Career Change

Don’t worry, Sibyl hasn’t had to give up her job as a guide dog yet!
Though her crazy lively behaviour recently, (which included running into a swamp of horrible dirty water and nearly not being able to get herself back out), makes me wonder how this dog can be so trustworthy sometimes.
Anyway, I’m the one having the career change, not her. I suppose I can’t call it a career change just yet, because I haven’t actually moved to a new job.

A few weeks ago I left my job in the Donegal Centre for Independent Living, where I worked for the last five and a half years. I needed a change, and I want to try and find out what my long-term career plan is. Since I left, I’ve been researching courses and things to study, doing career interest tests, looking for volunteering opportunities and jobs. I have lots of ideas but no clear idea of where I’m going or what I’m doing, but I’m excited about what will happen in the future.

I loved the majority of the work I did in DCIL, especially delivering disability awareness training in schools. There’s a huge need for that type of work, and it has so much potential. I loved seeing the attitudes of students and teachers change as the workshops progressed. I loved the honesty of the students and the questions they asked. Just like the students, I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn new things. I was fortunate to be able to avail of two training courses in particular which were a great addition to my CV. I enjoyed working in the disability sector, which was something I previously would have ran a mile from if I’m honest. I learned a lot from my work colleagues and the people who use the personal assistant service. Many of them inspired me, and some became good friends, who I’ll hopefully always stay in contact with.

My colleagues were lovely to work with, and always more than welcoming to O.J and Sibyl. Being blind was never an issue. I mean it should never be anyway, but working as part of an organisation which provides services to people with disabilities made blindness non-existent in our office. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to make an effort to blog more about my search for employment and a career direction. I’ve moved from a situation where being blind was mostly forgotten by my colleagues, to it being one of the first things people notice. This became obvious twice during the last few weeks, when I met with two people working in the area of careers advice. One was talking me through study options in her college, while the other was supposed to help me focus my interests in particular areas. They both didn’t know where to begin, and one in particular spent more time admiring the dog. When we talked about education and I mentioned that I finished my degree from Queens University in 2006, their attitude completely changed. They were surprised that I could achieve such a thing, being blind and all, and suddenly they became more serious about wanting to help. As it turns out, neither of them have been any major help, but it was worth a try. Maybe they learned more from meeting me than I did from meeting them. They were nice girls and they didn’t annoy me, but they just got me thinking of some of the attitudinal obstacles I might face while looking for a job. This doesn’t bother me, but I think it’s just an interesting observation.

So now I’m on the hunt for a job. I need a challenge. I need something new. I have no idea what that will be yet, but hopefully the search won’t be too frustrating, and I’ll eventually find something that’s right.

Service Dogs Europe

Every day last week, Joe Duffy spoke on
about an organisation based in co. Louth called
Service Dogs Europe.
I’d heard about it before, but not in any major detail. I listened to the show last week, to all the people who called in with their experiences of this organisation , and I can’t stop thinking about it since.

Service Dogs Europe claims to train assistance dogs for people with autism, hearing difficulties and a variety of physical disabilities and medical conditions. They train dogs to alert people to seizures and for people who are diabetic. They seem to train dogs for everything except guide dogs! Unlike Irish Guide Dogs, Assistance Dogs Ireland and My Canine Companion who all train dogs for children with autism, and Dogs for the Disabled who provide dogs for people with physical disabilities in Ireland, Service Dogs Europe do not have a waiting list, so dogs are available to families much quicker. But unlike the other organisations, SDE is not a charity, so people pay up to 7000 euros for one of these dogs. People can choose a puppy from the puppy program, which lives with the family until a certain age when it is taken to SDE to be trained for a few months. Families can also choose an adult dog provided by the organisation, or give their own dog there to be trained.

Henry Fitzsimons is the CEO, head trainer, and only board member of Service Dogs Europe. He has two sons on the autistic spectrum, and wanted to train dogs to help people like them. He has 25 years experience training dogs, but I can’t seem to find a list of his exact qualifications online. As far as I can tell, his trainers come from all over the world, so I don’t know their qualifications either.
Henry Fitzsimons states that their dogs are trained to the same standards as Assistance Dog International (ADI), but they clearly aren’t. They aren’t even registered with the ADI, who inspect all service dog training organisations thoroughly. So that’s the problem. This organisation is a scam!

When parents contact Service Dogs Europe, they are promised a well-trained dog that will help change their child’s life. If they can raise the money, they won’t have to go on a waiting list of up to five years, so of course this sounds perfect. But it is far from that, according to the majority of callers to the Joe Duffy show. These dogs turn out to be no more than very expensive pets, who in many cases aren’t even housetrained. People have reported their dogs coming back from training in worse condition than they were sent, fearful, underweight, badly behaved, aggressive, and in one case actually biting the child it was apparently trained to assist. I only heard two callers who had positive experiences, but they had only owned their dogs for a number of weeks, and the dog hadn’t been sent back for it’s formal training yet. Many people who avail of these dogs come from the UK, and there were questions about whether these dogs were even brought from Ireland legally.

Parents of children with special needs will do absolutely anything to help their child. They are some of the bravest, most determined people I’ve ever met. Sometimes these parents are vulnerable, and can be easily led by promises of something that could change their family’s life, which is what Henry Fitzsimons promised them. These parents are under stress, desperate to find anything that will help, so maybe they didn’t do enough research. Henry can probably talk the talk, although funny enough he was unable to talk to Joe Duffy last week and had a colleague to do his dirtywork. His website may look professional, though I don’t think it reads professionally at all in places. When you visit his training place, you have to arrive at a specific time, and are frowned upon if you come unexpectedly or early. People talk about always only seeing the first two kennels closest to the main entrance. When you leave with your dog, you may be forced to write a testimonial about the benefits of the organisation, even though you have hardly had your dog home, and haven’t seen anything that it was trained to do yet. When you have problems with your dog after training, Henry will offer more training. When that doesn’t work or if you don’t want it, you’ll be told that the dog just wasn’t right, or that it was your fault and he’ll offer you another dog. If you ask for your money back you’ll basically be laughed at.
What these parents are unaware of is that it is impossible to train a dog so young to assist somebody in the way that Service Dogs Europe say they can. Assistance dogs are always at least 18 months before they qualify, and undergo intensive training. It is impossible to train a service dog within a couple of months. They aren’t mature enough yet.
SDE use dogs from breeders, but I bet they don’t pay much for them. They also use dogs which are donated or come from rescues, where they have no idea of their history. SDE are expecting to put these dogs, after little or no training into families with young children, to keep them safe. This is devistation waiting to happen!
Henry Fitzsimons also runs a website called
Let’s Go Fundraise
where you can set up a page for people to raise money for your service dog. But of course when it doesn’t work out, they don’t get their money back.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Henry Fitzsimons also runs a dog training facility called
Top Dog Training
where owners leave their dogs for two weeks to be trained. People spoke of how they left their dogs their at a cost of hundreds, had no updates in between, and returned to find no improvements in the dog’s behaviour. Again dogs were in poor condition, fearful and aggressive, with one client having to subsequently have her dog put to sleep. Any worthwhile dog trainer will tell you that it’s impossible to successfully train a dog without teaching the owner how best to interact with the dog too, so leaving a dog with someone for two weeks will not work at all. This is another scam!

As a guide dog owner, and someone who benefits from an assistance dog on a daily basis, I’m outraged that an organisation like Service Dogs Europe exists in Ireland, and that people have been too afraid to speak up and do nothing about it. This affects all assistance dog owners, regardless of where we were trained. It is easy to print up a certificate that looks professional, and if people don’t know any better, they think it’s real. Assistance dogs have access to all public places. If a badly trained dog from SDE comes into a restaurant and misbehaves, the owner has every right to refuse the next person who comes in with a dog. That could be me, or somebody else with a perfectly trained, well behaved dog from a reputable organisation. People often tar everybody with the same brush, so if they see a poorly behaved dog, they think they are all the same.

Henry Fitzsimons needs to be reported and stopped. His businesses need to be closed down, and he should be banned from working with animals. What he is doing is not only cruel to animals, but to parents, families, children with disabilities, and anybody who uses an assistance dog.
People need to ask questions.
People need to stop bringing their dogs to his training facility. Don’t be fooled by the lies on his website.
Make sure that breeders do not donate or sell dogs to him.
If you hear anybody mentioning this organisation, make sure they know the truth before making life even more difficult for their families.
Share this post, and please do anything you can to help spread the word about the corruption that is Service Dogs Europe in Ireland.


Holidays in Spain

I mentioned in my last
that I was doing something with Sibyl that I’ve never done with a guide dog before. Two weeks ago, Nicky and I went on a ten day holiday to Spain with my whole family, and Sibyl came too.

Before I write about the holiday itself, I think it’s important to mention that taking a dog on holiday requires a bit of extra planning and preparation, and the pet passport takes a bit of work to get sorted before you go. It’s not something I’d recommend for every dog, and I really thought carefully about taking Sibyl before we went. I’ve only had her for three and a half months which isn’t long at all. Her trainer or Irish Guide Dogs staff may have been very surprised if they’d known I was taking her so soon. But I know her well enough to know that nothing really phases her, and she’s the kind of dog you could take almost anywhere.

Two days before we left for Spain, I had to have Sibyl checked by the vet to ensure that she was fit for travel. He stamped her passport and gave her some medication which she needed before entering a new country. The department of agriculture checked her passport at the George Best airport in Belfast before we checked in. She was the first dog they’d had traveling outside the UK, so they were very excited! Special assistance in Belfast and Malliga airports were fantastic, as were the air hostesses on the plane. Sibyl didn’t react at all during the flight, and I think we were all shocked by how calm she was.

The holiday was great fun. We spent a week in a town called Salobrena, where we rented a house ten minutes walk from the beach. The area was lovely, but the streets were steep and narrow, with steps everywhere, and a steep walk to and from the beach. The weather was too hot to take Sibyl out during the day, and it would have been impossible for me to learn my way around. As a result we were quite restricted, but she had a cool place to lie in the house, and it didn’t bother her at all. I brought food with me, which the airline let me carry in my hand luggage. As long as she had that, water and company, she seemed happy enough.

After a week in Salobrena, we moved to a house in a town called Otura, near Granada city, which was cooler and much easier to get around. I wish I had more time there, because Sibyl definitely could have learned some routes, particularly the walk to the restaurant and golf course, which was straightforward. At times I wondered if bringing her was a good idea, but when she was able to work, I had great freedom. I was able to walk with my small nephews, follow everybody in the airport, and follow them to restaurants if we went out to eat. A particular highlight was when we drove 2000 Meters up the Sierra Nevada mountains where people go skiing in the winter. There was a nice breeze, perfect weather for a dog, and I was able to walk around with her guiding, and she did some great work.

Before leaving Spain, I had to have Sibyl checked and wormed by the vet there. Depending on the country, this has to be done within a certain timeframe, so we went three days before coming home to Ireland. We had spent some time with friends from Spain who lived near where we were staying. Their sons were Spanish students who stayed with my parents for a year, so we got to know the family quite well. The father booked the appointment with the vet and brought me there, so it was great to have somebody who could translate anything if necessary. When they see the passport they know what to do, so it’s straightforward enough. They loved Sibyl, and gave her a couple of treats and cuddles after she was wormed. Spanish people in general seem to love dogs, and they were everywhere. Our neighbours had seven! We weren’t in a tourist area so people spoke little English. They probably didn’t see many guide dogs in that area because they would mostly live in the cities, so even though they stared a bit, we had no access issues at all during the ten days.

Nicky and I traveled home together, as the rest of the family are staying longer. Again the assistance at both airports was fantastic, and Sibyl was her usual chilled out happy self. We flew into Dublin so I had a four hour bus journey to do when we landed. I think we were both glad to get into our own beds that night. Sibyl seems happy to be home, and she’s got Dougal and O.J here for the next two weeks to keep her company. I might need another holiday after that!

I couldn’t have been happier with how well our holiday went, and how easy it was to travel with Sibyl. This doesn’t mean I’ll take her on every holiday from now on, and there’ll probably be lots I won’t bring her on. I was lucky that my family planned things well, were there to help if necessary, and were able to help me to get around when I couldn’t bring the dog.
I know I’m going to do lots of fun things with Sibyl and take her to lots of interesting places. I love how adaptable and confident she is, and I think she will give me more confidence as a guide dog handler in the future. Our holiday in Spain definitely showed me what great work she is capable of.

Three Months Update

Sibyl has been my guide dog for three months now. In some ways it feels like she’s been here longer because she settled in so quickly, but when working, she still feels like a very new guide dog.

The last few months have been challenging in some ways. I’ve really had to adapt to a much smaller dog, and learn to feel as safe with her as I did before. There’s something nice about having a big protective dog by your side, but I’ve discovered that small ones can have equally big personalities!

I’ve really had to work hard at developing a good spending routine with Sibyl, and I think we’ve just about done that in the last week or so. It really takes a lot of patience, and sometimes involves changing plans or the types of walks we do. Saying that, dogs are dogs, and they’ll still need to go at times, but as long as she doesn’t go when her harness is on, and manages to wait until we get to grass, It’s fine.

An unexpected part of having a new dog was a small lump that a friend found in Sibyl’s mouth just over a month ago. Although her trainer and the vet were convinced it was nothing serious, the vet removed it two weeks ago, due to how quickly it had gotten bigger. If I wasn’t lazy I’d go and look up the medical term, but basically it was a virus, which could return, but which may have fallen off on it’s own. As the vet said though, better safe than sorry! It was disappointing because I’ve had so many things like that happen with O.J before, and this is obviously a new dog, so how could I be so unlucky again, especially after only having her for ten weeks at that time. Anyway thankfully she recovered with no problems at all. The ear infection she had at the same time seemed to be a bigger deal than the operation was, but that’s on the mend too, I think.

Sibyl and I both still have lots of work to do. Although I’m very happy with her work so far, I haven’t had that “one brilliant walk” yet. Guide dog owners will know what I mean, the one where you think waw! This dog is amazing! I think from that point on, you start to feel like you have a good solid trustworthy working dog to guide you. They say it can take six months to a year to really settle with a new dog, and I’m sure that somewhere within this timeframe, that amazing walk happens. I’m not rushing things though, and I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made so far, especially considering we’ve had to work out a spending routine, deal with a change of food and a small operation.

Although Sibyl’s work is far from perfect yet, I’m bringing her somewhere soon which will be a bit of a challenge, and something I’ve never done with a dog before. She has so much confidence and nothing really phases her, so I think she’ll be fine. I’ll blog all about that soon.

How’s O.J?

I get asked this all the time since O.J retired three months ago, so I thought I’d write a bit about how he’s getting on.

At the minute, O.J is living with my parents, a five minute drive from my house. He’s in great form, enjoying relaxing and going for walks. My aunt often calls into the house to walk him when my parents are working. Sometimes he goes for a walk in the morning before they go. Occasionally he comes to school with my mum, and spends time with the children in her class. He’s been staying with my sister during the last few days, and of course he visits me too. So even though he’s retired, he still goes to lots of different places.

O.J has taken up a new hobby since his retirement began. It’s called steeling food, and he does it on a regular basis. In his defense, my parents leave tempting food in the kitchen sometimes. They aren’t the best at remembering to tidy absolutely everything eatable away. O.J is a big dog, and part lab of course, which means if he can reach something, he won’t think twice about scoffing it!
So far since his retirement, O.J has eaten:
a steak, a frozen pie, sandwiches for my dad’s lunch, a piece of rocky road, a slice of apple tart, a generous portion of his own dog food, and maybe a couple of other things that I’ve forgotten. Last week he found a lemon and some garlic. He tasted both, but decided they weren’t very appealing.
What a silly dog! He hasn’t put on any weight at all, because they don’t intentionally feed him scraps or any extra food.
I’m looking forward to having him stay with me for a couple of weeks when I come back from holidays. Having three dogs in the house will be crazy but fun!

Good Things Always Happen in Cork

I’ve been to Cork five times in the last year. It’s one of my favourite counties, I love the accent, and every time I go, I always really enjoy it. I went there last weekend, and it was no exception.

Sibyl did her first journey on the Dublin bus on Friday morning. It’s one she’ll be doing many times, so luckily she seemed to enjoy it. We arrived in Dublin earlier than expected, and met Nicky at the train station, where we took the train to Cork. We stayed in a bed and breakfast in Ballincollig, as all the hotels nearby were booked up. It was quite basic, but the owner was friendly and they were happy to have the dog there. One of our friends was staying there too, so it was lovely to catch up with her.

Irish Guide Dogs had their AGM in the centre the next morning, which was the original reason we had decided to go to Cork. Sibyl didn’t seem too excited to be back at the centre, where we trained only nine weeks ago. Maybe she was afraid I was going to leave her back there. She behaved brilliantly, and wasn’t bothered by all the dogs and people at all. The dogs were excellent. The meeting probably lasted over three hours, and there wasn’t a sound from any of them. It was interesting to hear the questions and concerns that people had, and how the guide dogs organisation intends to deal with these. They do incredible work, but they are willing to listen to their service users and work to the best of their ability.

By this stage, you might be impressed by the fact that I traveled an eight hour journey by public transport, just to attend an annual general meeting. But there was another factor which made me very determined to be in Cork on July 11th. Some very kind person decided that the AGM should be on the same day that The Frames were playing in the Marquee, a venue I’ve always wanted to go to. I told Nicky I’d definitely go to the guide dog centre if I could get Frames tickets, even though it was sold out. It was the last gig of their three 25th anniversary concerts, I had missed the other two which took place in Dublin, so I had to be there! The hunt was on for tickets. Without the help of Laura and Claire, it would not have happened, and I’m so grateful to them, because it was a lot more than just a brilliant gig.

When you finish reading this long post, take some time to read
assistance dog Cassie’s
facebook page. It gives an incredible insight into the difference that an assistance dog from Irish Guide Dogs can make to the life of a child with autism and their family. The “Colm” you’ll see on that page is the violin player with The Frames. Sibyl’s trainer is also a huge fan of the band (she’s liked them even longer than I have), so it was really nice of her to tell me that they’d organised a photoshoot with the band. I don’t have pictures yet, but no doubt they’ll be put online by somebody soon.

Nicky and I arrived at the Marquee with Sibyl at 5 P.M, after the taxi driver frustratingly drove us around Cork city even though he didn’t really have to. We were met by one of the Aiken Promotions staff (who know us well at this stage), and from then on, we were treated like VIPS. That’s Very Important People by the way, not Visually Impaired People, as we are sometimes referred to!

When we got inside, the band had just finished their soundcheck. I hugged Glen and Colm, and was starting to chat to them, when Sibyl spotted her trainer, who she still loves. She stood up on her back legs and wagged her tail, much to everybody’s amusement! This was the only time she went a bit hyper all weekend, so I had to forgive her and just laugh too. There were three guide dog trainers, who had brought some dogs who are still in training. Assistance dog Cassie was there, and she reminded me a lot of O.J. It was great to meet Sheila and the boys too. We chatted and photographs were taken. The band seemed genuinely interested in the dogs, and happy to take the time to meet us.
The trainee dogs were left back to kennels while Nicky and I waited for my cousin to come and collect Sibyl. He watched her while we were at the gig because it would have been too loud. It was great to have somebody that I know who could watch her, while still be able to have her in the photographs.

The gig itself was fantastic as usual. The band played a great selection of songs from their 25 year career, and were joined by all the former Frames members. Unfortunately we were surrounded by a lot of talkers, which dampened the atmosphere a bit. Sitting during a Frames gig isn’t something I’m used to, and at times I just wanted to jump around, but you really can’t complain when you get guest list tickets.
The people involved with guide dogs were given wristbands, so we went back stage for a while after the gig. People just sat around chatting, children played quietly together, and the atmosphere was nice and relaxed. It was a really nice end to a really nice day.

I was really grateful to be in Cork on Saturday. Anyone who knows me well enough, even through this blog knows how much having a guide dog has changed and improved my life. They probably also know how much I like The Frames, and that I think they are a bit more than just a good band. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I wrote
this guest post
for 2UIBestow in 2010, which might give you a better idea. Because of The Frames, I have been introduced to great music, met new friends and brilliant people, and had lots of fun during the last thirteen years. I’m not just inspired by their musicianship, but by their love for what they do, their incredible work ethic, and their constant ability to deliver more than the fans expect from them at every gig. Having my favourite band and my favourite organisation doing something together was really special, and a great way to celebrate 25 years of brilliant music.

The Tory Adventure

Last Saturday, myself, Sibyl and eight of my work colleagues took the boat to Tory Island. One of the girls comes from there, and we’ve talked about going there for a long time. I’m not sure if you’d call it a staff night out, but it definitely was a night with a difference!

I really don’t think Sibyl and I would make good sailors. The gap onto the boat was quite wide, so she was a bit afraid to go on. One of the boys gently lifted her on, and she was fine on the journey. Unfortunately I wasn’t as relaxed, and didn’t really enjoy the almost constant rocking motion. It was a good day and the weather was warm, so I dreaded to think what it would be like on a bad day. When we lifted Sibyl off on Tory, I tried to forget all about the boat on the way home, and started to really enjoy my time there.

People say time goes slower on an island, which I didn’t think was true, but it really felt like we were there for three days, in a good way of course. Tory has a population of under 150 people, and we met lots of the locals, who were very friendly. They are all very proud of where they come from, and were happy to answer all our questions about their culture. Sibyl wasn’t the only guide dog there, and we were delighted to meet Jock and his new owner Jimmy. The dogs knew each other from training in Cork, and we both had a nice chat. We met a dog who wasn’t so friendly on a walk later, but Sibyl doesn’t seem to let things like that bother her.

The local people on Tory were so welcoming, that when we set up a barbecue beside the hostel, the owners came out with pots of tea and coffee, and spent the evening with us. The fact that we weren’t staying in their hostel wasn’t an issue. We watched the Donegal match in the pub before going back to the hotel bar, where everybody seemed to gather. People played music and it turned into a bit of a session. We went to bed at three, but the hotel probably would have kept open all night if people wanted to stay in the bar. There are no guards on the island, and it’s such a safe place.

We were lucky to meet the king of Tory before getting the boat home on Sunday. The king is elected by the local people, and this man didn’t get the title for nothing! He’s a great entertainer and musician, with a real love of where he comes from. He welcomes each visitor to the island individually with a friendly handshake, and he’s got an infectious personality. He loved getting photos with us all, including Sibyl of course. He walked us to the peer and waved us off on the boat to the mainland. I didn’t feel brilliant on this journey either, and the dog wasn’t impressed by the big waves. Everybody was so helpful, and made her feel really relaxed.
I work with some great people, and we get on well. Some people have only joined within the last year, so it was nice to get to know them better. Hopefully we’ll meet up more regularly outside work, maybe we’ll just stay on dry land for a while though.

Happy 2nd Birthday Sibyl

I’m not one of those people who buys lots of toys for their dog and gives them lots of treats on their birthday. Boring I know! I usually just buy stuff when they need it. Poor Sibyl actually got nothing out of the ordinary today (still in the process of changing food, and trying to keep food as plain as possible.) We did go for a long walk with a friend, in a wooded area with lots of different paths, and I let Sibyl off her lead for most of it. We must have walked for at least an hour, though it didn’t feel that long.
We were almost at the end of our walk, when Sibyl stepped in a grassy area which sank down into a large puddle of muck. I think she scared herself a bit, because she tried to jump out very quickly and nearly fell over. Her paws were covered in muck, which is much more noticeable with her lighter colour. We had nothing to clean her with, so gave her some more time to dry it off in the grass before we went into a restaurant for lunch.
So although Sibyl didn’t get anything eatable for her birthday, or a run on the beach with O.J like I had hoped, she still had fun, and she’s been pretty tired all evening.

The Joys of a New Dog

Time’s absolutely flying, and I can’t believe Sibyl’s been here for almost five weeks already. I’m trying to blog more, so that I can remember how well she is procressing since we finished training, but I just never seem to have time.

Each week with a new guide dog seems to bring new changes. Visitors to my house are shocked by the playful enthusiastic dog that greets them at the door, compared to the shy one they met a month ago. She has become very vocal, making the strangest noises as she carries her toy in her mouth and jumps around looking for attention. She is particularly funny in the morning, or if I’ve left her on her own and she’s excited to see me back. I really need to record her. It’s a deep growl that a huge animal would make, and it’s hard to believe it can come from such a small dog.

Unfortunately I’ve had to change Sibyl’s food, since the Hills lamb and rice diet she was on didn’t seem to be agreeing with her. Without going into too much detail, it just wouldn’t have been practical to keep her on it and expect me to clean up after her! I’m changing her to Royal Canin, which O.J and Dougal already eat, and which I’ve always had good experiences with. Ordering it over the phone would really test your patience though! I’ll gradually change her food during the next ten days.This can sometimes upset a dog’s normal spending routine, but hopefully it won’t be too much of an inconvenience, and she’ll be eating happily and feeling better soon.

I honestly haven’t been working Sibyl as much as I would have liked, but I’m very happy with everything she has done recently. My own work has been busy, as I’m finishing up final reports for the school year, but after tomorrow things will become very quiet. Then the poor dog won’t know what happened her! She went on her first journey to Carlow last weekend. She took it all in her stride, and quickly made herself at home in Nicky’s house. She folloed him and concentrated well in town, and was really chilled out when we went to a Thai restaurant for dinner. I’ve wanted to go to the Weeping Thaiger for ages, but it was worth the wait.
Sibyl’s journey to Carlow was good practice for an even longer one she’ll have to do in July. I can’t say much about it yet, but i’m excited!

Sometimes People Are Just Two Nice!

Living in the same small town all your life is brilliant. People know each other, and they always take time to stop and talk. Everybody looks out for each other, and there is a great community spirit in our town. Most people know me, so I always feel safe, and know that I can ask for help if I ever need it.
This can get interesting when you train with a new guide dog, as I’ve been discovering since I came home with Sibyl.

When I began training at home with O.J, my instructor was amazed at how excited people were about meeting the new dog in town. People knew how much I’d wanted one, and how much independence it would bring, so they all wanted to stop and share their enthusiasm and wish me luck.
When I went to train with Sibyl, there was an article in the local newspaper to coincide with Guide Dog Day, so most people knew that O.J had retired and gone to live with my parents. They seem to be equally as interested in meeting the new dog, so needless to say, we don’t get anywhere in a hurry. Generally this doesn’t bother me, and I’m happy to talk if I have time. It really frustrates me when people talk to the dog and not me, or if they call or pet it without asking, but luckily people are very aware. I’m having more of a problem with drivers than pedestrians these days.

When you train with a new dog, everything takes more time, and the dog can often need lots of encouragement until it builds up confidence in particular areas. Sibyl is still having difficulty finding a crossing on the way back to my house, so I’ve been practicing it with her a lot. I have to slow her down, look for it myself, encourage her to come up to it and give her lots of praise when she does. It’s a very busy main road with an island in the middle, so people want to let me across if they can. If I stop for more than a minute to help Sibyl to learn, people slow down, put down their windows and tell me it’s safe to cross, even though I’m not standing in the appropriate place. I wave them on. I smile politely and thank them. I quickly explain why I can’t allow the dog to cross at a random part of the footpath. I focus on the dog and encourage her to find the right spot. But they insist on being too helpful. People have even gotten out of their cars and come over to me. One overly helpful man told me today that maybe I should have somebody with me for a while until the dog is trained. No! That would be too easy, and she’d start to rely on other people. That’s exactly why I’m taking the time to teach her at the minute, because I know she’ll soon do it without thinking when she becomes more confident.

I’m writing about this more in amusement than frustration. There’s no point in being frustrated with people who are only trying to be helpful. They don’t know enough about guide dogs. They don’t realise that I can’t ask my dog to cross a road in front of their car with it’s engine running. That goes against all she’s been trained to do. They don’t realise that a dog should cross in a specific place to ensure that we are both safe. I can’t see. I can’t run across a road as quickly as you can. Things take a little bit more time when you are blind. It can be a pain at times, but that’s just life.
It’s important to politely refuse help if you don’t want it, rather than being frustrated at people who are trying to do good. I’ve heard of blind people who rudely refuse help, which can make sighted people reluctant to offer assistance to others in the future. And who could blame them?

I began writing this, then saved a draft and went to the shop to buy milk. On the way back, for the first time, Sibyl found the crossing without any prompting from me at all. Her work today has been the best I’ve seen so far, and this was an even bigger bonus. Maybe she wants to prove that man we met earlier wrong. We don’t need anybody to help us. We’re taking our time. We’re not doing things in a hurry, and it looks like the hard work and patience is starting to pay off.