Guide dogs take centre stage as couple tie knot.
Byline: Carys Lewis Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
FOUR guide dogs took centre stage at a Cardiff wedding, as a blind couple tied the knot almost two decades after they met. Bride Katie Thole said she was honoured to share the aisle with her beloved pet Niven as she wed her childhood sweetheart Paul Meeks, who was joined by his loyal aid, Upton. The couple, from Ely, who each have very limited sight and are both registered blind, first met in 1996 while studying at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. And the black Labradors weren't the only pooches to make up the bridal party. They were joined by Chelsea who assisted Nicki Cockburn, one of the couple's five bridesmaids, and Golden Retriever-cross Annie, who sat silently alongside the guests who turned out to celebrate the couple's marriage at City Hall. Kitted out in teal and ivory corsages around their collars to match the bridal party, the dogs led 34-year-old Katie, who also has albinoism, down the aisle to her groom, before watching at the feet of their owners as they exchanged vows. And declaring the couple offi- cially married, the registrar paid special tribute to the well-behaved guests, as she asked "could everybody - our two and fourfooted friends - please be upstanding for Mr and Mrs Meeks." After waiting years to marry her true love, Katie - who wore an ivory and silver embellished bridal gown teamed with shoes and accessories carefully crafted by herself - said the day couldn't have been more perfect. "We've been on and off since I was 16 and this time around we've been together for nine-and-a-half years. The ceremony was lovely, although Niven was trying to pull my hand down while Paul was trying to put the ring on. But it gave everyone a little giggle and it wouldn't have been the same without them there." The couple revealed they chose 38-year-old Paul's birthday to get hitched so that he was unable to forget their anniversary. And despite his new wife then getting so caught up in the big day build-up that she forgot his birthday, Paul - who will one day lose his sight completely - said: "I've got the best present anyway." The couple, who held their reception at Park Conservative Club on City Road, say they owe a lot to the Guide Dogs Association. Not only did it help them find their perfect canine helpers but it was also responsible for finding them four of their bridesmaids. Fellow dog owner Nicki met the couple at Guide Dog events, while Karen Henry and her daughters Megan and Jessica made the trip from Birmingham to meet the couple in person for the first time at the wedding, after building up firm friendships on online Guide Dog forums. Proud father-of-thebride Terry Thole also couldn't hide his delight for the couple. "I had a tear in my eye, I must admit," he said. "It's been a long time coming, this wedding, but it was well worth the wait. "Katie's normally a jeans kind of girl, so it's lovely to see her in her dress. She looks beautiful." And he added that while the newlyweds were the perfect match for each other, the same was also true of their dogs. "They're the best of friends with each other, but they are also Katie and Paul's best friends. The dogs are their family and it wouldn't have been a wedding without them here."