19 Aug Nikolai Liakhoff
This year will be Guide Dogs‘ 85th anniversary! To celebrate, Tomfoolery will be working alongside Guide Dogs Liverpool to bring an animation chronicling those 85 years. We’re really looking forward to getting to teach people about the Guide Dog’s incredible history, but there’s too many amazing events and incredible individuals in those 85 years. One person who wont get much screen time but really deserves some is this chap: Nikolai Liakhoff. Look at this man!
World War I
Nikolai was a Russian and wore a tie and leather jacket without a second thought. He became the first full time trainer for the Guide Dogs in 1933, but, before coming to England, he fought in WW1 as a Cossack in the Imperial Russian Guard. At one point he had his horse shot from under him and landed on his knees, shattering both his kneecaps. After the war he evacuated to Constantinople where he met his future wife, the princess Irena Ourousoff, who was working for the British Government and nursing wounded soldiers. He’s basically lived in the most perfect romance novel.
After they married, the couple settled in Paris where Nikolai worked as a taxi driver. However, he contracted lung problems and relocated to Switzerland with Irena, and soon became acquainted with Dorothy Eustis. Dorothy was a trainer of dogs for the blind and had a school set up to train the dogs. She offered Nikolai a job as a trainee instructor at her school in 1932.
Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
Dorothy had also been instrumental in the beginnings of England’s first guide dog training school which was based in Wallasey. In 1933 Dorothy suggested that Nikolai should become a trainer at the English school. Although he had an offer to train dogs in the United States, he took the job in England due to the fact that it had monarchy.
Nikolai and Irena arrive in England in October 1933 with his young daughter Tatiana. Although at this point he only had 18 months of experience training guide dogs, he was a gifted teacher and thought very highly of.
“We are all impressed by captain Liakhoff. He is the right man in the right place, a great trainer, capable in all dealings and all like him.” I couldn’t find an attribution for that quote, so it is possible he wrote it about himself.
Adamant that he would retain his strong accent he had a habit of purposefully mispronouncing the name of the school’s gardener, Primley. Although they trained three times a day, when he passed the gardener Nikolai would greet him; “Good morning, Mr PLIMLEY!”
He strongly campaigned for better training for guide dogs and the blind, began puppy walking schemes, and called for home visits to assess dogs who had completed their training. In his time, Nikolai’s work didn’t attract much attention, but his achievements were essential in creating the Guide Dogs Association as it exists today.