O.J

Last Saturday afternoon, 8th of July, O.J, the dog who changed my life, my favourite dog in the world was put to sleep.

This is the hardest post I’ve written in almost ten years of writing this blog. I wanted to give myself a few days so that I could write something that would make sense. I wanted to describe my last day with my special boy as best I could.
We discovered at the beginning of March that O.J had very bad arthritis, and that medication would only ease the pain for so long. For the next four months he had good days and bad, and there was a few times when I thought I might have to take him to the vet sooner than I was prepared to. Throughout this, O.J stayed his typical self. He played when he could. He looked for food and attention from anyone who would give it to him. His tail never stopped wagging when I spoke to him, except one day at the end of June when I visited my parent’s house and didn’t realise he was in the kitchen. But every other day he tried his best.

Last Saturday morning after making an appointment with the vet, Sibyl and I walked around the park and along the beach to my parent’s house. This was O.J’s favourite walk. Sibyl was unusually relaxed and quiet, and was completely happy for him to get all the attention for the afternoon when we were there. People say dogs sense things, and I think I believe that from how Sibyl and Dougal have been acting since Saturday.
I sat on the grass in the sun and talked to and cuddled O.J, while he wagged his tail, play bit me and barked at people walking up the road. I groomed him, which I have done for the last ten years almost every time we went somewhere in public. I had lunch inside and O.J enjoyed eating a chew. Two of my nephews were there, and I tried to act normal around them, although they knew O.J wasn’t well and I wasn’t happy.

When we arrived at the vet, O.J decided to go for a pee before we went in, which was funny. He stepped on and off the weighing scales a couple of times, and tried to get petted by anyone who would look at him. To them, he just looked like a big gentle dog with a shiny black coat and a very sore leg. The vet we went to was so kind and sensitive. She asked questions, completely listened to me, and only when I had made my final decision told me that in her opinion I was brave and fair to him, and that it was the right one. She admitted she wished she wasn’t working that day, and genuinely seemed upset. She told me that we could give him very strong painkillers, but he would be sleepy all the time, and he wouldn’t be the dog I knew. Up until the end, O.J was his usual self, and that’s the dog I’m going to remember. The whole thing was so relaxed and peaceful for him, and he was wagging his tail with his head on my knee until he was quietly and gently put to sleep.

Even though we were all heartbroken, I think I was the person who was most prepared. My family really weren’t expecting that outcome, and telling my seven and ten-year-old nephews was especially difficult. I always said I would never let him suffer, or keep him longer just because I don’t want to let him go, and that was a promise I was able to keep. Of course I wish I could keep him forever. His collar is hanging at the bottom of the stairs. Someone put it there as a reminder for me to put away somewhere, but in the meantime I like it being there. I sometimes touch it when I’m going up or down without thinking about it, and then it reminds me of him. I have photos that people can describe to me. I have some videos and a recording of his bark on my phone. But I still can’t believe I’m never going to be able to pet him again, which I suppose is the equivalent of not seeing him. I don’t ever want to forget what he feels like.

O.J was the most genuine gentle dog I have ever met. He wasn’t a perfect guide dog. No dog is, but he was perfect for me. Other dogs will continue to build on the independence and confidence that he gave me, but they will never make such a huge lifechanging impact on my life like he did.
My two favourite letters of the alphabet will always be O and J.
I’ll always have a soft spot for black labrador retrievers.
O.J will always be my favourite dog, and I’m so lucky to have had him in my life for ten amazing years.

O.J, 13/03/2006 – 08/07/2017
RIP xx

Ten years of independence

This day ten years ago, I met OJ for the first time, and he changed my life for the better.

 

When I nervously picked up OJ’s harness handle for the first time in Cork in June 2007, I knew something special was about to happen. I hoped after a few minutes of walking with him that the trainer would say we were a good match. I can honestly say I’ve never instantly connected with any dog like I did with him that day.

 

OJ has been a huge part of my life during the last ten years, giving me independence and confidence that I never had before. He enabled me to go where I want safely when I want, travel, meet new people and make new friends, find new jobs and volunteering opportunities, visit family and friends, babysit my nephews, move house and live my life the way I want to.

At the beginning of our training, his trainer described him as such a genuine dog, and that has always been a good description. He’s gentle, affectionate, giddy, clever and charming. He’s obsessed with food, still walks to the left of everything, wags his tail the minute you speak to him, loves barking, loves poking people with his nose to get attention, enjoys swimming, getting groomed, playing fetch and play biting, loves his bed, and adores curling up as close to the fire as he can get until he nearly goes on fire himself.

 

OJ is my favourite dog in the world. I wish I could have him forever. His puppywalkers gave him such an amazing start for the first year of his life. I’m so lucky that his trainer persevered with his high body sensitivity and got him through the training at just seventeen months old. Other trainers might not have been so determined. I’m so grateful that she trained him, and even more grateful that she matched him with me.

 

 

Ten years of blogging

It’s hard to believe that in August I’ll have been a guide dog owner for ten years, and have been blogging for the same length of time. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some links to some of my favourite posts on
Twitter
so anyone who follows me there will see them. It’s been fun looking back over the blog and being reminded of all the things we did, how busy we were at different times over the last ten years, and how much OJ really did change my life. Thankfully I’ve become a lot better at writing since those first few months!

How are the dogs?

I’ve become terrible at writing here recently. I’m in the house doing nothing on a Friday night, which is actually really nice after a busy week of work. I’m feeling sorry for myself though because Eddie Vedder’s playing in Dublin right now and I had nobody to go with. I’m really lacking people who like the same kind of music as me and have time to go and hear bands play live. Since it is one of my favourite things to do, it’s really depressing! So I’m writing this as a distraction, and of course to write about my three favourite dogs and how they are doing.

Sibyl is the youngest and silliest of the lot. If she gets her play time off her lead every week, she’s fine, but if not, I soon know about it. She’s in no real working routine now that I’m working from home, but it doesn’t bother her at all, and she’s ready to go at any time of the day when I pick up her harness. She still gets a bit too overexcited when we have visitors, and moves her bed, or lifts Dougal’s instead, which is really annoying. I’m working on preventing this though, and she’s getting better. Her work overall is excellent, and her dog distraction is practically non existent now since she had her glands removed.

Dougal is almost ten and a half now, and he hasn’t changed much at all. He likes going for walks if they aren’t too often! He loves walking with my PA, so she takes him once a week, sometimes with her own dog and they are great friends. Dougal still hates being groomed, and likes attention, but only on his terms. He’ll always be OJ’s buddy, and Sibyl’s housemate. They don’t fight though, and are actually funny to watch together, especially when they take turns chewing the same nylabone, even if there were three to choose from.

The main man O.J is in great form these days, after a tough month of not feeling too good. A week before he turned 11 in March, he began limping, and it got pretty bad pretty quick. The vet x-rayed and examined and did blood tests, which confirmed he’s very healthy for his age, but has bad arthritis in his elbow. After weekly injections for a month, and then trying two different types of medication, we finally found a treatment he responded to. He’ll have to take a tablet every day for the rest of his life, but they have made a huge difference, so I don’t mind. Luckily I kept him insured for another year, so the vet can monitor him regularly and I won’t be robbed! He went from a dog that could barely put his foot on the ground in March, to one with a slight limp, who doesn’t go for long walks anymore, but can still swim in the sea, just minutes from his house, and he still loves it.

I have three dogs at three very different stages in their lives. Three dogs who are so much fun. and three dogs that I’m very lucky to own.

What a weekend!

Clearly the wordpress app on my phone doesn’t work. I attempted to write a quick post while I was away last weekend but it didn’t work. I can’t remember exactly what that post was supposed to say, so I’ll just write about the great weekend we had instead.

My family went to Donegal town (which is only about 90 minutes from where we live) to stay for the weekend. Friday was my nephew’s first birthday, and it turned out we had a lot to celebrate. I’d been very busy with work all week, but made sure to take Sibyl for a long walk and a couple of runs in the good weather. She went to a new groomer on Thursday, and she came back feeling and smelling lovely. The groomer insisted on doing the job free, which was really nice of her.
We had a relaxing weekend walking, eating and playing lots of board games because there weren’t many channels on the television which was great. I wish we had weekends like this more often. One of my nephews missed a lot of the weekend because he was playing football in a friendship cup, and he played really well.

The main reason why we stayed only 90 minutes from our home for the weekend was that we were all attending an award ceremony last Saturday evening. I was nominated in February for a ten outstanding young person (TOYP) award from Junior Chamber International (JCI) which is ultimately a world-wide event. I attended the awards ceremony in Donegal at the end of March, and it was a fantastic night. Everyone was so nice, and all the speakers were so humble. Three weeks ago I got an email to tell me that I was chosen as one of the three award winners from Donegal, and one of ten overall winners to be awarded at the ceremony organised by JCI Ireland in Harvey’s point. The hotel is located three minutes drive from the house I rented for my family, and we cecided to make the most of the opportunity.

After a nice walk and lunch, I met the other JCI members at the hotel where we drove to a mountain called Sleeve League for a bit of a climb. Only three of the winners were able to attend. I was nervous because I didn’t really know anybody, but everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and helped Sibyl and myself to climb part of the mountain, before it rained and we were all absolutely soaked! We came back to the hotel like a bus load of drowned rats. We had an hour and a half to get ready, and my sister was her usual brilliant self at helping with this!

The award ceremony was so enjoyable, with inspiring speeches, amazing food, great company and lots and lots of fun. It was hosted by John Loughton, who was perfect for the job. He’s also very inspiring, and definitely worth listening to if you have a chance to hear his Tedx talk online. Each awardee had a different reason to be nominated, whether it was for business, humanitarian work, or personal accomplishment like mine was. They were all very inspiring,, and whoever is chosen to represent Ireland in Amsterdam will be a worthy choice.

Sibyl behaved like an absolute superstar during the whole event. and so many people were commenting on how good she was. Even I was surprised! Do you ever have one of those times when your guide dog just does it’s job to perfection? They don’t happen often here, but that was one of those days. Even after climbing part of a hill, she was still determined to make me proud!

I was genuinely so surprised to be nominated for an award like this, never mind win an Ireland one. Two friends who I don’t see very often took the time to nominate me, which I really appreciate, even though awards like this terrify me and I was so nervous all week. I just do what I do, and I don’t think it’s anything special or unique. I feel like I got an award for doing nothing! Just being myself. And that’s not hard. But it was really such a special day that I won’t forget in a hurry.

Here’s my unplanned and very nervous speech from Saturday, which was filmed by JCI. The other speeches are on their website too.

30 Challenges, The Complete List!

After all the talk of the 30 challenges, I never did post the final list when I finished, so here it is! I didn’t do this to prove anything or for people to say it’s inspiring. I didn’t do this to prove that I can do things eeven though I’m blind. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I did this because I wanted to learn new things and put myself out of my comfort zone a bit. But more importantly, I did it for fun!
Thanks to anyone who helped to make any of these 30 things possible, whether by organising, participating, or encouraging me to do them and not thinking I was crazy! Getting to spend time doing fun things with so many different people during the year was fun. I definitely learned a lot, and it has made me think about things I want to do in the future. It was definitely an interesting and fun 30th year!

1. Raise money for guide dogs on my 30th birthday
I had a coffee morning for guide dogs which raise €1,750.
2. Visit a city that I’ve never been to before
Krakow in Poland (30th birthday present from my family.)
3. Eat traditional food associated with a particular country
Dumplings in Poland, Welsh Cakes in Wales. Nepalese food.
4. Bake a cake
My friend Francina helped me to make nephew Danny’s 9th birthday cake.
5. Do a short course to learn something new
Intro to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in the NWRC in Derry.
6. Take part in ‘darkness into light’ on 7th May
Guide dog Sibyl came too. I would really recommend this.
7. Do something historical in Belfast, since I lived there for three years and did nothing!
I did the titanic tour (part of my birthday present from the girls.)
8. Find Bruce Springsteen tickets for a Croke Park concert!
People said I wouldn’t. They were hard to get, but I got them a month before and it was great!
9. Educate myself more about mental health
Learned lots through a transcribing job and some courses and talks that I attended.
10. Touch an animal that I’ve never felt before
I held a bearded dragon and a blue tongue skink, two types of lizards. Fed a lop-eared rabbit.
11. Attend a musical performance that’s not really my type of thing
I went to Beyonce in Croke Park on 9th July with my best friends for Cheryl’s birthday.
12. Go on a rickshaw
This was unplanned but it was our transport to Croke Park when we missed the bus!
13. Gut a fish (an idea my 9-year-old nephew challenge me to do)
I only managed to chop off the head and tail and was nearly sick!
14. Listen to 30 inspiring Ted Talks during the month of August
Some of these were great.
15. Go surfing
This was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, even though I’m afraid of waves!
16. Spend time in a recording studio
I got to have a look around Neill McGrory’s studio in Culdaff.
17. An activity at a spa that I’ve never done before
I went in an outdoor hot tub in the Galgorm with some of my friends.
18. Make something from wood
I did some woodturning and made a bowl. This was a brilliant experience.
19. become self-employed
This wasn’t part of the original plan, but now I have my own audio transcription business.
20. Learn a useful life skill
I did my first ever first aid course with the RNIB.
21. Eat vegetarian food for a month
I started on 25th of November and ended by eating turkey on Christmas day.
22. Make and drink a wheatgrass shot
This was horrible!
23. Do more voluntary work
I became a volunteer with the Foroige club working with children, and have plans for other things.
24. Post a song a day online for a month and the reasons why I like it
This was easy but good fun!
25. Learn to make homemade cosmetics
I learned to make some simple scrubs and face masks. Still want to try soap making sometime.
26. Walk the two bridges in Derry
I walked across the Foyle Bridge and the peace bridge with my friend Julie.
27. Go on a motorbike
I went on a motorbike from Buncrana to Bridgend with my uncle Denis.
28. Work in munchies sweet shop.
I made mixes, stocked sweets and served customers. First time ever working in a real shop.
29. Shave someone’s head.
My cousin Evan allowed me to shave his head, and his brother Denis helped me to do it.
30. Go gliding.
I ended the year on a high!

Challenge 30 of 30

Finally today, five weeks later than I had hoped, I completed challenge 30, the last in my list of new things I have never done before during the last year.
I could have chosen something simple and did it on my birthday to finish off the year, but I had an idea in my head for the last six months. You know what I’m like when I get an idea in there!
I wanted to do something exciting that would take me out of my comfort zone, would be lots of fun, and something memorable. I wanted to end on a high, and that is exactly what i did!

At 12 o’clock this afternoon I drove with a friend into the Ulster gliding club in Limavady, just over an hour from where we live, and close to the beach where I had gone surfing last September. It was full of enthusiastic people who enjoy flying and gliding for a hobby, and are keen to share it with anyone who wants to try, even if they have a disability. The gliders are small, so the weather needs to be really good, which is why I couldn’t do it until now. We got the warmest day of the year so far, and it was almost too mild to glide because there was not much wind. I didn’t take Sibyl, but really should have, as there was a bit of waiting around before I went, and she would have had lots of fresh air and walks outside. Everybody was friendly and encouraging, and excited for me to try gliding.

I had a chance to feel the glider before I went. It’s basically like a small plane without an engine. It is attached to a small aeroplane by a rope about 150 metres long, which pulls the glider, bringing it into the air to a certain point before disconnecting, at which point the glider is flying almost silently. The aircraft has to be evenly balanced, so they had to add extra weights because I’m so small. To my surprise, I sat in the front seat while the instructor sat behind. This felt a bit strange at first, like I should know what I’m doing! We both had the same controls, so he had full control at all times, but could let me fly on my own at certain points. Another surprise was having to put on a parachute before I got in. This was more for comfort like a cushion to fit in the shape of the seats in the aircraft, but obviously it was a safety feature too. I was hoping I’d never have to find out exactly how it works!

My instructor was called John, and he was fantastic at his job. He had 25 years flying experience, and he was also a teacher, which put me at ease because he explained everything brilliantly. I was the first blind person he had ever flown, but I never would have guessed from how well he described things. He strapped me in, did the pre-flight checks, and then the plane took off, pulling us behind it. The first ten seconds were a bit bumpy, but when we left the ground, it was totally smooth and relaxing for the whole trip. You can feel the glider moving, but I was expecting the movement to be much more obvious than it was. I was fascinated by how fast it goes, even though it didn’t feel that fast. We flew to 2000 feet, at 60 miles per hour, and covered a good distance in a short time. We flew to the edge of a cliff, where people stood waving at us.

The best moment of gliding is when you feel yourself moving upwards, hear the noisy plane in front, and then the instructor disconnects the rope from the plane. The plane turns right, you can feel yourself turning left, and then it just goes almost silent. The sound of the plane fades away, and you’re in the sky, gliding along in an object that has wings and no engine. The idea of that just sounded crazy before, but when you’re in it, it feels totally safe. John gave me verbal directions how to steer the glider, which is something he said I was actually very good at. Who would have thought?! It is easy to feel the change in direction as you move the stick left or right. Moving it away from you points the nose of the plane downwards, and you can hear the change in the sound of the air. Moving it towards you brings it back up again. It was great to be able to feel these changes and experience that part. Being blind definitely has its disadvantages when you go gliding, because the views are amazing, especially on a lovely day. Everyone says that’s the thing that gets people adicted and makes them want to keep coming back. Ulster is a very popular club, with lots of people from all over Ireland regularly coming up to fly their planes whenever they can. I did feel like I missed out on a bit of that experience by not being able to see it today.

We landed safely and smoothly, and the people were excited to know what I thought. I definitely enjoyed the experience. It was similar in many ways to the plane I had flown in before, but the idea of it having no engine made it more relaxing and intimate. It is brilliant that flying clubs can offer opportunities like this to people who might think it is impossible. Although I would say gliding is definitely a very visual thing in many ways, it was an exciting thing to try, and having a great instructor made it very worthwhile. It was definitely a different way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and a brilliant end to an interesting year of doing new exciting and challenging things.
I’ll post the complete list soon, but for now, I’ll enjoy relaxing my brain and being back on normal ground again.

August Wells

Before I write about the latest band I’ve fallen in love with, I haven’t forgotten about the 30th challenge. It hasn’t happened yet due to the weather, but hopefully it will happen some weekend soon. I could have done something simple on my birthday to finish off the list, but I wanted to end on a real high, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do when I get the opportunity.

Last Saturday I went to McGrory’s with one of my best friends to see a band I’ve only known about for the last year and haven’t stopped listening to during the last month. August Wells are made up of Dubliner Ken Griffin on vocals and guitar, and American pianist John Rauchenberger. Griffin’s song lyrics can be both humourous and thought provoking. His baritone voice quickly catches your ear and keeps you listening. Rauchenberger doesn’t only have a great sirname, but he is one of the most creative piano players I’ve seen in a long while. Together they are a great combination, and equally brilliant when you hear them play live.

McGrory’s is a lovely venue near the Donegal coast. Unfortunately I think it could be managed more efficiently at times where the music is concerned, and advertising of this gig could have been much better. As a result, the band were moved from the back bar to the smaller front bar due to low ticket sales. The small number of us who bought tickets got our money back, but it meant that we had to listen to them play along with lots of other people who had come for food and drinks before, and weren’t paying too much attention. The venue was quite noisy, but when we got seats towards the front soon after it started, we enjoyed it much better. The performance was relaxed and straightforward, with a couple of short breaks for encores. When it finished we had a nice chat with Ken and John. I think they were surprised when we came to buy CDs, and that two people in the crowd where very enthusiastic about their music! They said that they felt it was unfair that we couldn’t hear it as well as we might have wanted to because we’d bought tickets, so they put us on the guest list for the following night’s performance in Derry, which we weren’t able to attend. Still, it was a very kind gesture.

I’d definitely recommend both albums, ‘a living in a dying game’, and the new one ‘madness is the mercy’ if anybody is looking for new music that’s clever but easy to listen to. Most of the bands I go to hear play are bands or artists that I’ve already seen before, so this was a nice opportunity to hear somebody new. Hopefully they’ll get a better reception on the rest of their Irish tour and come back again soon.

A challenging week!

I can’t believe it’s this time already. It’s 17th February. My birthday is tomorrow. I’ve done 29 new things since last year that I’ve never done before, which was something I challenged myself to do in February 2016. I have one day left and one challenge to do. If the weather cooperates (which it doesn’t always do in Ireland) I’ll be finishing off my 30 challenges by doing something scary but exciting on my birthday. Here’s hoping!
When I finish the birthday celebrations I’ll put up the full list of things I’ve done. In the meantime, I wanted to write about a few of them that I did this week because they were worth describing in a bit more detail.

Last Monday afternoon I went on a motorbike with my uncle. I’d been on a small one in Thailand before, but this time I was more prepared. I had the trousers, the coat and the helmet. My uncle is a retired guard, so I knew I’d be safe. I wasn’t nervous, but my aunt was, and apparently she didn’t sit still until I came back. The bike shook a small bit as it took off, but when it got going I loved it! We drove for almost half an hour. I had no real concept of where I was until I smelled slurry at one part of the journey and that was a good clue. It was a windy day, but the protective clothes kept the wind out. It’s a great feeling driving along in the open air with the wind blowing around you, holding on tight but also knowing you are safe. If you didn’t feel relaxed, you probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.
I can definitely recommend riding a motorbike sometime in your life if you haven’t done it already.

Challenge 28 happened two days later. For many peple, especially my six and nine-year-old nephews, this was a dream come true! I spent an hour working in Munchies, which is a local sweet shop which my friends own. I prepared bags of mixed sweets, where I was able to choose from around twelve different types of jellies and yummy fizzy things which are bad for your teeth. I attempted to put stickers on bags which advertise the shop, but we soon realised that this was not a good idea. I’m hopeless at keeping things straight, so it gave us a good laugh. I was quickly moved on to restocking jars of jellies instead. Cheryl also gave me the chance to serve the children who came in after school. I had to use the till and make sure I gave them the proper money back! I knew lots of the people who came in, and they were surprised to see me behind the counter with an apron and gloves on. I’m usually there to buy things instead. Nobody was more surprised than my two nephews. I had asked their dad to bring them in after school without telling him why. They were very jealous and very excited, and we took some photos as they bought their chocolate bars.

Working in a shop was a brilliant experience that a blind person wouldn’t usually get the chance to do. I had the opportunity to be involved in everything, even working the till, and even the customers were very encouraging. It was definitely the most enjoyable Wednesday afternoon Ive had in a long while.
And yes of course, I did get to taste a few nice things while I was there 😀

Challenge 29 was one that was on my original list, and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time out of curiosity. After dinner with my parents and family, my cousin Evan and a few more family members came to visit. I got the shaver out and shaved his head! I was a bit afraid at first, and felt a bit guilty as soon as I felt the first clump of hair fall into my hand. But there was no going back! I gave him a number 3, so I didn’t completely bald him. Wasn’t that nice of me? His brother helped guide my hand and show me what way to move it. I also made sure that he tidied up the cut in the end, because if he’d left it he might have gotten some funny looks for a while.
It was fun doing something that you should really not do when you are blind. I don’t think I’ll have a career as a hairdresser any time soon though!