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.

A Sibyl Update

Cliodhna the guide dog instructor has come and gone twice since I’ve written about Sibyl. Overall she is very pleased with how well she has settled in,
and how relaxed and confident she is while working. I’m very happy with her too, and I know she will be a great dog. I just need to practice local routes
over and over again, and allow time for her to become confident with them.

Last Tuesday we brought Sibyl into town for the first time, and she learned where my aunt’s house is. I was happy enough to do that much with the supervision
of the instructor, and then teach her specific buildings and areas of town myself during the next week or two. The only difficulty on the walk to town
is finding the crossings. Sibyl just wanted to walk past them all, but with repetition and keeping her steady as we approach them, she’s doing very well.
Cliodhna came up with the good idea of putting a windchime from my yard on a pole beside the most difficult crossing, so when I hear it, I know to encourage
Sibyl to go in and find it. The fact that the traffic lights at another crossing have been broken doesn’t help, so I need to contact the council about
that. In a few more days, she’ll automatically find these crossings, without it being a big deal.

We also taught Sibyl to find my parent’s house using both the main road and the park. She was very excited by the park and the beach, but I think the novelty
will ware off soon. We encountered a lot of dog distraction, and one dog in particular who growled and snarled at Sibyl as we tried to walk past it. I
know the owner, and it’s a dog we meet regularly, but this turned out to be a good thing. Somebody else in that situation might have quickly walked on
in embarrassment, but this lady is a responsible dog owner. The instructor encouraged the dogs to sniff each other, and advised her what to do if she saw
her dog becoming uncomfortable. Sibyl wasn’t stressed at all by the dog, but a free run on the beach was probably the perfect thing to do when we got home.
Her recall is fantastic!

Sibyl went to the vet last week to be registered. The staff were surprised to see me with a different dog. The vet was very thorough. I knew Sibyl didn’t
need to be examined, but he did it anyway, and it didn’t do any harm.
She also visited my office in work for the first time, and of course everybody loved her. She is very good in social situations, and we’ve had plenty of
opportunities to socialise since she came home, with first communion and confirmation parties, as well as going for dinner and to a primary school for
work. That school visit deserves a post of it’s own sometime soon!!

Thankfully Sibyl has developed a more regular spending routine, which makes everything else we do during the day much easier. O.J and Dougal have been down
to visit, and they are all very relaxed when they see each other. O.J is always very excited to see me, so I make a huge fuss of him and then he relaxes.
Last week I had all three dogs in the house for most of the day, and it was great! I’m very lucky to be able to have my working dog and my retired dog
together.

Sibyl is slowly starting to feel like my guide dog now. For the first few weeks, it really felt like I was watching a dog for somebody else, and I missed
O.J so much when I was in Cork. Now that I can see him often, and know that he’s loving retirement, I’m adjusting more easily. I know I have another great
working dog now. I just have to remember that everything is knew for her, and I need to be patient and teach her. I sometimes expect walks to be better,
but it’s early days and she’s doing great, so I’m being hard on both of us by expecting too much. It can be exhausting having to concentrate so much, even
on the simplest of walks, but I suppose that’s just part of training with a new dog. It has definitely been a learning curve for me as well as Sibyl.
The guide dog instructor will come up from Cork at the end of June to see how we are getting on. In the meantime, we’re just going to get out walking as
much as possible, and adjust to normal life again. Sibyl has lots of places to go and new things to learn, but I know she’s up for the challenge, and she’s
going to be great.

Ireland Said Yes!

Very proud to be Irish today. We have voted in favour of marriage equality, and as a result, our country will change for the better.
Twitter has been incredible during the last couple of days. Hearing people’s personal stories, the amount of people who returned home to vote, and how this vote will change their lives has been overwhelming.
For the first time in my life, I was looking forward to voting, confident about how I wanted to vote, and really excited about the final result. Not for any personal reasons at all, just because I know it’s the right decision.

Same sex marriage has finally become legal.
Well done Ireland.

Settling In At Home

When you’ve worked with a guide dog for so long, you forget what it was like when you brought the first one home. Everything is new to them, and there’s so many new things to see and smell and discover.
Sibyl and I have been home since Friday night, and I’ve spent the weekend letting her get comfortable with the house. I brought the fleece bed that she had in Cork back, so it’s something she’s familiar with, and she has spent a lot of time relaxing on it. Family and friends came to visit, and she kept very calm. She’ll go over to them for a pet and then come straight back to me. I suppose I’m the only thing she really knows at the minute, so it’s like a security thing.

An important part of the settling in period is establishing a spending routine. For non guide dog owners, that basically means the dog going to the toilet on a regular basis. They are so well trained that they will go on command, in a designated area outside. In O.J and Sibyl’s case, it’s a small fenced off concreted area of my yard. A new fence was supposed to be made while I was training, but the people who had the job of doing it let me down. My dad had taken down the wooden one he’d built, so spent over an hour on Saturday morning building a new one, much to the delight of my four-year-old nephew who loves doing jobs outside. I had to let Sibyl go in the yard before this was built. Then I spent the next two days encouraging her to go in the new area, and teaching her that it was okay to do so. When the guide dog goes in the particular area, it prevents it from wanting to go on walks, and from just wanting to go anywhere on the footpath when we’re out and about, so it’s very important to get this part right from the beginning. There’s lots of praise and excitement from me when she does it where she’s supposed to!

As well as meeting my family and friends, I also wanted Sibyl to meet O.J and Dougal before my instructor came up. I met O.J on my own first, because I knew he’d be so excited anyway after not seeing me for two weeks. He jumped around like crazy! He instantly liked Sibyl, and although my back yard was too small for them to play properly, they made a good attempt. I can’t wait to let them play on the beach together soon.
I waited until today to let Sibyl meet Dougal. An overexcited dog wouldn’t have been good, and Dougal would have been totally freaked out. He barked a bit when she came close to him, but they soon became friends. I let Dougal off his lead in my parent’s house and kept Sibyl on hers. That meant that Dougal could approach her at his own pace, and walk away when he wanted to. After a lot of sniffing, they both began play bowing to each other, and I knew for definite that they were both happy. I didn’t let Sibyl off her lead, but I know when I do after they meet a couple more times, they’ll be fine. The only problem I’m going to have is stopping all three of them from playing too much!

The Guide dog instructor comes to Buncrana tomorrow, and she’ll help me to introduce new routes to Sibyl during the next couple of days. I’m really looking forward to working her in areas that are familiar to me, and giving her a challenge. I know she’s really intelligent, and many of the housing estates in Cork had her bored and distracted by the time we left. She worked best when we went to the City, because she had to focus and think. I was really impressed by what she did in that short space of time. I’m looking forward to introducing her to a whole new area, and helping her to be the confident hard worker that I know she can be.
The fun starts tomorrow!

Guide Dog Day

Today is guide dog day,. Irish guide dogs have collections and events taking place all around the country. It has replaced ‘shades’ week, which was their annual fundraising event at the beginning of May, which was always launched by their patron Roy Keane. Roy visited the centre two weeks ago, and did
an interview
with Kevin Kelly, who is from Donegal. Have a look, it’s really good.

Guide dog day seemed like a good day to introduce people to my new dog. She’s a golden lab x retriever, and her name is Sibyl.
I arrived in Cork on Monday afternoon, but we didn’t get our dogs until Tuesday morning. We’ve been getting to know each other since then, and so far I’m very impressed! She’s quite shy until she gets to know you, so the dog I have now acts completely different to the one I met three days ago. Her work seems good, and nothing really seems to phase her. The only major change I have to get used to is her small size. It feels strange when we’re walking, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon enough. She may be small, and have a cute lady-like name, but you want to hear her snoring!!!

I didn’t want to write a detailed account of training. Guide dog owners have done it very well, and I’m envious and impressed by how well they explain things in such detail. I just don’t have the brains for that this week. I’m very lucky to be training with a great instructor and two other trainees who are very nice. The evenings are very quiet, so thankfully we all keep each other entertained by talking and winding each other up. The three dogs on class all look very different, and they are all working well. The staff are great, and the food is amazing!

I’ve had lovely blog comments, texts, emails and tweets during the last week, and I really appreciated them all. Changing dogs is definitely not an easy thing to do, but I’m lucky to know so many helpful kind people who have made it a bit easier.

Happy Retirement Big Pup

It’s hard to believe we’ve come to this stage already. Seven years and eight months of great work and great fun.
I thought I’d know what to write, because I’ve been thinking about this day for the last five weeks. Now that It’s here, I have absolutely no idea.

I hadn’t really planned anything in particular for O.J’s last day being a working guide dog. The fact that we had hailstones was a bit of a surprise. O.J isn’t a fan of miserable weather, so apart from a two minute walk to visit my aunt, we went nowhere. He did get very close to a baby chick when we were there, but was more distracted by the cat than the bird. Technically his final walk in harness was yesterday, when we went to town. He spent an hour in my aunt’s house (we still call it granny’s!) which was the first house he ever visited in town.
My friends came to visit this afternoon, and my aunt called over with a retirement card, addressed to Oliver John as she likes to call him! I brushed him, we went to my parents for dinner, and my mum took some photographs of us.
So it was a normal enough day.

Now, I’m sitting here in a quiet house, after leaving the dogs to my parents. O.J has gone to his new home. It’s a place he’s familiar with, and he’s totally happy being there. I think that’s why I’m not upset like I expected to be. It was hard packing up all his things and leaving his harness behind, knowing that I won’t be putting it on him again. It just doesn’t seem real, and I suppose it won’t until I come back from training in Cork. Now it just feels like I’m going on holiday and leaving him behind. In reality, his life is just about to become one big extended holiday!

Working with O.J has taught me so much about dogs, about independence, and about getting out there and making the most of everything. He gave me so much confidence, and I was always proud to bring him with me, especially to new places. I could completely trust him, even when he was easily distracted, and he made me laugh every day, even when he was being cheeky. I hope the blog posts I’ve written since we started working together have done him justice and described his personality.

I’m so grateful to Irish guide dogs for giving me such a great first dog. I couldn’t have asked for better. Our family has raised just over 20,000 euros since O.J came to our town. Hopefully that contributed towards other people having the same opportunities that O.J has given me.
I know that all guide dogs are amazing, and my future dogs will be too, but O.J will always be special because he was my first. There have been days particularly in the last few weeks when I wished I could work him forever.

All I can say now is Thanks O J. Thanks for being the best first dog I could have hoped for. Hope you have a long happy retirement, with lots of cuddles, runs on the beach and swims in the sea.
I can’t think of a dog who deserves it more.

We Always Had Fun in Dublin!

In the last few years particularly, O.J has traveled to Dublin a lot, whether it’s on our way to Carlow, to visit friends, to go to a concert, or for work. He always seems to enjoy the change of scenery, and works enthusiastically when we are there. I never really took time to teach him particular routes there, but he remembers certain places, and is always happy to follow whoever we are with. We’ve been to Dublin twice within the last ten days, so I thought I’d write about both trips since they will be O.J’s last.

For my birthday in February, Nicky got tickets for the Barrytown Meets Musictown event in Vicar Street on April 12th. It was a musical and literary celebration of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy (The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van.) I love his work, and love all three books, and the musicians were some of my favourite Irish musicians too, so it was a perfect present.
Before we went to Vicar Street, we had a lovely afternoon and evening with Darragh, Emma and Meabh, and Nama the dog. Orrin isn’t well at the minute, so unfortunately Nicky had to share a dog, but we managed. Well just about! After a lovely lunch, Darragh and Emma walked us to our hotel to check in, and we had a funny encounter with somebody on the way, which made the two boys almost collapse with laughter. I’ll say no more, but Darragh hasn’t left me a blog comment in ages, so maybe he’d like to tell more!

O.J was as happy as I was to be back in Vicar Street, where the staff fussed over him as usual. I think he missed Orrin when he stayed in the store, but they checked on him and took him out to see me during the interval. Our seats where right in front of the stage which was brilliant. The sold-out gig had a nice atmosphere, and we were all kept entertained. There were some hilarious readings from Roddy Doyle’s books, as well as his own input. The music was great, but I particularly enjoyed Imelda May, Damien Dempsey, and Colm Mac Con Iomaire who opened the show. There was a tribute to Tony Fenton, as well as a nice mention for Christy from Aslan, who unfortunately couldn’t make the gig due to ill health. It was also lovely to hear Imelda May and Glen Hansard sing together. The gig will be broadcast (and probably heavily edited!) on RTE Radio 1 at 3 PM on May 4th if anyone’s interested in hearing how good it was.

I was back in Dublin last Monday for work. Our funders for the schools disability awareness and development programme run an annual conference, where we were asked to have a stand and talk to students about our workshops. This week is the end of a very busy school term, so my colleague and I enjoyed relaxing when we got to Dublin. We met up with a good friend from home who I hadn’t seen in a while, and she was glad to see O.J before he retires. The next day was a busy day in the Aviva Stadium. I’d never been there before. It’s an amazing building, and the staff were very friendly and helpful. We met lots of students, teachers and people doing great work. I was particularly inspired by how much confidence some of the students have. O.J attracted a lot of attention as usual, and brought many people over to our stand.
When the workshop was finished we had a quick cup of tea before getting the bus home. It was O.J’s last trip on McGinley coaches, who have always looked out for us on our many trips to the capital.

O.J has a few more last time things to do before the weekend. Tomorrow will be his last bus journey to work, his last school, and his last day in the office. Then we have three more days together before I go to Cork for training, and he goes to my parents house to play and sleep and do lots of fun things, just not with a harness on.