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
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.

How Not To Organise A Fundraising Event

I went to Letterkenny on Saturday afternoon for the ‘go walkies’ fundraiser for guide dogs. The idea is simple; people go for a short walk, and are encouraged to bring family members and dogs if they want. The events took place over the last few weekends around Ireland. Most people love walking and do it all the time, so you’d imagine it would be a popular, easy way to raise money. That wasn’t the case in Letterkenny. Myself, O.J and the four other people I brought were the only people there!

I don’t want to go into too much detail about this event because I didn’t organise it. The people who did probably did their best on the day, and they were very friendly and appreciated the fact that I travelled 40 minutes with my family and my guide dog. . On the other hand, I didn’t want to not write about it and pretend it didn’t happen. That wouldn’t have been right either, and I hope people can learn from what went wrong.
The only input I had was to volunteer to assist with any newspaper articles or local radio interviews if needed. They never happened and there was almost no publicity of the event. Even if there was, I think é15 per person was too expensive. People don’t have much money, and even if they did, I think charging that just to do a walk wasn’t fair. I think people really need to be more considerate when organising fundraising events these days.

I want to organise a fundraiser for Irish guide dogs before O.J retires. I’d love something a bit different, but haven’t come up with an idea I’m happy with yet. I might consider organising a ‘go walkies’ event in my local town next year. It will be cheaper, and I guarantee there’ll be lots of people there to walk, with or without their dogs.

Seven Years, Seven Funny Things

This day seven years ago, 22nd June 2007, I met O.J in Cork for the very first time. Hard to believe it’s so long ago now. I’ve written about it
here. So much has changed since then. O.J has made so many things possible, and has given me so much freedom.
Apart from being a great worker and great company, O.J is probably the funniest dog I know. Here’s seven things he does regularly that always make me laugh.

1. Mr. Sensitive: WhenO.J is lying beside me, his paws have to be touching me in some way. He lies on my feet or wraps his paws around my leg, especially when we’re on the bus. He will even do this to whoever happens to sit beside us. He walks to the left of everything, and I have to explain why to every new person we walk with because they think he is very strange. He’ll walk me into a puddle, just so he can walk himself around it.
2. Demanding attention: O.J randomly comes over to be petted, and if I’m doing something and ignore him, he will nudge my elbow and lift it up until I pet him. It’s impossible to type when he starts doing this, so I usually just end up laughing at him and giving him a big cuddle.
3. welcoming visitors: Anyone who comes to our door usually gets O.J’s bone, (and whatever other toys he can find) in their face. If There’s no toys around, he’ll try and pick up something else. Thankfully he’s learned that the cushions are not for playing with.
4. Play biting: If you talk to O.J and pet him for more than a couple of minutes with his harness off, expect lots of play biting and silliness. He is very gentle and it never hurts. He just can’t seem to keep his mouth closed!
5. Sniffing: O.J cant resist stopping to sniff, even often when he is working. I correct him, and two minutes later he does it again. He’ll sometimes turn his head slightly to the side while walking, and grab a piece of grass to eat.
6. Noisy dog: O.J loves to bark, and even if you tell him to stop, he’ll close his mouth and still try to bark, so it sounds hilarious. He groans when he’s lying down or stretching, barks in his dreams, and has recently howled a few times in his sleep. Sometimes he whines if he’s excited, especially if he sees the beach, or if I show him his lead without the harness and ask him if he wants to go to the beach. Otherwise, he’s a very quiet dog!
7. Such a chancer! When O.J is trying to do something he shouldn’t, he can move so quietly, it’s scarey! He loves taking other dog’s beds, and he’d eat any food if he had the chance. If he doesn’t want to do something, he’ll do it as slowly as possible. There’s been times where I’ve told him to go to bed maybe three times, and on the third time, he’ll go and have a drink of water on his way to bed, as if he really needed it. He does things in his own time, nobody else’s! Today when we were out for breakfast, he attempted to eat a napkin, leaving it in pieces on the floor. Recently when we were out for dinner he chewed a beer mat. He positions himself so close to the thing he wants that sometimes you don’t even realise he’s up to something.

I had hoped to take O.J to the beach today, but it didn’t happen. Instead we went for a few walks. One of those was the walk back from my parent’s house, which was the first walk I ever did with O.J in Donegal. It’s still one of his favourite places, and mine too.


I work in Letterkenny two/three days a week. These are, what my youngest nephew calls “days on”, which I suppose makes sense, since weekends with no work (or school in his case) are days off. It’s a phrase my family use regularly now!
Anyway, today was a day off, and apart from getting up early and doing my shopping in the morning, I had no plans for the rest of the day. The weather was going to be very hot, so I wanted to do something outside. My mum’s students were going sailing, and she rang to tell me there was room on the bus if I wanted to come. I’ve heard about the great work that
do, and I’ve wanted to go sailing for ages, so this last minute decision was a great opportunity.

Sailability provides opportunities for people with disabilities to experience being on a boat. The boats can also take wheelchair users, without them needing to transfer. The staff are so friendly and helpful, making everybody feel welcome, and encouraging them to participate. Our group went on the big boat first, and then I was taken out in a dinghy with one of the staff members. Small boats freak me out more than big ones do, but they were both really relaxing. It was funny to be in the middle of the river Foyle, going under the bridge that we drive over so many times without thinking. I’d love to have had the opportunity to try sailing, but it wasn’t possible with the number of students. I’ll just have to come back another time.

Apart from the Sailability organisation and what they do, I was really impressed by the students that I spent the day with. If you have a stereotypical view of people with autism (which thankfully I don’t), the four boys would make you think twice. They dealt with changing plans, lots of waiting around, following instructions and making conversation with no problems. Like all pupils, they have very different personalities, likes and dislikes, and it was nice to get to know them a bit more. Spending time with them is always great fun. One of them became my new friend today. When he saw me on the bus, he asked where O.J was, because he’s afraid of dogs. When I told him he was at home, asleep in his bed, he was happy, and actually spent time sitting beside me during the day. Although he instantly associated me with the dog, he obviously didn’t see me in any negative way, which was great.

When we got back to the school, a barbecue had just finished, and the students were having
lime-dancing lessons out in the yard. I’m not a dancer, but it seemed like fun!
I got a huge welcome home from the dogs, and spent the evening celebrating my dad’s birthday with dinner and cake.
So all in all, it was a very unplanned, but very good day. Tomorrow is a “day on”, but I can’t really complain.

Because I’m Happy…

I’ve been thinking of a reason to blog for the last few days, and that seems as good a reason as any.

I seemed to spend a lot of time last month feeling tired, thinking about my next dog a lot (even though it’s hopefully eighteen months away yet, and I don’t need to think about it), and worrying about not having a job and not knowing exactly what I want to do.

A friend’s hen weekend was the perfect distraction. We stayed in
this amazing house
for a few days. People came and went, and we had lots of fun. We spent an afternoon at
Jungle NI,
which I’d definitely recommend. I don’t do as many outdoor things like this as I should, but it’s so much fun. The treetop climbing course took me completely out of my comfort zone, especially since my friends made me go first, but it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. The instructors were so helpful, and encouraged me to try everything. The idea of a blind person up 80 feet high (even though I was in a harness) didn’t phase them at all. I was on a high for the rest of the weekend after that!

Last week we found out that I got funding for another year of disability awareness training from Irish Aid. They gave us everything we applied for which surprised me, but I’m so grateful. I’m looking forward to working on improving the workshops over the summer, and meeting at least twice as many students as we met last year from September onwards.

O.J had a 24 hour tummy bug last weekend in Carlow, which he generously passed on to Orrin. He had his annual vaccination this week, and it was a relief to have a few things checked and hear that the vet was happy. It seems that the st. Bernard we met a couple of months ago might have bruised his ribs a bit, but he’s in no discomfort at all. Since he left the vet, he’s been full of energy and just wants to play all the time. He’s so cute! I took my dad for breakfast this morning, and O.J practically ran the whole way into town. My dad said, ‘Am I getting slow or something, or is that dog getting faster?’ Even the staff in the cafe laughed at his enthusiastic entrance into the building. Dougal has been in a brilliant mood for the last couple of months too. It’s like owning a puppy again. Let’s hope it lasts, because when the dogs are like this, we all have so much fun! We intended going for a short walk the other day, but ended up making it three times longer, just because when we got going, we all seemed to be in the mood to walk. I love when that happens.

Today I spent a few hours helping a couple of people with assignments for a Braille course they are doing. I don’t know if Braille has slightly changed, or I’ve invented my own unique way of writing some contracted words over time. Either way, I think we all learned a few new things.

Finally, I’ve been listening to music again recently. Counting down the days until the new David Gray album comes out at the end of June. My favourite piece of music at the minute is from the new ‘other voices’ series 12 album. It’s called ‘the Finnishline’ and it’s by Colm Mac Coniomaire. I’ve been dying to hear it again since first hearing it in February when he played in Derry. It’s not online, but trust me, it’s magic!
If anyone’s still reading, what music are you listening to these days?

A school trip with a difference

On Monday, O.J, my PA and I worked in our final school of this year, delivering disability awareness training. The journey involved driving around the windy roads of Donegal, which we’ve become used to recently, but it also involved taking a 20 minute trip on the ferry.
We went to the only secondary school on Arranmore Island, one of the islands off Donegal, with a population of about 500 people.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever taken O.J on our local Ferry before, but he wasn’t bothered at all getting on. Sometimes metal steps and walkways freak him out. Having a guide dog there didn’t seem to be a novelty for anybody, even though there are none on the island, but over a cup of tea in the staff room before we began, one of the teachers told me all about her son’s assistance dog who was also trained by Irish Guide Dogs. It was very interesting to hear her experience of living on the island, and the sense of community and how it helps her son. She was working in the class that we were teaching, and she was very involved, writing things on the board and asking lots of questions. The students were very quiet, but I got the impression that they were absorbing the information and enjoying the class, which is what I always hope will happen.

We didn’t hang around after the class, and got the ferry straight back. I wanted to walk around the island, but the weather was so wet, there was no point. So really, we could have been in any school, for all that I saw of Arranmore!
O.J had a chance to show off his mature, well behaved personality to a younger pup. A man came on with a boxer puppy, who was very interested in O.J. The man tried to get him to sit down and not be disturbing us, but the pup was too curious. I told him that it was okay, and petted the dog as it stood looking up at O.J, who had his harness on and was very chilled out. Eventually the puppy sat down beside o.J, looking up as if to say, I can be good too! He lay down while I petted him, and then returned to his owner, totally relaxed. We walked off the boat before they did, and the puppy cried when O.J passed, and tried to go after him. The man seemed very good with the dog, and I’d say it won’t be long before he’s sitting quietly and well behaved in public, just like O.J was.

The weather had improved by the time we got to Dungloe, so we had lunch and walked around for a bit. It was nice for O.J to stretch his legs and look around him, since he was in a very curious mood all day. We worked in a school in Dungloe a few weeks ago (the day I had my guide dog reinterview), and when we finished the class, Deborah and I were presented with two engraved pens, from
The boys who own this company were students in our class. The pens are presented in a lovely wooden box, and would be a lovely gift, if anyone’s looking for an idea. Check out their website. They are a nice keepsake, and a lovely reminder of a brilliant group of students, and an enjoyable year of disability awareness training.