced training centre before finding a suitable match built on the lifestyle and mobility needs of the owner. A five-week programme then ensures a match is right.

Mrs Southgate said: “It can take around six months to build complete trust with a new assistance dog.”

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The usual retirement age for assistance dogs is 10, but with training restricted by COVID-19, Mrs Southgate won’t be matched with her new dog until February. Yazmin has loyally continued her duty into her eleventh year and after her retirement in December, Mrs Southgate will use a white cane to aid her mobility until she is matched with her new dog.

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