Jess Katie Cassidy, HND Animal Care, Elmwood

“I decided to study Animal Care because I wanted to combine it with social care. SRUC was the only institution with that route. It wasn’t putting you in a box or specialising you. When I first started studying I never had it in my head that I was going to be a guide dog trainer.”

Jess Cassidy, working in social care following an accident that cut short her career as a tree surgeon, first looked at SRUC when she wanted to explore courses that would allow her to mix her expertise in social care with her passion for the outdoors.

The 27-year-old from Kirkcaldy, who plays piano and enjoys paddle-boarding in her spare time, undertook an HND at SRUC Elmwood without a clear idea of where she wanted to end up.

“It was a difficult course, there were just so many different aspects of it,” she said. “You could learn veterinary things and dog training was also a part of it. We had animals on the unit and I feel like the course was broader and offered more opportunities than others.”

Lecturers on the course helped her to find a direction she previously hadn’t considered, homing in on her passion for working with dogs.

“I feel as though the lecturers really knew who you were and made the effort to let me get a lot of experience with dogs. There was a genuine care for who students wanted to be. They would do anything in their power to help you get there. With most universities you are just a number - you come and then you leave. Here I didn’t feel like that at all.”

She even took the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of delivering dog-training sessions while studying.

“I held dog training classes for the NC students after a lecturer helped me set that up. They were confident of my knowledge. I stayed late on one of the days I had a class with my own dog as an assistant. She was the one that got me into training - she is a handful!”

With the end of the course came the time to plan for the future, and Jess decided she wanted to work with guide dogs, applying to be a trainer with Guide Dogs Scotland. This proved to be highly competitive, but her application was successful beating off over 100 applicants for the position.

“To be a guide dog trainer you first have to do an academy with Guide Dogs Scotland and you have to wait for a position to come up to allow you to join,” she said.

“They don’t come up very often.

“It was brought it down to 20 people for interview and after that it was an assessment day with three other people - quite difficult questions but I honestly managed. I was very lucky to get it, I took three weeks in Germany to celebrate passing!”