Is Anybody Feeling Christmasy?

I’m usually a bit slow getting into the Christmas mood, and this year was no different. Most of my friends put their trees up at the beginning of December, and that’s all everybody seemed to be talking about. I think it seems to come around earlier every year. The thing that started to get me excited was a phone call from my brother about ten days ago telling me that he was definitely coming home. We thought he wasn’t, so it was a lovely surprise.

We had our work Christmas party on Wednesday. It was in the Silver Tassie hotel in Letterkenny as usual, and we all had a lovely meal. There wasn’t a huge crowd so it was a lot quieter than usual, but we made our own fun. We’ve had a couple of new staff members recently, so there’s a good group of people around my own age, and we all get on well. I stayed in the hotel that night so that my colleague wouldn’t have to drive home if the weather was bad. It was strange booking a hotel in Letterkenny, only 40 minutes away, but it made the night more relaxing and enjoyable. So much so that we didn’t go to bed until after 4.
The staff in the hotel were lovely, but I don’t think they’d ever had a guide dog stay there before. When I rang to book the room and mentioned him, the receptionist had to go and ask the manager. She came back and said that the dog was fine, except she was instructed to “designate a certain room” for us. I thought, here we go, some kind of complicated fuss now, but that room turned out to be a big family room with more space for us all. It was a nice surprise!

I put up my new tree on Thursday with the help of a few kids who were very excited. They did more of the work than me, but I was a small bit tired!
I’m still stuck for Christmas present ideas for a few people. I hate buying things for the sake of it, and like to know what I’m looking for before I shop, so this kind of thing stresses me out! Going to Dublin tomorrow (literally for 24 hours), so I might get some ideas there. O.J is giving this one a miss this time, although the National Concert Hall where I’m going to a gig tomorrow evening was more than happy to have him, and even look after him if the music was too loud. I might write about that particular gig when I get home, depending on how it goes. It’s a combination of musicians I’ve seen before, but the structure of it means I have no idea what to expect at all. Sometimes that’s the best way.

Impact Theatre

Work has been busy and sometimes frustrating during the last couple of weeks. Myself and a couple of colleagues had an amazing opportunity last week to attend a workshop which was inspiring and made the hard work worth while.

DCIL received funding to run a workshop which I felt would be very educational for transition year students. I invited a class who I had worked with a couple of months ago. They are undertaking a huge disability project in their school, so they seemed like the perfect choice to attend this disability related workshop with a difference, in the Stationhouse Hotel in Letterkenny. Idan Meir brought a group of five actors with physical or sensory impairments to deliver a workshop and perform a play, but the day was much more than that.

The day began with a quiet group of students and a couple of teachers who didn’t know what to expect, and to be honest, I didn’t really know how to explain it to them either. We ended the day with a more confident, more creative and definitely more inspired and empowered group of people. I can’t really explain what happened in between! Idan talked to us about opression, having power, disability and what it means, and many other things. We didn’t just sit and listen. We learned about the impact of theatre and how we can use it. We learned how to create images with our bodies and how to tell stories. We learned how to lead and trust each other, and we definitely learned how to be out of our comfort zone! The actors performed a play for us after lunch called ‘happy birthday’, which explores the issues facing a 21 year-old girl who is unable to attend her own birthday party due to the inaccessibility of the venue. They performed it a second time, during which the audience were invited to stop the play whenever they felt that there was something unfair happening. This brought about interesting discussion and debate. After this, the students and teachers were split into groups, with myself and the actors joining each group to tell our stories or answer any disability related questions they had. The students and teachers were then asked to make an image of something they learned from that conversation. It’s hard to explain, but it was very interesting for me to hear, because I have no visual idea of how people represent words or feelings in this way. I learned a lot from these exercises, and it wasn’t what I had expected to learn when the day began.

It was nice to learn about disability, a theme I am so familiar with, but not actually be the person teaching it for a change. I wanted the day to be as much about the students as possible, so it was a nice surprise when I realised how much we were all included. I didn’t think to mention to Idan that I was blind beforehand. I didn’t think I’d be involved in the theatre with the students, and to be honest, it didn’t even come into my head. He did tell me that if he’d known he could have adjusted his activities a bit, but I was still very much included and he explained everything as much as he could. Part of the leading and trusting exercise involved people closing their eyes and then talking about the experience afterwards. I don’t know if this is always part of the day, but it worked well, and I was able to give my own feedback too.

O.J came along for the day too. I was very happy with how well he behaved since there was a lot of moving and running around. He just lay watching, and really loved the attention whenever the students came to pet him on their break. Idan sometimes gave him a quick pet to make sure he didn’t feel left out during the day!

‘Happy birthday’ was performed in Donegal a couple of years ago and I missed it, so it was brilliant to have everybody involved back to perform it and do the workshop just for us. It was a different way of exploring the theme of disability, and my only regret was that more of my colleagues didn’t come to see it.
Idan wrote a one man play called
Bassam
which returns to An Grianan Theatre in February next year. It’s based on a different theme entirely, but I like his work, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to see it.

Jake Clemons

Last Tuesday, myself and a work colleague went to see Jake Clemons play in
McGrory’s

in Culdaff. It’s Ireland’s most northernly music venue, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Jake and his band were playing there as part of an Irish tour in support of his ‘embracing light’ EP. I’ve seen him on stage as part of the E-Street band a couple of times, playing saxophone in one of the biggest bands in the world, so I didn’t know what to expect on a small stage in a bar in Donegal. Whatever happened, I knew it was going to be special, and it didn’t disappoint.

The gig began with songs from a Cork singer/songwriter called
Nicole Maguire

who I really enjoyed. She’s a great guitarist and has a great voice. Fortunately for her, but not for us, all her albums were sold out, so I definitely must get one online. She had supported Jake on a previous Irish tour, and he seemed to genuinely have respect for her as an artist. She seemed equally delighted to be there on stage as part of his tour.

The majority of the audience on the night were Bruce Springsteen fans, and maybe like me, they weren’t too familiar with Jake’s solo work. I only knew three songs! This is very unusual for me, because usually I really know a band well before I go to hear them play live. A girl in the front row did come prepared in her Jake Clemons t-shirt though.

Jake and his band came on stage at 9 PM, and the next 2 hours and 40 mins were not what I had expected. The band were lively and loud and full of enthusiasm. They sounded young and energetic, like they were excited to be performing their new material, yet they were very professional and tight. Jake moved between guitar to saxophone and piano like a pro, making me jealous that I couldn’t even learn one instrument properly. He walked around the audience, danced on a table and got a few people to dance with the band while he watched them and relaxed. The crowd took a short while to really get into the performance, but when they did, they enjoyed it and didn’t want it to finish.

The gig had a few highlights. The forth or fifth song was a version of ‘it takes two’ by Ryan Adams, a song I absolutely love. Mid way through this song, Jake played the saxophone for the very first time, to huge cheers from the audience. As the band played on, he then spoke about the loss of his uncle Clarance and the devistating impact it had on him. He didn’t feel like playing the saxophone again, until a friend talked to him and told him how Clarance would have wanted his music to be shared, and that it wasn’t an option for Jake not to do that. It was a fitting tribute in the middle of a great song. The band’s version of ‘a little help from my friends’ was amazing too. Jake invited Nicole back to sing a few songs with the band, after which he told the audience that he was very privileged to play on one of her own songs. She sang the vocals while the band accompanied her with Jake playing sax. The gig ended with an acoustic unplugged version of ‘carry me through’, with each band member taking a verse and singing the chorus together.

You can hear influences of Bruce in Jake’s music at times when he speaks to the audience, but he is a musician in his own right, producing his own original material with a brilliant band. Anyone who was expecting him to sound like Springsteen or act like Clarance was very wrong. He’s unique, but he’s also really really good!

And I discovered that he’s really sound too! After the gig he came back into the bar and talked to people. The owner pointed him in the direction of myself and Deborah first, which was nice since we had to get up for two long days of work in the morning. He gave me a hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed humble and gentle, and quieter than the rocker on stage a while earlier! Deborah talked much more than me, telling him that we worked together, that we were related and that I flew a plane! Not sure how that got in there, but he seemed impressed and amused by how embarrassed I was. More embarrassing was what she said next! It was lovely to go to a gig which was someone elses idea for a change. It was also lovely to have someone describe the stage, where things were and what people were doing. If Deborah sees something interesting, she thinks I need to know about it too, which is a nice thought most of the time. except when she asked Jake if I could touch his hair, because she’d been describing it to be earlier in the night. He was so cool about it all and just said “yeah sure!” and told me that it felt like wool. I’d never touched an afro before and was curious to know what it looked like, but I didn’t want to touch somebody’s that I don’t even know, and definitely not somebody that I hugely admire as a musician. My face must have looked priceless! We got a photograph with him, bought CDs to be signed, and I made Deborah leave as quickly as possible!

So overall, the gig was brilliant, McGrory’s is a fantastic venue that I’ll hopefully be spending more time in, and I got the closest to meeting Bruce Springsteen that I’m probably ever going to get! Even if it was a little bit too close for my liking! I hoped Jake Clemons enjoyed his first visit to Donegal as much as we enjoyed having him there.

My Kind of Music

That’s the title of Nicky’s brand new album, which he launched in the 7 Oaks hotel in Carlow last Thursday evening. The lineup featured friends of Nicky’s who are all well-known in the country music scene, most of who I’ve come to know through our annual trips to Portugal. The Ryan Turner band who also play there provided all the music on the night. The boys are fantastic musicians, and always make a gig very enjoyable. There was a great crowd, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. The only criticism I heard people say was that Nicky should have played longer!
Donegal was well represented on the night, with twelve people traveling down for the gig. My parents and some of my aunt’s and uncle came, as well as two couples who aren’t related in any way, but have heard of Nicky and decided to come themselves. It was great to meet up with friends we’d stayed with in Kerry over the summer, and Darragh and Emma, who are always very supportive when it comes to Nicky’s music. Emma was snap happy with her camera, and you can see some of her work on Nicky’s facebook page.
I think Darragh is busy updating the website and making the album available on Itunes soon. Maybe he’ll have a list of shops that stock the CD copy too, because I know you can’t get it everywhere.

There were five dogs at the gig, and as you’d expect, they were all well behaved and quiet. My parents were staying in the hotel, so I left O.J there during the performance, and took Orrin up to keep him company during the interval. He was in really good form, but quite restless during the day. He kept getting up if people came near and he thought he might get stood on. Maybe its just a sign of him getting older and a bit more stressed out more easily. The fireworks didn’t bother him on Halloween evening at all, and we walked to a restaurant to meet everybody for dinner with no problems. It didn’t seem like Halloween there though!

It was lovely to travel to Carlow and back with my parents in their jeep, rather than spending time on the bus. We could stop when we wanted, and the weather was bad on the way home so we took our time. We stopped in Monaghan to visit a friend who owns O.J’s brother Ozzy. We hadn’t seen each other in at least four years, and Ozzy is retiring in a couple of weeks. I wanted to get a photo of the dogs together, and wanted them to meet up probably for the last time. They were excited to see each other, but quickly lay down and relaxed. I hope O.J can work for another year, but it makes it all more real when I see the first of his siblings to retire.

I had a busy but fun couple of days, so it’s nice to stay inside and relax today. I think I’m on my fourth cup of tea at this stage! I have another busy week ahead, with working in a school that’s far enough away, going to Dublin for a training day, going to a wedding, and going to a gig on Tuesday that I’m very excited about!

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!