As he walked across the stage to collect his degree, Riley Yeomans wasn’t alone. By his side trotted loyal guide dog Yashka, who, Riley says, he owes everything to.
“Yashka is the reason I’ve come this far, everything I’ve achieved is thanks to her,” says Riley.
“She came into my life at the end of my first year of university and since then has graduated twice with me, and is currently supporting me while I study for my PhD.
“From the off, she made me feel more confident and outgoing and really transformed my university experience.
“Everyone on my course loved her, and with Yashka by my side I had more courage when it came to talking about my visual impairment.”
Riley was born with the eye conditions rod cone dystrophy and nystagmus, and has been registered blind since he was two.
But in May 2016 Riley received a phone call that changed his life. After four years on a waiting list for a guide dog, he’d finally been matched with golden retriever Yashka, who is now seven.
'Just her presence is so reassuring and empowering' – Riley Yeomans
“It was a moment I’ll never forget, learning that I was going to be a guide dog owner. I just couldn’t wait to meet Yashka and start a new chapter of my life with her by my side,” says Riley, 25.
Following intensive training by the charity Guide Dogs, Riley and Yashka qualified and their life together began.
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She was with him when he graduated with a creative writing degree from the University of Derby and earned his master’s degree in the same subject at Nottingham Trent University.
After Riley completed his master’s, he and Yashka relocated to Ipswich, Suffolk, where he is studying remotely for his PhD in creative writing with Manchester Metropolitan University.
“The me before Yashka would never have had the confidence to move somewhere new on my own. Until then I’d always lived at home with my family,” says Riley. “But with her, I feel I can do anything.
“Whether she’s guiding me on public transport, sitting at my feet in a lecture or under a table while I meet up with friends, just her presence is so reassuring and empowering. Whatever life throws at us, as long as we’re together I know we’ll be fine.”
Yashka gives Riley more than just valuable practical help. She’s also a great emotional support.
“I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression and if I’m having a bad mental health day, or struggling with my eyesight, Yashka gives me cuddles and kisses and gives me a reason to get out. All she wants in return are love, belly rubs and food.
“She is the best friend I could wish for.”
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