I Believe I Can Fly!

Well I know I can, because last month I did, and here’s the video to prove it!

Donegal CIL had our AGM yesterday. It was our first one in our new premises, so there was a lovely positive vibe around the place. We finished up the afternoon by launching our new video and showing it to our members for the first time before it went online.

We raised é1,350 for DCIL from the flight, which I was very surprised by and of course very grateful for. Along with that, and even more importantly, we raised lots of awareness in our local community and beyond about the work that we do to empower people with disabilities and help them to live more independently. We’ve done this in a fun and exciting way, and ended up with a video that people will hopefully enjoy.

Would You Trust a Blind Pilot?

Last Tuesday I had the amazing opportunity to fly a duel-controlled plane in Newtownards airfield, just outside Belfast. It was, without a doubt one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.

As part of disability pride, an organisation called
Aerobility
brought an accessible plane to Northern Ireland for the week. This gave people with disabilities an opportunity to have a flying lesson with a qualified instructor. I received an email and passed it on to my manager in work, never even considering it myself. She persuaded me to take the opportunity. A work colleague would bring me there, and we could use the opportunity to raise awareness and money through sponsorship for our organisation. At first I wasn’t convinced that this was a good idea, but the thought of a blind person flying a plane is so random that it’s proving to be a great success.

Before anyone gets worried, I left O.J safely at home when I went to fly last Tuesday. My PA took him for a long walk, and he was oblivious to what I was up to. My colleague Shane and I traveled to Newtownards, and to say I was nervous would be an understatement! We had to wait almost three hours before we could fly because the weather was misty. While we were waiting, Michael showed me around the aircraft, which was fascinating. I had a chance to touch everything, even learning how to check the fuel, and going under the plane to feel the wheels. This made me feel much more relaxed, and when it was time to take off, I was so excited!

James the flying instructor was very enthusiastic and explained everything throughout the whole flight. We had to wear a headset with a microphone because the noise of the plane was so loud. He took off, and we flew to 2,500ft, where he let me fly myself. He gave instructions which I carefully followed. I could feel every movement the plane made as I steered it. Making it go up and down was particularly good. My ears popped, and I got that butterfly feeling in my tummy. We flew for about 45 minutes altogether. It went so fast, I would have wanted it to last longer. The landing was surprisingly very smooth. Much better than when you land in Derry airport in an even bigger plane.

One of the best parts of the flight was that we were allowed to film it. Shane filmed out the window on his mobile, and he also brought a tiny Go Pro camera which he stuck on the front window beside the pilot. There are lots of photographs on the
Donegal CIL facebook page
and a video will be put up there soon. I have all the footage on my computer, which is nice to be able to look back on.

It’s not every day you get an opportunity to do something adventurous like fly a plane. Even though I was unsure at first, I’m glad I did it, and really appreciate the opportunity. Aerobility are hoping to return to Northern Ireland next year. Their staff are amazing and so professional.
The whole experience hasn’t put me off flying at all. It’s given me a better understanding of how the whole thing works, and a better idea of what a plane looks like. Funny enough, I’m actually flying to Portugal tomorrow. Well I’m not flying this time!

Our Weekend in Cork

I went to Cork on Friday to attend the service dogs of Ireland seminar I mentioned in my previous post. O.J had a play on the beach, followed by a walk on Thursday, so he was looking good for the weekend. He was the only guide dog at the event, and behaved very maturely, making me very proud!

When I arrived at the Corin Centre in Fermoy, Andrew who organised the event was the first person I met. He put a lot of time and effort into this event, and should be happy with what he had achieved. There was a good crowd, and four of the five charities were very well represented. Irish guide dogs had three members of staff, but since no guide dog owners were informed about the event by the charity, there were none there except me. This was quite disappointing, but I’m glad I came, and I enjoyed spending the day with their staff, who were very helpful.

Each of the five service dogs charities gave interesting presentations. I particularly enjoyed Dogs for the Disabled, who used a dog to demonstrate how a person using a wheelchair can be assisted by a dog. The dog helped to pull off her gloves, pull off socks, and most impressively, pick up a bottle she dropped and put it in the bin. Assistance dog owners spoke of the lifechanging difference having a dog has made to their children with autism and their families. This story is so touching, no matter how many times you hear it. We had discussions about access issues and legislation among other things. The president of the Irish Kennel Club gave an interesting talk in which he promised financial aid if the five organisations decide to come together and form an umbrella service dogs group. So many topics were discussed, its hard to remember them all. With Andrew’s permission I recorded the event, and I’m hoping to transcribe some of the information in the next few weeks, just for future reference encase anybody wants it.

Apart from the talks, I really enjoyed meeting lots of friendly people and lots of gorgeous dogs. I was lucky enough to be sitting in front of a Newfoundland who was a therapy dog. Needless to say, I just wanted to keep petting him all the time. Probably luckily for his owner I moved seats after lunch, and ended up sitting behind Thorp, a Newfy x Retriever who was also beautiful. I loved getting to pet lots of labradoodles and golden doodles, since I am interested in knowing more about these breeds. The highlight of all the people and dogs was meeting Clive, Murray and Fiona. I’ve been reading
Clive’s blog
since Murray was nine years old and now he’s sixteen. It was lovely to finally meet them. Clive is taller than I’d expected, and I think Murray is too! I wish I could have talked to him more, but the room was noisy and busy with lots of dogs. I got a photo taken with them both which was really nice. Fiona was great, introducing me to all the doodles and describing them for me. Hopefully someday we’ll meet again and get a proper chat.

I traveled to Cork with my aunt, and we stayed with her son who lives there. We had a lovely weekend relaxing, going for walks and spending time with their children. O.J and I were spoiled there, I think we could have easily stayed a bit longer!

Service Dogs of Ireland Seminar

Ireland’s very first seminar for service dogs takes place in Fermoy in Cork on Saturday 13th September. The seminar is organised by Andrew Geary, who’s five year-old son is being trained with a hearing dog. Andrew says:
“I discovered there are a number of charities operating in this field in Ireland, all of which are self funded through the work of volunteers. Through our connection with Irish Dogs for the Disabled we have become involved in various fund raising events. Through these events we have met others who are involved with other Canine Charities. All, bar one, are self funded through the dedicated work of their volunteers. The only state funded group being the well known Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, which gets approximately 15% of its budget from state support. I am a committed volunteer all my life and believe Community Spirit is what makes this country work, however in this case as in other spheres the volunteer can only do so much. The Charities concerned in this Seminar are listed alphabetically as:-
1. Autism Assistance Dogs of Ireland
2. Irish Dogs for the Disabled.
3. Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind which also runs an Assistance Dog Programme.
4. Irish Therapy Dogs
5. My Canine Companion
From my voluntary work in this field I saw a need for more information, education, networking and interaction throughout this sector and therefore took this project upon myself to organise.”

“Through a number of speakers, demonstrations, workshops, discussions, surveys and educational material, the seminar will bring hundreds of people together.

Seminar Goals
1. Endeavour to seek state funding for guide/assistance/therapy/service dogs across disabilities.
2. Raise the profile of Assistance, Therapy & Service Dogs nationally.
3. Cut waiting lists and make the dogs more available.
4. Reduce duplication of services in the sector.
5. Look at Accreditation of the Sector and models of same.
6. Through networking get best practice for charities, families and trainers.
7. The event would grow as in other countries such as Canada, UK, and USA etc.
8. Showcase the world of Disabilities through positive media exposure.
9. Encourage future study in the area through the results of the surveys and workshops.
10. Look for more legislation in the area of disability and dogs.
11. Raise awareness of Dog needs, respite, retirement etc.
12. Highlight rogue operators. This has become a major problem in this country.”

You can find out more information about the event, and hopefully feedback about the day afterwards on the
facebook page.

I think this is a fantastic idea, which will help to highlight some very important issues facing service dog owners in Ireland. In the little amount of media coverage I’ve seen about this event, it was disappointing to learn how far behind Ireland is compared to other countries in regard to the use of assistance dogs, therapy dogs and dogs for medical purposes. Hopefully this seminar will be the first of many opportunities for us as a country to expand how we use dogs to help people in the future. Dogs are amazing, and can be used to do amazing things. I think we just need to learn how to get the best out of them.

We’ve Moved!

Don’t worry, I haven’t moved house already.
Our office has moved into our new premises in Ballymacool in Letterkenny!
After renting office space for around thirteen years, DCIL finally moved into the purpose-built house they bought and renovated. It’s got lots more space, it’s own separate training room that can be rented out, and lots of lovely ground outside. It’s a bit out of town which means at the minute I have to depend on people to bring me there, but we would have never got a building as good in town, so it’s worth the compromise.

I went to the building twice last week with O.J, just to have a look around and become more familiar with the layout before I had to start working in it. It’s a lot more open-planned and noisy in the main reception area, but somebody (without even realising it) was being very helpful when they put my computer on the desk beside the radio so it’s easy to find straight away.
Today was our first full day working in the office and it was really nice. I put O.J’s bed close to the main door where it’s a bit cooler. He’s not right beside my desk, but not far away, and he has more space. Luckily for him, he can look around him, and gets petted by most people as soon as they come in the door. I got my first school today too, even though I haven’t even contacted schools about this year’s project yet. That was a nice surprise!
The new building has a really nice feeling to it, and we’re hoping that the move will help to raise the profile of our organisation and the work we do.

I did my bit for awareness of disability related issues last Friday. I went to the Highland Radio studio and had a chat with Greg Hughes, who was filling in on the Shaun Doherty show. The interview was organised in response to a lengthy discussion about dogs not being kept on leads, which took place the day before. I began talking about that, and ended up talking about lots of different things, including getting in a quick plug about my work and our big move. O.J lay quietly in the studio, and enjoyed all the attention he got at the station.
I enjoyed meeting Greg, and I’m very glad I went to Letterkenny rather than just being interviewed over the phone. It also made me realise that I miss radio work a lot, and if I could get into the area of radio that I like, I’d definitely like to do more of it in the future.

My brother has been here and gone since I blogged last. As usual we spent lots of family time together. I went to Dublin for the day with him and my sister. O.J was left at home but he was probably glad. He’s been going for more walks now that he’s practically fully recovered. We visited a friend in Portsalon, and that weekend, we went for a drive around Donegal, had a picnic and watched our local football team win a final.

So all in all, we’ve been busy. Not blogging busy, but busy in other ways.

Toys and Beds

I’ve wanted to buy the dogs, (particularly Dougal) an interactive toy, where they have to try and dispense food using their noses and paws. It keeps their mind active, and is more challenging than just always eating food from a bowl or from my hand. Thanks to
Marie
who mentioned it on twitter, I bought this
dog brick activity toy.

Nina Ottosson is a Swedish dog trainer, and she has designed a range of toys. This particular one is basically a plastic board with bone shaped holes where food can be placed. The dog has to slide the plastic which covers the hole across to find the treat. There are also some plastic bones covering the holes, which the dog has to lift off to reach the food, making it harder to access. I’m probably not explaining it very well!

So, was the game any good?
It was for a few minutes, but both dogs figured it out quickly enough, Dougal obviously being a bit slower than O.J. When I tried it the first time, I didn’t use the bones that cover the holes, just to make it more simple. When I used them today, and the dogs had to lift them off, it made the fun last a bit longer.
I like the fact that the toy has grips on the bottom to keep it from moving around the floor when the dogs are playing with it.It’s also easy to clean. I’d like to find a more challenging toy, but this was a good start.

Spoilt paws O.J also got a new bed last week. This dog has had so many beds it’s rediculous! In the beginning, I used the fleece in the plastic basket shaped bed I took home from Cork. After a while, I found that actual fabric beds were easier to clean. I bought the dogs an expensive enough one when they were both still young, and it got torn one day when someone came to the door and they excitedly began playing tug of war with it, just to show off. That was the end of the expensive beds for a while. I’ve had various cheaper beds, and renew them when they get torn, smelly or out of shape, since most of them don’t survive too many washes. I’m also a bit limited for space since moving to my own house, baring in mind that there are sometimes three dogs sleeping in my hall! Last week I found a fancy looking bed on offer in TK Max, and feeling sorry for O.J after his operation, I decided to treat him. The outside cover comes off and can be washed. Luckily the dogs are well past the tug of war stage, but this bed is heavy, so I doubt they’d want to carry it too far anyway. Dougal will cuddle with O.J, but I usually put him in his crate at night. He has a favourite bed in there. It’s like a cushion shape that I bought in the pet shop for around £9. I have two now, because when I used to put it in the wash and he had to use a different blanket, It was like the end of the world! He’d wake up early, so we all didn’t get as much sleep!

I’m not somebody who constantly buys their dog toys, just because I love spoilling them. People who talk about their animals like they are children drive me nuts!! I’m practical, and only buy things I need. Nothing wrong with spoilling your pup if that’s what you’re into, but I just don’t want to come across like that in this post!

After all that, if anyone has a dog activity toy, or a good bed that they can recommend, I’d love to hear about it!

On the Mend

O.J is almost ready to go back to work. I don’t know who is happier, me or him! He’s been so good since his operation, and has been making a really good recovery.

Last Tuesday the vet rang me to tell me the good news that O.J had two benign lipomas. That’s what they had expected, but it was a huge relief to have it confirmed. The vet took O.J’s stitches out on Friday. He was happy with how well the swelling on his side had gone down. My sister had taken him the previous weekend to have it checked as the wound looked very swollen, and she was worried. Apparently that was to be expected since the piece they removed was so deep down that it was almost near his lung. The day before when I was petting him, I found another lump under the skin on his neck. Of course I was a bit freaked out, but the vet almost laughed when he told me that sometimes dogs get a reaction to an injection. He seems convinced, and it makes sense because of where the lump is. He better be right!

The vet thinks it would be okay to take O.J back to work, but I don’t want to risk putting his harness on too soon. I’d hate it to irritate the area where the shaved hair is growing back, and the skin is already probably tender enough. I took him for a two minute walk to my aunt’s the other evening, and although he walked, he didn’t pull into his harness much. So we’ll be keeping his work short for another week I think. Luckily I don’t really have to be anywhere very important, and all this couldn’t have happened at a better time. I’m just really looking forward to going for a long fast walk along the beach again.

The Patient

Just a quick update on how O.J is doing since his operation.
I collected him on Monday evening, and he was very sleepy and sore from the operation and the anaesthetic. He could hardly stand up and was whining a lot. Unfortunately I didn’t get to speak to the vet who had done the operation, but the staff member was helpful and the vet had left very good discharge instructions. They are 90% sure that the two lumps that were removed from his side and under arm (or paw) are nothing serious, which is a great relief.

O.J’s recovery has been going well since Monday and he is improving every day. He basically spent the first two days sleeping, but was livelier yesterday and was showing signs of bordum. Myself and my dad took him around the park for a slow walk on his lead today. He was happy to be out but is very tired now. His stitches come out in a weeks time, so I just have to keep him from jumping around too much until then. He has wounds in two different areas so he has to be very careful. Luckily they are both on the same side, so he can still lean up against people with his other side!
Dougal has been staying with my parents just encase he gets in the way and accidentally hurts O.J. It’s very strange having only one dog.

Our Weekend

On friday afternoon I went to an annual dog show that took place as part of the festival in our town. My friend was taking her Lhasa cross Roxy in the show just for fun, so O.J and I went to watch. He behaved brilliantly around so many dogs, and enjoyed all the attention he got, even though he wasn’t even in the show. One of the organisers joked that they should have had a working dogs category, or if I put him in, he’d have won best dog overall.

The best part for me was getting to pet so many dogs, some types I’ve never seen before. I know about dog breeds and know what many look like, even though I’ve never touched them. My aunt asked her friend to hold O.J while she asked owners if I could pet some of the more unusual types. I particularly liked the Alaskan malimute, the Akita, and the gorgeous gentle white long-haired shepherd. It was interesting to finally see what a St. Bernard looked like without it almost attacking me. I couldn’t help wondering how O.J wasn’t seriously hurt before, because of how heavy they are. Ben the miniature poodle attracted a lot of cuddles and attention, as did the labradoodle x retriever pup, who I could have taken home. There was a bigger labradoodle pup, but he didn’t stand long enough for me to feel him properly. They are becoming pmore popular as guide dogs in Ireland nowadays, and I’d imagine it would take you a while getting anywhere with one, because people would constantly stop and ask about the dog. You can’t beat the labrador though, and a four month old golden one tried to follow O.J around and play with him as much as she could.
Overall, it was a good afternoon. All the dogs behaved well, and it was lovely to see children so involved in looking after their own dogs. I hope to go to Crufts someday, and if I do, it might be very hard to get me to leave!

It rained for most of the day on Saturday, which was disappointing because I had hoped to take the dogs for a long walk. I ended up leaving them at home and going for a drive and a hill climb with my dad, sister and two youngest nephews. We got soaked but it was great fun!
I did get a chance to take O.J for a quick walk on Saturday evening. Yesterday he came with us for lunch, and we walked around the town to see what was happening for the festival. I took both dogs for an hour-long walk in the evening. They enjoyed walking around the beach, which was part of the very first walk I did with O.J when we came home from training in Cork. It’s always a nice walk for both of us.

At 10 o’clock this morning I left O.J to the vet to have a couple of things checked out. I’ve been keeping an eye on a small lump he had on his side. Like before, it started causing him to lose weight, which is why I decided to have it removed. Just last week I found another bigger lump. Hopefully it’s nothing to be worried about, maybe a lypoma like last time, but better to be safe than sorry.
Blogging is useful, because I could go back and read about his recovery last time and remind myself what to expect if all goes well. He won’t be working for at least a couple of weeks, and I knew this was going to happen, so I made sure that we got as much walking done as we could at the weekend.

A Well Travelled Dog

OJ and I did lots of traveling by public transport last week. Buses, trains, cars and taxis, and he seemed to enjoy it all. Sometimes I really wish I could drive, but having O.J is definitely the next best thing. He makes life so much easier.

Last Friday morning we got the bus to Dublin and met Nicky and Orrin. We all got the train to Cork, which took just over two and a half hours. I’m so used to going to Carlow that Cork didn’t seem much longer at all. We stayed in the
Oriel House Hotel,
in Ballincollig. It’s a lovely hotel and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. There is grass within the grounds of the hotel too, which is always a bonus when you’re bringing a dog. It isn’t too far from Irish guide dogs HQ, so they are familiar with seeing guide dogs around the area and often have guests staying with their dogs. It was strange being in Cork and not going to visit the centre, but we weren’t there for long.

When the dogs were fed, we decided to go for a walk and get our own dinner. We asked for directions to an Italian restaurant that was recommended to us, and after asking four or five different people along the way, we found it down a side street. The food was lovely, and as we left, I wondered how we’d find our way back because I really didn’t remember the whole walk there. Orrin kept in front as usual and got us back to a wide crossing, which a couple of boys had helped us with on the way there. O.J usually likes to follow behind, but at this point he insisted on being in front, and walked confidently until we were practically outside the hotel. It’s the fastest I’ve seen him work in a long while, and his enthusiasm for finding the way was very impressive!

After breakfast on Saturday we met a friend of Nicky’s and his baby boy, and had coffee in the hotel bar. Staff were a bit nervous because they were testing their coffee machine for the first time. We gave them plenty of practice because we all asked for a different type of coffee. The coffee was lovely, the machine worked fine, and the staff member gave it to us free! My cousin, his wife, their two kids and some of his wife’s family came to meet us and we had a lovely lunch together. The dogs were very chilled out and didn’t bother the young children at all. My cousin insisted on driving us to Kerry. It saved us doing two bus journeys, and the lift was really appreciated.

We spent the next few days in Killorglan with a friend of Nicky’s who I’ve only come to know in the last year. We were looked after very well, and on Tuesday I didn’t want to go home. We spent the weekend eating, talking, meeting her lovely family and lots of really lovely people, and just having a relaxing time. The dogs got lots of attention all weekend too. It’s great to stay somewhere with somebody who loves dogs, because they are made so welcome and nothing is a problem. I think they pick up on this too, because they settled in quickly and made themselves at home. Maybe too much at home sometimes, because they barked every time people came to the door, and it was a busy house!
I’d never experienced anything like the night out that we had in Killorglan. The pubs were very different from home. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere around the town. I found the sayings and phrases that Kerry people used particularly interesting!!

One of the best parts of the weekend was when O.J’s puppywalkers came to visit us on Sunday afternoon. We had met before five years ago, and I always knew that I wanted to see them again while O.J was still working. On Sunday they had a chance to see him being both hyper and relaxed (he seems to spend his time alternating between these two moods these days!) I know they came out of their way to visit us, and I really appreciate it. The work that puppywalkers do is so important. Guide dog owners can’t thank them enough. It’s lovely that they have taken such an interest in O.J and the things we get up too. They could have just acknowledged the first phone call I made to them, sent me a letter with photos and left it at that. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to ask them questions and find out more about the life O.J had before he eventually came to live with me. The poor dog went from probably a peaceful gentle lifestyle to the torture of living with me, my noisy music and even noisier family and friends! I told them that they can have him back when he retires, but only if they move to Donegal!!

The journey home on Tuesday took almost nine hours. O.J was a star, and got lots of attention on the way. Nicky and I had a conversation on the train about how many people you actually come into contact with when you own a guide dog. Some people might find this annoying, but I love meeting people, and most of them are usually friendly. If I didn’t have O.J, public transport definitely would be a lot more lonely and a lot less interesting.