A specially trained assistance dog saved the life of his wheelchair-bound owner after she fell upside down into a rain swollen drainage ditch.

Cheryl Smith, 22, from Heslington in York, suffers from a neurological condition that prevents her from walking without crutches. She was exercising Orca, her 18-month-old Golden Retriever along a dirt track near her home on Sunday when her wheelchair hit a brick and toppled down a 15ft embankment.

Cheryl, a student at York University, landed at the bottom of the stream, with her wheelchairembedded in mud and unable to move her legs or summon help. Orca sensing the danger his owner was in tried to join her at the bottom of the stream.

“He kept trying to climb down the bank and I had to keep saying no,” said Cheryl. “I gave himthe command ‘get help’ and he ran off but the first person he found thought he was a stray and tried to take him home to ring the number on his collar.

Slipping his lead Orca ran back to check on Cheryl who was growing increasingly distressed before continuing in his quest to find someone to help his trapped owner.

“I kept shouting but no-one heard me, when Orca came back the first time he was covered in mud and had lost his collar, and I presumed he had been chasing rabbits or playing in the woods. It was then I stopped feeling embarrassed and started to get really worried.

“It was hailstoning and raining and I wasn’t wearing a coat so quickly began to get very cold and sleepy and knew I was starting to suffer fromhypothermia.”

Finally Orca managed to attract the attention of Peter Harrison, who was out running, by jumping up and down and running backwards and forwards to the scene.

Peter followed Orca and found Cheryl at the bottom of the stream, freezing cold and immersed in muddy rainwater. Realising she needed specialist help, Peter ran half a mile back to his home where he summoned the emergency services.

A fire crew successfully got Cheryl out of her chair, and once free she was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed as suffering with hypothermia. She was discharged later that evening.

Cheryl was full of praise for assistance dog who was provided by the charity Canine Partners: “I had only had Orca for eight weeks at the time of the accident and thought he was pretty amazing then. Now this has happened I think he is even more so!”

Orca is just one of a number of dogs trained and provided by Canine Partners, a charity which aims to transform the lives of people with disabilities by partnering them with highly trained assistance dogs, enabling them to live independently and enjoy a good quality of life.

For more information about Canine Partners visit: www.c-p-i.org.uk