The Scottish Mail on Sunday

The blind gun dog who blew Wills away

Prince ‘amazed’ by the canine star of grouse moors

- By Kirsten Johnson

HE is the blind gun dog who has proved he is fit for a prince.

Black Labrador Stevie was born with no eyes and his owners feared he might have to be put down.

However, two years on, the determined animal has made a name for himself as the star of the grouse moors thanks to his ‘incredible nose’.

And he received the ultimate royal seal of approval during an outing in the Highlands – when he was picked to accompany a shooting party including the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge.

Prince William was ‘amazed’ when he realised the young dog – named after blind soul singer Stevie Wonder – could not see, after watching him dart skilfully through the heather on command.

Stevie’s proud owner Charlie Thorburn, who runs training and breeding centre Mordor Gundogs, said: ‘Prince William was so impressed with Stevie’s retrieving.

‘When he found out he was blind he was amazed and intrigued – like most people, he hadn’t realised. When Stevie is working with the others, he just behaves like any other gun dog.

‘Prince William has met a few of my dogs over the years but he was particular­ly interested in Stevie. He asked lots of questions about how I trained him.’

Mr Thorburn added: ‘Stevie has accompanie­d me on a number of shoots now.

‘The first grouse he ever picked up was for the Duke of Northumber­land in August last year – he was only 15 months old at the time.

‘He has one of the best noses I have ever come across.’

Mr Thorburn, 35, one of Scotland’s most renowned trainers, has reared gun dogs for more than a decade after turning down a place at Sandhurst.

He had planned to follow the family tradition by joining the Armed Forces but had a change of heart two weeks before he was due to start at the prestigiou­s Army training college.

His father, Lt Col Robin Thorburn, was the Commanding Officer of the Royal Highland Fusiliers and his grandfathe­r, Col Douglas Thorburn, commanded the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry and was killed in action in Sicily in 1943.

Having worked with thousands of Labradors and spaniels, he knows exactly what makes a successful gun dog – and he recognised Stevie had it from an early age.

Stevie went through the same training as other dogs but hand signals were replaced with sounds. Instead of pointing in a direction, Mr Thorburn calls ‘right’ and ‘left’.

‘Smell is by far the most important sense for a dog – it’s 800 times better than a human’s,’ he said.

‘When Stevie was small he was easier to train as he wasn’t distracted by things he could see, like the other puppies. He has always trusted me completely and listens intently to my commands. He is very smart and doesn’t let his lack of eyesight hold him back. We nicknamed him “Cheeky Boy” as somehow he knows when we aren’t looking and has learned to open the front door and go down to the stream for a swim.’

Stevie is also a muchloved family pet – ‘best friend’ of Mr Thorburn, his wife Antonia and toddler son Freddie.

‘He has such a lovely nature and is part of our family,’ Mr Thorburn added.

‘The prince was very interested in Stevie’

 ??  ?? MOORS MAGICIAN: It was feared that Lab Stevie might have to be put down but instead, thanks to his abilities, he was chosen to retrieve for a royal shooting party
MOORS MAGICIAN: It was feared that Lab Stevie might have to be put down but instead, thanks to his abilities, he was chosen to retrieve for a royal shooting party
 ??  ?? STAR: Prince William was ‘amazed’ by Stevie’s prowess
STAR: Prince William was ‘amazed’ by Stevie’s prowess

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