A besotted blind couple told today how they found love and got engaged – when their GUIDE DOGS became an item.
Claire Johnson, 50, first fell for Mark Gaffey, 52, when her pooch Venice got friendly with fellow guide dog Rodd at Guide Dog Training classes.
The two dogs – both aged three – became inseparable and soon their owners, who are both registered blind, soon realised they were head over heels for each other too.
After an 11-month whirlwind romance, the couple, from Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs., got engaged and will tie the knot next March – with their dogs acting as ring-bearers.
Mark, who was blind from birth, first met Claire when she took her dog Venice to a two-week Guide Dog Training course in Shrewsbury, Shrops., last March.
He said: “During the training our two dogs, Rodd and Venice, seemed to know something we didn’t.
“They were always playing together and nuzzling up together.
“The trainers said that they were the love and romance of the course, and they brought us together.
“We could have easily missed one another by a week because it was a residential course and we just happened to be put on the same one.
“It’s ironic we met there because we discovered that we only lived a mile-and-a-half away from each other but had never met.
“We were purely in the right place at the right time.
“I have never believed in fate, but it does seem like it was meant to be.
“Each time me and Claire met for lunch the time we spent chatting got longer and the waitresses were tapping their fingers waiting for us to leave.
“There was a connection from the word go.
“We chatted about anything and everything.
“I trusted in the luck I didn’t seem to know existed.
“Now we joke that with every guide dog you get a free fiance. I love Claire’s personality and her laugh is infectious.
“We’ve never had an argument, we just seem to click.”
The couple’s love-story was featured in the ITV show ‘Me and My Guide Dog’ broadcast on Wednesday night.
Claire, who lost her sight due to diabetes when she was 24, yesterday told how she made the first move when she invited Mark for coffee at the end of the two-week residential course.
She said: “We connected straight away. I remember Mark texting me saying ‘If you’d let me I could make your world a lot happier’.
“It was a lovely surprise when he proposed the first time on Valentines’ Day, but I got proposed to four times that day because he kept going down on one knee.
“I suppose I can never say I will forget the day I got engaged.
“And it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for our dogs.
“Rodd and Venice sleep in the same bed and are as much a couple as me and Mark.
“They will be walking us down the aisle and be ring bearers. This wedding is down to them.”
Claire and Mark will get married at Barlaston’s Upper House hotel in March next year.