My Guide Dog Tail

I was recently asked to write an article for a publication run by a branch member of a fundraising group with Guide Dogs and below is what I wrote. The article is in print now so if you get Puppy Tails, go ahead and check it out. Some cute pictures of my dogs and unfortunately me to. 🙂

My Guide Dog Journey

I got my first guide dog when I was 22 years old but my guide dog tale begins before then.

During my sight loss when I was six and a half, my parents and I were in cambridge at the eye hospital and my dad showed me a life sized statue of a guide dog. I asked what the thing on its back was for and my dad told me that it was a very special kind of dog and dutifully I asked why? He explained that it helped people who couldn’t see to get around and I smiled brightly and said: “Don’t worry daddy, if i never get to see again at least I can have a dog to help me”.

Little did I know then with the tenderness of childhood how true those words would stand.

I got around as best I needed with a cane and sighted guide during my teens and young adulthood. I attended university and also did an exchange to California when i was 19 but I always felt so isolated and restricted; constantly depending on others to help me from A to B.

I decided when I was 21, it was time to apply for a dog and gain more independence.

I applied in the December of 2004 and went through my assessments the following February and March. January 2006 I got a phone call with a potential match.

I walked with a little female labrador who was very good but not for me and the next week did my matching walk with a huge, cross labrador golden retriever male who bounced into our house and hearts.

A matching walk gives both the instructor and potential handler an idea how the pair may work. They look at speed, following ability with the dog and several other aspects. This is all theoretic until that walk and just because it works on paper doesn’t mean it will in practice.

I began training with my Bailey that February at the hotel. He was steady and such a good boy. I knew he would change my life but didn’t really comprehend how much.

Once I got Bailey, I’d go many places by myself. I’d attend doctor and hospital appointments on my own, , I’d visit the shops and travel into Manchester to meet friends. Before Bailey arrived, I’d never dream of doing such things without the certainty someone would be meeting me at the other end.

Asking for help became easier and my confidence in myself and my abilities soared with him by my side. People seem to be more willing to ask if you need help with a dog and you generally become more approachable than if you’re just using a cane.

Since having Bailey, I’ve travelled to London, given presentations for the RNIB, [royal national institute for blind people], spectated at the Paralympics, started my life long dream of horse riding and socialised much more.

Bailey started slowing down last year though and suddenly was backing off crowds and not being his old confident self like he once was and so I and an instructor made the decision to retire my old boy. He’d been a faithful companion and my family and I decided to keep him as our beloved pet.

I had been reassessed and put back on the list before Bailey retired as we thought he was showing signs of doing so. He hung up his harness on 22ND August 2013 and I patiently waited for dog number two.

I noticed immediately every post, shop display, A-board and other obstacles when using the cane. I was slower and although I still had to travel places, I felt more anxious without four paws at my side.

You have to live your life, even without a dog but I found it so much less pleasurable and much more frustrating and nerve racking that it makes it harder to want to go out. I’d returned to the days of being sight guided in shops by my mum, I’d travel but where possible with friends would grab an arm instead of persevering with my cane. I wasn’t as dependent on people as before but I definitely felt I was missing something.

On 7TH January a guide dog mobility instructor who is the person who trains the dogs just before and during the partnership process called to say she thought she may have a dog for me. She brought him out the next day and he was not what I expected. I had had a big boy previously and this little lab was completely removed from what I thought I wanted.

I walked with him and was pleasantly surprised. He works like a bigger dog than he is and I really enjoyed the first walk with him.

I agreed to train and we started our training together during the last week of January this year.

Bertie and I qualified on 18TH February 2014 and I hope I have many years with this beautiful little boy ahead. He is completely different from my first dog both physically, how he works and personality wise. He’s playful and loves attention. He has enabled me to be out and about again doing all the things I love and enjoy. I’ve started fundraising again with Guide Dogs and have felt more confident in my new role as a campaign coordinator with RNIB. I’m doing things now that a year ago I wouldn’t believed I would be. I’m excited where life is taking us and although it is so very new it is exciting and he’s growing into a fabulous little guide.

I think some people on the outside think Guide Dogs’ motto, change a life is a cliche, but it is not. I’m so thankful to everyone who fundraises, volunteers, puppy walks, boards, and trains these amazing dogs, just so I can be out with confidence and faith with my clever boy at my side.

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