Canterbury welcomed a very unusual member of the congregation on Saturday to a special Thanksgiving Service held at the Cathedral.
Nia is an 18 week old Labrador, who dreams of one day becoming a Guide Dog. She has been specially bred for the role by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.
She is the latest in a line of puppies cared for and trained by Whitstable couple Robin Evans and Sue Pollendine. Volunteer puppy walkers, such as Sue and Robin, provide the full-time care and education of a puppy from six weeks of age until they are between 12 and 14 months old. The puppies then return to Guide Dogs to begin formal training.
The service on Saturday was to celebrate the 300th Anniversary of the Founding of the first Freemasons’ Grand Lodge in London. The service was attended by HRH The Duke of Kent, who is the Leader of Freemasonry in England and Wales and Patron of the Canterbury Cathedral Trust.
Robin, as a member of a local Lodge, decided to take Nia along for the experience.
“In her working life” explained Robin, “Nia will have to be comfortable in crowded situations and be able to cope with loud and unexpected noises”.
The service on Saturday certainly provided that. Over 1500 Freemasons and their families from across Kent Surrey and Sussex packed the Cathedral. The Service was conducted by the Dean of Canterbury, The Very Reverend Dr Robert Willis. He paid tribute to the long association between the Cathedral and Freemasonry which extends back well over 100 years.
The hour long service featured not just the mighty Cathedral Organ, but a trumpet fanfare and the Cathedral Choir. Happily Nia, wearing her distinctive Blue Coat, seemed unaffected by it all preferring instead to play with her plastic bone!
“Experiences such as this”, added Robin, “are invaluable in helping to develop a calm, relaxed dog that a person with visual impairment can rely on implicitly”.
Nia’s immaculate behaviour certainly won over the hearts of many of those attending, and she thoroughly enjoyed all the attention she got afterwards.
Canterbury Cathedral is currently undergoing the largest restoration project in its history. The interior and exterior are covered in scaffolding to allow the ancient building to be restored as close to its original condition as possible. A donation of £300,000 from the Freemasons of Kent, Surrey and Sussex has funded repairs to the North West Transept Tower including new Pinnacles and a spiral stone staircase. In addition, Freemasons continue to provide Bursaries to support the training of Apprentice Stonemasons in the Cathedral’s restoration department.
Nia will hopefully return one day to guide her new owner round the Cathedral.
Until then there is always that bone!