Have You Met Your Dog’s Puppywalker?

There’s lots going on round here these days, mainly lots of working and walking, but nothing specific to write about. I thought it was time for a nice feel-good post.

Patti from the brilliant
Plays With Puppies
had the opportunity that every puppywalker (puppy raiser in America) hopes for. She met her third qualified guide dog Dutch’s new owner recently. You really should read her
post
because it’s really lovely. She describes the photographs in such detail too, it’s very impressive.

When I was given the details of O.J’s puppywalkers when we qualified, I knew I definitely wanted to meet them sometime. Why would I not! When I traveled to their house 18 months later and he recognised the area, O.J was one happy dog! I can’t thank them enough for the work they put in during the first year of his life.

Have you met your dog’s puppywalkers? How did it go?

Puppywalkers, have you met dogs that you have helped to train? What was it like to see your pup working as a qualified guide dog?

My New Favourite Toy!

I detest hoovering. Of course I do it, but I hate it! I’m a bit of a perfectionist at times, so I hate missing bits. So it takes a lot longer than it would take a sighted person to try and make sure the floors are all clean. Luckily I have a PA, and use a couple of hours on a Friday to have my house cleaned well once a week, but sometimes there is a lot of hair downstairs. Dougal doesn’t shed hair, but when O.J and Orrin are together, they can sometimes shed a bit.
Anyway, I’ve found a lazy, but very helpful way of keeping the hairs away..

Last week I bought a
robot vacuum cleaner
in Aldi. I’ve wanted one of these for ages, but they always seemed like the type of gadget I couldn’t justify spending money on to be honest. This one was under half the price that I’ve seen them for sale before. I know it probably isn’t as good as other brands, because I believe you get what you pay for with things like this, but it’s got a two year guarantee so I thought it was worth a try. The hoover itself is quite small, and not very noisy which is good. It moves in a circular motion, cleaning the floor and returning to bits it missed. Apparently it returns itself to it’s charger when the battery dies, which is very impressive, but I haven’t seen it doing that yet. I’m not sure that it’s too great on carpet, but downstairs in my house is all wooden floors, and that’s where the dogs stay, so I’m not too worried about that. It doesn’t specify that it is a pet cleaning hoover like some of the other robot vacuum cleaners do, so naturally it’s not going to be as good as those. The hoover needs emptied after every use because it doesn’t hold much. Suppose doing that is a good habit to get into anyway!

As you can see, I don’t do technical reviews very well, but a robot vacuum cleaner seemed like a more lighthearted topic to write about than some of the stuff in my head these days.

What Does A St. Bernard Look Like?

This wasn’t the blog post I intended writing this week, but that one can wait. I need to write about the walk I had with the dogs yesterday.

My mum met me at my house when she finished work, so that we could walk the dogs to her house and both get a bit of a walk in the lovely weather. Spring has finally arrived! O.J was working well and happy to be out. As he usually does, he completely ignored all the dogs we passed, including a woman with a huge dog. It was on a lead, and she held it in to one side as we approached because the path was narrow. She talked to us as we came towards her, and mentioned that the dog didn’t like Bichons and that she had one herself. My mum walked Dougal quickly past, and commented on the size of the dog and that it looked lovely. She told us that it was a St. Bernard. I know what they look like, but they are one of the large breeds that I’ve never actually touched before. I was just about to enthusiastically ask her if I could pet it, (Beethoven was one of my fav films when I was small, and I was finally going to see what he looked like), when he broke free from his owner and lunged at O.J. It all happened so quick that I can hardly remember. O.J was pinned to the ground and whining, and I struggled between the two dogs to try and help him. He isn’t a fighter at all, so didn’t really try to defend himself. I’m not sure if he would have fought back a bit more if he had his harness off. My mum couldn’t help since she had Dougal, and the dog’s weight alone would have crushed him. His owner eventually managed to grab hold of him, and kept appologising as I checked O.J over to see if he was hurt. I think I was more shaken than he was. I know the dog’s owner was in shock herself, and insisted that he has never reacted like that before. It wasn’t that she was irresponsible or didn’t attempt to control him, but he was obviously too strong for her. My mum told me afterwards that he had what sounded like some type of haulty thing around his head and mouth so that he couldn’t bite. If he hadn’t have had that on, I am almost sure that O.J would not be a working guide dog today.

Thankfully O.J wasn’t too bothered by what happened, and really wanted to go walking today. I wanted to bring him and keep things as normal as possible. My plan was to go for a short walk, not as far as we were when we met the dog, but I met my aunt, the weather was lovely and we walked even further. We passed lots of dogs and O.J was absolutely fine. On the way home, my aunt spotted the dog out with two boys, and I couldn’t believe it. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been afraid of a dog coming towards me. The boys must have been told about what happened yesterday, because they quickly took it on to the beach. It looked up a couple of times as we passed, and they had to call it twice. O.J saw it too, and was obviously not comfortable. He tried to walk quickly along the path, completely not concentrating and walking us both into a bin as he passed.

I really don’t know what the story was with this dog. Was his reaction completely out of character, or was there a reason why he had this type of collar restraining him? Clearly he is too strong for his owner to handle. What’s to say he won’t do this again, to O.J or to another dog? What if someone had a child with them? What if I had have been on my own with both dogs? This dog will go for walks in the area that I walk. I’ve seen him now in two different places, and they are areas that I can’t avoid walking. And why should I? The path is so narrow at times that unless they happen to meet me near a path that leads to the beach, I can’t avoid walking past the dog. I don’t know what to do , since technically the owner did nothing really wrong. I can’t tell them where and when to walk their own dog, and I can’t question them about how much they understand their own dog’s behaviour. I also can’t be afraid every time I go for a walk on my own. O.J can’t afford to have another scare like that. Sometimes guide dogs can get a fright from another dog and are unable to work again because of the trauma. I wish people would understand this. All the people who walk their dogs without leads, and all the people who don’t teach their dog to socialise properly when it is a pup, and just expect it to know how to behave around other dogs, please wise up and take responsibility for your animals.

So after all that, I still don’t know what a St. Bernard looks like, and I’m not sure I really want to! I’m joking! I hate people assuming that all dogs of a particular breed have the same characteristics. That really annoys me.
I’ll just keep imagining playful, silly Beethoven in my head when I think of St. Bernards, and Bernard who lives up the road can add black lab/retrievers to the list of dogs he doesn’t like.

A quiet February

My definition of a quiet February probably isn’t the same as most people’s. By quiet, I mean that I haven’t gone out anywhere at weekends and haven’t spent much money. It’s exactly how I hoped January and February would be this year. Last year was so busy, and although it was brilliant, I definitely want a less busy year.

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve got some things done that kept being put off, which is always good. The CD holders that I got in Ikea were finally put up, and all the CDs are almost labeled and sorted. They are much neater now, and I have a lot more space in my office. Getting a shelf up in the kitchen has also been a great help. But in a way, the most useful thing my brother in law put up was a hook to hang the dogs leads and O J’s harness. Sounds simple, but it makes life much easier!

I had a lovely few days before and during my birthday last week. Got some lovely presents as usual, lots of cake and lovely food in my sister’s house. Apart from making soup twice in the last week, I haven’t cooked dinner in my own house which is rediculous!

O J has been doing some great work recently. The weather is improving so we’ve been getting out for lots of walks. Even with Dougal trailing behind us, he’s been so enthusiastic to work which is brilliant. In the last few days he’s been randomly getting up from his sleep and coming over to be cuddled for a few minutes, then happily going back to bed. It’s actually very funny. Sometimes I wonder if he’s having a mid-life crisis or something these days, because he has these bursts of energy that are just hollarius. He has such a funny personality and makes me laugh every day. Nicky and I went to Kilkenny at the beginning of the month, and it was O J’s first time there. Not that he cares where he is, but I’m hoping to take him to a few new places this year. I’ve been thinking a lot about the great job puppywalkers do recently for some reason, and if O J’s were interested, I’d love to take him to see them again this year. See if I write that down, then I’m more likely to do something about it! Any excuse to travel :)

Another new place O J and I went recently was to Dublin for a training day for work. We stayed in the accomodation in
Allhallows,
which reminded me of my student days in Belfast. When my colleague booked our rooms and told them that I had a guide dog, they asked if there was anything they needed to do for us. There was lots of grass outside, and O J got a bit of a run around in the morning before we left for training. The staff asked how our stay was when we were checking out, and told us that O J was the first guide dog they’d ever had staying there. My colleague found it interesting to watch O J properly at work, since he’s usually relaxing beside my desk most of the time when we’re in the office. He was fascinated at how I know when there’s a step ahead. O J will put his two front paws on the step going up, and pause slightly before walking on, and of course I can feel this through the harness. I sometimes forget that people don’t really understand how a guide dog works until they see them in action.

I got much more from the training day than I had expected. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, and I think that deciding to link up with this particular organisation for funding for the schools project was a very good idea. If we decide to apply for funding for next year and are lucky enough to get it, I have a lot to think about in the meantime. Working only two days isn’t easy since I always like to be busy, so I’m doing a lot of thinking and googling these days. Two part-time jobs might be easier to find than one full-time one.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. Not sure who cares really, but I like writing haha.
:)

A little bit of ‘banter’ at Other Voices

This is the second year that
Other Voices
has come to Derry. Basically if you like the kind of music that I do, it’s the perfect weekend. Since 2002, St. James’ church in Dingle is the venue where bands perform over three nights, which are filmed and made into a Television series called ‘other voices’. These gigs are streamed in pubs around the area, and lots of live music takes place in the town during the weekend. Around 80 people are lucky enough to make it into the venue, and tickets are given away through competitions.
Other Voices came to Derry for the city of culture last year, and returned again this weekend. Despite entering at least five competitions each year, I’ve never been lucky enough to get tickets. Last year I watched it online and didn’t go near the city, but this year I was determined to attend at least one thing. Most of my friends don’t like the same kind of music as me, and if they do, they aren’t always the most adventurous type when it comes to discovering new music. It’s not practical or sensible to go to a busy venue with O J on my own, so nighttime gigs weren’t really possible. I would have just loved to have spent the whole weekend in Derry, wandering around finding new music, but being blind makes that impossible. This isn’t meant to be a poor me post! So I’ll talk about the one thing I did have the chance to attend.

Music journalist Jim Carroll hosts an interesting event called
Banter
where he interviews a wide range of people in front of an audience. It has become part of Other Voices, and I went to The Cottage in Derry’s Craft Village yesterday to have a listen to a few of the speakers. The afternoon began with a couple of tunes and a chat from
Colm Mac Con Iomaire,
violinist, composer, and member of The Frames, who had played in the concert the previous night. He’s working on some really interesting things at the minute, and the music he’s making is beautiful. My aunt stayed to hear him and was really impressed. She left then to go shopping, and I listened to Conor Masterson talk about the making of his film
in the deep shade
which is an art documentary about the frames. I have the DVD, so it was interesting to hear the ideas and thoughts behind the film. It’s a fantastic film about how such a creative group of musicians can work together and make music. Definitely worth checking out if you like that kind of thing at all. I’m not just recommending it because they are my favourite band!
Next was a discussion with David Caffrey, one of the co-creaters of ‘love hate’. I hadn’t planned on staying for this bit, and although I didn’t watch the series, it was really interesting to hear how films and TV programmes are made. I left at four to go for food with my aunt, but there was still a couple of talks to go, which I’m sure were interesting too.

I think ‘banter’ is a great idea. It’s very relaxed and informal, and Jim Carroll really does his research and knows his guests before interviewing them. It was nice to meet him, and for anyone who is familiar with him, yes, he does talk that fast!! I had O J with me, and of course he got lots of attention. He got petted by David Caffrey and Colm Mac Con Iomaire, who came over for a chat before he played. I hadn’t spoken to him in so long, so it was nice to have the chance.

Although I only attended a small part of Other Voices, I’m glad I did, even if O J was the only one who came with me. Sometimes the thought of going somewhere on your own with a group of strangers is worse than actually doing it. I need to remind myself of that next time I’m debating whether to do something or not.

Want a laugh?

I’ve often written about the funny conversations I’ve had with children in schools and when I’m out and about with O J. I’ve worked in a couple of primary schools recently, where some very entertaining conversations took place. Here’s an idea of how they went.

Teachers spend a lot of time teaching children the rules of the road and how to stay safe, and it obviously pays off, because they are obsessed with how on earth a blind person can possibly cross a road. They sometimes seem disappointed when I tell them that it’s me, not my guide dog who decides when it’s safe to cross. How can a blind person possibly know when it’s safe, sure they can’t see?

Before handing children their names in Braille, I asked them if they knew who invented it. A boy put up his hand enthusiastically and asked,
“Was it Jesus?”
Trying to hold in the laughter I told him that it wasn’t, and then his classmate wanted to know,
“Was it God then?”
The real answer, Louis Braille seemed boring when I told them.

In a class of almost 60 children, I explained how technology helps me to do everyday things, just like they can. I told them that my phone talks, so I can make phone calls, read and send text messages and go on the internet. A small seven year old boy gasped when I said this. And by gasped, I mean this kid was in complete shock! I turned up voiceover on the phone, slowed it down so that they could understand it, and showed them how I write a text message. When I’d done this, the boy put up his hand again and said,
“You know when you said your phone talked? I thought you meant that it had a mouth!”
No wonder the poor kid was in shock, trying to imagine what a phone with a mouth would look like.

I have a talking colour detector which I often pass around the classroom to let children have a go. Basically you put it up against something, press a button and it tells you what colour it is. I explain that I might want to use it if I have two tops that are the same but different colours, or if I want to make sure I’m not wearing too odd socks. One girl was worried that the colour detector might let me down.
“If you put it on your sock and it said black. Then you put it on the other sock and it said black, but maybe another part of the sock was white, the part that the colour detector didn’t touch, you’d still be wearing two odd socks!”
I was exhausted. These kids think of everything.

We went for dinner yesterday evening for my mum’s birthday. I was trying to keep my 3 year old nephew Harry entertained on my knee, convincing him that playing hide and seek around the room really wasn’t a good idea. Firstly, I told him that it’s not allowed, and anyway, if we could play, how would I know where to find him because I don’t know my way around. He’s an intelligent kid and I love challenging him and making him think. His answers make it worthwhile.
“Oh yeah, if you had Dougal and O J with you we could play, because they would sniff and find me.”
I doubt Dougal would be much help, but I agreed. After that he asked me,
“When are you ever going to learn to see?”

The answer is never Harry, but I’m not sure I would even want too. If I could see, all these funny conversations would never happen, and I love them.

Opportunity

The
fourteenth
assistance dog blog carnival is being hosted by
l-squared.
I rarely post in these carnival type things, but the theme of “opportunity” was something I could relate to straight away, so I thought I’d write about the many opportunities that having a guide dog has given me.
Don’t forget to check out L’s blog soon to read all the blog posts.

When you think about guide dogs and how they help their owners, independence is the obvious thing that comes to mind. It’s impossible to describe the freedom that having a dog gives, unless you’ve actually had one. Many blind and visually impaired people never own a dog and manage perfectly fine with their cane. I knew from a young age that I was never going to be one of those people. I understand that I need to use it at times, but when I have to use it, I’m like a different person trying to find my way around. I walk much slower, am less confident, and the thought of moving from one place to another stresses me out. I need to point out that this is a personal weakness and definitely not the case for every cane user. Having O.J is like walking with a sighted person, since he guides me around obstacles, instead of me having to come into contact with them and find my way around them. I grew up among sighted family and friends, so this has always felt more natural. Going for walks is relaxing now, so as well as going to necessary places, O.J and I go for leisurely walks along with my pet dog, just for the enjoyment of it. Of course the exercise is another bonus.

If you are a confident person, you’ll automatically become more positive, therefore discovering and benefiting from more opportunities that come your way. I have been working since 2007, as well as doing voluntary work. It might sound strange to thank my dog for this, but I know having him with me has given me more confidence. Last week my contract in work finished, and I’ll have one or two days of work a week now if I’m lucky. I’m not too worried about it because O.J will keep me in a routine, and I know that when something new comes up, I can learn new routes and take new opportunities if I have him with me.

Owning a guide dog provides a constant opportunity to meet people on a daily basis, since everyone wants to ask questions about the dog. You’ll be tired saying the same things over and over again, but wouldn’t it be worse if people were afraid to start a conversation with you just because you are blind? I think when people see the dog, they are interested in him and overcome their shyness because they want to ask questions.
O.J has given me the opportunity to meet other guide dog owners, whether through training at the beginning, fundraising or talking online. This has led to me meeting some new friends and my boyfriend, and I know that we wouldn’t have all met if we didn’t have dogs.

Travel is another thing that I find much easier with a guide dog. Before I had O.J, I did go places, and often flew to England to visit my cousin. Now when I travel, I’m much more relaxed, and apart from bringing a few extra things for the dog and making sure the place I’m staying in has grass nearby, I don’t worry about where I’m going much. I don’t know my way around many of the places that I travel too, but people are inclined to approach me quicker and offer help when they see the dog.

I suppose if I was trying to summerise what having O.J means to me, I’d say that he gives me the opportunity to live a normal life. I hate using the word “normal”, but it’s the only one I can think of. A guide dog has given me the opportunity to live independently like my other family members and friends, and I can do lots of the same things they can do, without having to depend on them. Simple things like walking to visit people, instead of waiting for someone to come and get me, and being able to watch my nephews and take them places mean a lot to me. When I walk with O.J, it’s obvious that I am blind, and he stands out a lot. However, when he’s not with me, there are many situations where I feel much more disabled and less capable.
For me, having a guide dog provides a lot more opportunities than basic mobility and independence.

My Plans for 2014

I’ve started so many blog posts in my head since the start of the year, but this is the first that’s actually made it to the computer. Who knows, it might even get posted!

The start of 2014 has been busy, in a good way. I loved being off for Christmas, but it’s always good to get back into some sort of routine. A good routine is something I’m going to have to try and stick to from now on to stop me from going insane.
This week is the last week of my contract at work. From Monday 27th, I’ll be nearly unemployed. I’ll have work one day a week, or two if I’m very lucky until the end of the school year. Then I’ll have to find a new job, so I’ve started looking already. I need to try and keep myself in some sort of routine. I have some plans, but any suggestions from anyone who has been unemployed before would be great! Here are my plans so far:

1. Get up early. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t plan to get up before 7 like I would if I was working in Letterkenny, but I want to get up early and go to bed at a decent time. Staying up late and getting up late is a recipe for disaster!

2. Speaking of recipes, I want to cook more meals from scratch, freeze more dinners and eat better in general. I want to make dinner for my parents more often, and have my nephews over to give their parents a break. My brother in law is an amazing cook, and I’m not good enough to make him dinner yet! I’m lucky that I can use some of my PA hours to do a big food shop once a week, meaning that I can take my time, buy healthy food cheaply, and not have to run to the nearest more expensive shop every two days. I’ve been putting my new blender to good use by making lots of soup already, and I’ve started baking too.

3. Try something new. I haven’t decided what this will be yet. It could be volunteering, just something to keep me busy and allow me to learn new things. People keep asking me if I’ll go back to college. Apart from the expense of it that I just couldn’t afford, I don’t see the point of studying for the sake of it. Another degree isn’t going to guarantee me a job, so what’s the point.

4. Start surfing. Online that is, not real surfing. I’d be useless at it and I’m slightly terrified of waves! The internet will be my best friend during the next while, but I don’t want to use it just to pass the time. As well as looking for jobs locally, I’m going to look at online and freelance work. I’ve been lucky enough to get three transcribing jobs last year, and the idea that I can be working in my house for someone even in a different country is fascinating, and could open a lot of possibilities. I’m not going to be one of those people who constantly complains about not being able to find work, when the truth is that they haven’t looked past the adds in their local paper. There aren’t many job opportunities where I live, and even less if you’re blind, but I don’t want to move, so I’m going to find something and make it work.

5. Lots of walking. Going for long walks with the dogs is one of my favourite things to do, and I find it’s a brilliant way to relax and helps me to think. O.J helps me to get around independently and do the things I need to do, but I can’t take Dougal when we’re out and about. This means that he has to be walked, so we try to all go for an hour long walk a few times a week. People are used to seeing me out with both dogs around the beach, and they’ll be seeing more of us in 2014. I’m so glad that I have both dogs, and when I’m not working, they are the two things that will keep me in a routine and get me out of the house.

So that’s my plans. It’s going to be an interesting year.

Happy New Year!

I’ve been rubbish at getting time to blog this year, but I had to make sure to write a post before the end of the year. I hope anyone who still reads this has a great Christmas. I did!

Nicky came up for Christmas for the first time, and it was great to have him around. It was probably busier and noisier than the Christmasses he’s used to, but quieter than usual for us since my brother wasn’t home, and my very Christmassy cousin Leah is working in Hong Kong so two of my aunts were visiting her. I stayed in my house on Christmas eve for the first time, but I had a very excited phone call from my nephews in the morning telling me what Santa had brought them. We had dinner in my sister’s on Christmas day and boxing day, and it was great to spend the time with the boys. They make Christmas special for me.
I got some great presents, even though part of Nicky’s and one from my sister which were both bought in River Island didn’t arrive. Nicky gave me a Cool Discs voucher that I have spent in my head already! The most unexpected present that I got was from my parents, who gave Nicky and I tickets for Arcade Fire and The Pixies in Dublin in June. They never get me tickets for gigs, so it was a big surprise for me.
We spent the next few days with friends, either in their houses or on nights out with them. One of my friends got engaged which made things exciting. There was an event in Scoil Mhuire as part of the gathering, so we all spent a couple of hours in the school looking at photographs and meeting teachers I hadn’t seen in years. There was a disco on that night, and it was really good. Two nights later, our year, (the class of 2003) had our own ten year reunion, and I loved seeing people I hadn’t talked to in years. Some people’s accents have changed, which was a bit confusing for me!

This time last year Nicky and I were enjoying Darragh and Emma’s wedding in Drogheda. I’m in Carlow now, and it’s hard to believe the year is over already. That wedding seems like six months ago! Since then we were invited to seven weddings, and went to five of those. We’ve had a very busy but brilliant year. A few highlights I can think of from 2013 were:

Visiting my cousins in Scotland and finally getting a chance to visit my uncle’s grave.
Spending lots of time with the girls at weddings and hens, and having so much fun.
OJ working well, being his usual happy self, and staying healthy, apart from one time. Let’s just say he was sick enough that day to make up for three years!!
I’ve been lucky enough to have had work all year, and a chance to expand the disability training I do to an older age group. Will spend the second half of next year job hunting for definite, but I’m thankful for the work I’ve had and the great people I work with.
I loved our graduation in December, especially since it seemed like we were never going to get to Maynooth at times.
The musical highlight of the year had to be David Gray in An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny. It was probably my ideal dream gig in that theatre, so when it happened, it was so brilliant.

I hope everyone else had a great year, and that 2014 is another happy, healthy and fun year. Thanks for reading, and to the people who leave comments, thanks for all of them. I want to keep blogging until O.J retires, and the people who read it will help to motivate me to do that.
Happy new year.
Jen x

Graduation

Last Saturday, myself and eight of my classmates went to the university of Maynooth to graduate from the disability studies course that we completed in May this year. We had an early start, and were in Maynooth for less than 24 hours but it was worth the trip.
I traveled with another student, our lecturer and a personal assistant who came to help. The others traveled in a van we had borrowed which was able to accomodate a few people who had wheelchairs. O.J. came too of course, and he got lots of attention during the day.

The graduation ceremony itself was really relaxed and informal, with only my class and another group who did the same course in Dublin graduating together. This meant that we didn’t have to wait forever for lots of students to get certificates, and what was even better was that we didn’t have to go up on to a stage. The nicest part of the afternoon was when a few people had been asked to speak about their experiences on the course and what they gained from studying on it. We got some photos after, before going back to our hotel for food and drinks. It was lovely to spend the evening meeting the other students, as well as having a relaxing time with our own class, not having to discuss work or assignments. I was one of the last few people to go to bed, and we were up early next morning for breakfast and a quick tour of the university before heading home.

Organising the graduation wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever been part of, and some people would have been happy to just have it in Letterkenny where we did the course. It wouldn’t have meant as much to the students, and the fact that we could come to Maynooth and graduate properly made all the hard work and studying worthwhile. This course has changed how I think about, and interact with people with disabilities for the better, and if the diploma that’s planned for a couple of years time goes ahead, I’d definitely consider doing it.