It reads like a romantic comedy. The scene is set: bluebirds flit in and out of frame, chirping. The sky is a deep cerulean with lazy, white wisps of clouds. Venice and Rodd bump into each other. Dim the lights. Raise the swell of romantic music in the background. Zoom in close on their faces — their gleeful, manicured, furry faces enraptured in love.
Venice and Rodd are the seeing-eye dogs of Claire Johnson and Mark Gaffey, respectively. Venice and Rodd’s meet-cute was in 2012 at a two-week intensive residential training course in Shrewsbury, England, that their partially sighted owners attended to secure them as seeing-eye dogs.
They spent their days playing around and chasing after each other, quickly becoming the most evidently happy bundle of puppy love on the course.
“It was always Rodd and Venice,” Claire said in an episode of Me and My Guide Dog. “She’d see Rodd and she would pull to go towards him and he would pull to go towards her. The trainers did say, ‘Oh, it’s the love story of the course!'”
Since Venice and Rodd got along so well, Claire and Mark decided to swap numbers. From there, they approached the relationship tentatively, both knowing the exhaustion of dating somebody. At first, they began as friendly acquaintances. Then they learned that they were both residents of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, and that they lived only 1.5 miles away from each other without even realizing it.
Friendship led to them meeting up for coffee to discuss their progress with training the dogs. Eventually, they began navigating lunches with Venice and Rodd in tow, talking so long that hours melted away without them even noticing it.
“The lunches started off at about an hour, and then I think our longest lunch was 3 hours 40 minutes,” Claire told Today. “In fact, we nearly got chucked out of the bar!”
One day, after all the buildup of friendship and laughter and lingering lunchtime conversations, Claire and Mark finally decided to go on a proper outing to an Indian restaurant without the dogs. But before they met up, Mark decided to make a pivotal decision, sending Claire a text message reading, “If you’d let me, I could make your world a whole lot happier.”
Venice and Rodd never lost their spark, and neither did Claire and Mark.
On Valentine’s Day, they went back to the Indian restaurant. The momentous new step in their relationship was captured by cameras for the show Me and My Guide Dog.
Surrounded by red heart-shaped balloons, Mark reached across the table and held Claire’s hand in his own. In his other, he held a diamond ring.
“Claire, my sweetheart, my darling,” Mark said.
“What?” Claire asked.
“Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
Claire tearfully agreed, but on one condition she said: “Don’t ever change.”
Claire and Mark were married in 2014 in Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent. According to the Mirror, their dogs, who played such a pivotal role in their blossoming romance, also played an equally important role in their wedding. As the ring bearers, they trotted down the aisle together with flowers tucked into their harnesses.
“It’s going to be as much their day as it is ours,” Mark told Today. “They’re central to the whole thing because, at the end of the day, they brought us together.”