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Originally published Monday, January 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Miniature horse a big help to woman needing a guide

Bethlehem, N. Y. -- Panda is everything you would want in a pet and guide animal for the blind. She's protective, alert and house-trained...

BETHLEHEM, N.Y. -- Panda is everything you would want in a pet and guide animal for the blind. She's protective, alert and house-trained -- and she loves to play fetch. And at 29 inches tall and 120 pounds, she's a darn small horse.

Panda, named for her black-and-white coat, is a miniature horse that has helped Ann Edie navigate city streets and country lanes since 2003.

"Panda loves her work," said Edie, 58, a special-education teacher. "She knows what she's supposed to do. When I pick up the harness, I get the feeling from her of, 'I'm ready for anything. Let's go have fun.' "

When Edie's chocolate Labrador helper, Bailey, died after 10 years on the job, she tried out two other dogs before learning about guide horses in 2000. Edie, who owns other horses, found Panda at the Guide Horse Foundation in Kitrell, N.C.

Although she appreciates the attributes that dogs bring to guide work, Edie said she is sold on the mini-horses. Because they are herd animals, they can predict where a moving object is heading and help adjust, she said.

"I've found that horse intelligence lends itself well to guide work," she said.

At home, where she's not needed to work, Panda snuggles, naps on a carpet or plays with toys.

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