Subject = none in particular!

I know. Its very sad that I’m sitting here alone on a friday night, on the internet again. I’m kinda glad of a quiet night, as the next few weekends will be busy. I’m going to see Bell X1 in Belfast next friday, have to go to my aunt’s seminar about aura soma on Sunday (I’m her special guest apparently, and have no idea why!) and I’ve my two year old nephew’s birthday party somewhere in between.
The following weekend I’m going to Laois (without OJ unfortunately) and the next I’ll be editing like a mad thing.

I helped out at a braille workshop in the central library in Derry today. Four of us (two blindies, one visually impaired and a sighted volunteer) talked to a P7 class about Louis Braille, how we read and write braille, and what we use to help us in our everyday lives. This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth, and he’s supposed to be our hero you know! Of course when it came to question time, all the children wanted to ask about was the two guide dogs!

After that I went to the Vodafone shop, and a very helpful member of staff helped me to order a new phone. Its the
nokia e51
Vodafone install talks free and then unlock it so that I can use it with my southern sim card. I know a few people who have it and say its really easy to use. I spend enough time online already without having a phone with easy access to the net as well. It will save a lot of time work wise though and keep me occupied on the bus every day. I should have it within ten days. I’ll have my current phone four years this June. It turns itself off sometimes, but otherwise works fine. Its been dropped so many times I’m surprised it works at all, and at least I’ll have a back-up phone if I need it.

I’m going to Donegal town to do my last interview for the documentary tomorrow. The lady I’m interviewing has three dogs, one of which just had three chocolate lab pups last week. I can’t wait to see them they’re going to be so cute! I can’t take OJ with me because they are so young and she’s afraid the mother mightn’t be happy with a strange dog near her babies.

Before I go, I’ll tell you this. The wind is howling outside so I thought I’d have a nice relaxing bath. All my lovely stuff from lush is finished, so I had to try and find bubble bath in the pile of bottles I have from different sets people have given me as presents. I’m home alone, so I’m there like a dork, putting all this stuff on my hand, seeing if it makes suds, or feels like body cream, to try and find the fecking bubble bath, but no luck. There must be everything there except bubble bath. Why can’t they teach guide dogs to read? I know there’s shower jell in the shower so it will have to do. Its not great, and doesn’t make too many bubbles, but at least I know I don’t have body lotion in my bath!
Oh the joys of being blind! but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Puppy Walking a future guide dog

Guide dog owners are aware of the hard work, patience and effort that it takes to train a guide dog. This all begins when a pup is six weeks old and it goes to live with a puppy walker. Without these volunteers, we would not have guide dogs. I wanted to give anyone who doesn’t already know, an insight into exactly what being a puppy walker for Irish guide dogs involves.
Alison Flack has been a puppy walker since 1982, so has lots of experience. She kindly agreed to answer some questions to help explain the work that she and so many others do.

Alison: “I became a puppy walker in 1982. I had 3 small children very close together in age and was complaining to my husband that all I did was talk to children or about children and was bored. We always had a dog and one day my husband saw an advert for puppy walking and gave it to me and said now you can talk about piddling pups as well! Our first pup was Dell one of the first ‘D’ litter. The original ‘A’ dog was Amber who was a brood bitch and mother of the ‘D’ litter.”

What exactly does a puppy walker do?
“Basically it involves rearing the pup to be a well balanced obedient dog. By the time it leaves you it should be comfortable in most situations so you have to introduce the pup to road works, shops, supermarkets (so they do not sniff for food etc), never sniff the ground (stops them hunting for food), go to the toilet to order, bring them on buses, trains if possible but at least introduce them to the noise of train stations and airports, be relaxed in company and around children etc etc etc I could go on for ever!
The puppy walking supervisor will keep in touch with you on a very regular basis and is always on the end of a phone. She also comes to assess the pup on a regular basis and will arrange to meet you and pup in a busy city centre or village location to assess the pups progress. There are regular puppy walkers get-togethers in the centre when you get the opportunity to swop stories and get hints from others in the same situation.”

Are there any dogs that stood out during your time as a puppy walker?
“Yes many, as I always had a Labrador. The ones that stood out for me were my second love the German Shepherds (I loved them all.) Also the German Shepherd/Golden Retriever cross and then the Golden doodles stole my heart. There were some dogs that either I or my dog just did not relate to and they usually failed, but that said they were dogs that we got when they were over 6months old and already had problems and not pups we got at 6 weeks old so it is probably unfair really to comment on them.”

Is it very difficult to give the dogs back afterwards?
“It is very hard giving the dogs back as I have already said each one takes a bit of your heart with them – they are your foster babies. But the puppy walking supervisors regular visits and assessment remind you that the dog is not yours, also they do take the pup into the centre for kennel breaks once they are over 6 months old to get them used to kennel life and this is also a reminder. Mind you we cry buckets when they go but if they qualify you rejoice, the problem is if they are rejected as they are usually offered back to the puppy walker so you have to make a very difficult decision. Some puppy walkers, if they take the pup back, do not puppy walk again as they do not have room for 2 dogs in the house so it is a hard decision you feel you are letting the dog down etc.”

What advice would you give anybody thinking of becoming a puppy walker?
“Go for it if you love dogs and have the time, patience and interest. You do not necessarily need experience with dogs as the supervisor will explain everything and they are always encouraging. It is very rewarding and also very social as people do stop and chat to you all the time. This has its down side if you are in a hurry or trying to concentrate on training the dog in a particular situation but I have always found it a very positive experience but then I really love dogs and the chance of having a pup each year to me is heaven – well most of the time anyway!”

For more information about Irish guide dogs, or becoming a puppy walker, contact the centre in Cork on 1850506300, or visit
http://www.guidedogs.ie

things i’ve been up to…

First of all, belated happy st. Patrick’s day!
I actually did go to mass on Tuesday, before visiting my sister and walking to town. The weather was lovely so lots of people came to see our amazing, or not so amazing parade! Local people and businesses did make a great effort and I suppose at least the town has one every year. There were lots of tractors and lorrys, so my little nephew, who is almost two loved it. OJ lay in my granny’s hall and watched out the door. It was all very busy and noisy so it was probably wise to stay inside. OJ had a green badge on his harness, which was more green than any of us had.

Works been busy and enjoyable for the past few weeks. I’ve just finished making six radio programs which were broadcast on ICR. We’re thinking about providing radio training for blind and visually impaired people in the centre, so I have to research and plan that properly next week.
On the subject of radio, I was recently interviewed for insight radio about writing articles for the RNIB’s Insight magazine. You can hear the phone interview if you find the wednesday 11th March section on the ‘early addition’ page:
http://www.insightradio.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=62&Itemid=67

I’ve started an introduction to counselling course organised by the RNIB. It runs once a week for ten weeks and we had the third class yesterday. The lecturer appologised at the beginning because she had never taught anyone with a visual impairment before and wanted to help as much as she could. Now she has nine of us and four guide dogs in her class. The dogs are always so well behaved, but I’m not sure if the same can be said for the students!

Finally, I watched the Meteor awards last night and as a fan of Irish music I was very disappointed. As usual I knew who won what before the awards were broadcast, and Mick Flannery winning best male was a brilliant decision, and the only one I really agreed strongly with. He’s really grown on me, and I only have his debut album. I didn’t like Amanda what’s her name presenting, and the jokes and cliches weren’t very amusing. Some of the performers won awards in their categories, which makes them a bit predictible. I also hate how Westlife won best pop act for the ninth year in a row. They took a year off, and we still have to see them pretending to be surprised that they won this award again. I think the Caronas or the Script could have picked up the award this year. I thought Rick O Shea sounded very different when he came up to present the ‘hope for 2009’ award. Was it just my ears or the magic of radio? Sharon Shannon accepting the life time achievement award was great, and I’ve been lucky enough to hear how brilliant she is live.
There’ll be justice in the world of Irish music when the frames get acknowledged for all they’ve done during their career, and when Rick wins the award for best DJ. Here’s hoping!

Currently listening to: today fm
Currently reading: ‘hand me my travelling shoes: in search of blind Willie McTell’
By Michael Gray.

Happy birthday OJ!

Three is the magic number. The hound is three today.
He is very happy today, but he’s happy nearly every day so I doubt if its anything to do with it being his birthday.
I went to Ballybofey to meet two ladies who have assistance dogs for their sons who have autism. I interviewed both of them for my documentary while OJ played with their retrievers Levi and Hatti outside. They chased each other around the garden for half an hour and were tired when they came in. We took a photo of all three of them together, and it took ages to get them all staying still.
When we got home OJ chased Dougal round the kitchen table as usual. You really have to see this to see just how crazy and funny my dogs are. Visitors to our house must think its mad when the dogs suddenly take off around the table for no reason.
OJ has spent over half of his life working with me. I’m sure he knows he’ll always be with me now, and when I take him back to Cork for a visit to the centre he knows I won’t be giving him back again.
Right now OJ is eating a giant chew, and probably loving every minute of it. Dougal is howling like a maniac as usual. Some things will never change.

I’m inspired!

I’m just home from the first book launch I’ve ever attended. It took place in our local library, to celebrate the fact that a local mother has just published a book about her life since her son Cian was born.
Here’s an article from the inishowen Independent newspaper to explain:

Buncrana mum writes autism memoir 26.02.09‘A World of our Own’ out next week
by Damian Dowds, Inishowen Independent
AILEEN McCallan, a Buncrana-based mother whose ten year-old son Cian attends the special needs unit at Scoil Íosagáin, will launchher first book, ‘A World of our Own’ in Buncrana Library on Thursday 12 March. Published by the Poolbeg Press, the book is a searingly honest account about a family affected by autism. It’s about a hundred small kindnesses from friends, family and strangers in contrast to the often cold indifference from the health and social services. It’s about a mother’s search for treatment that will help her son and the progress he has made, despite being written off many times. The seed for the book was planted when Aileen joined a writing group in her native Tyrone four years ago, and having first floated the idea with publishers Poolbeg of writing a fictionalised account, she decided to bare her soul and tell it as it was. Writing about the subject was a difficult experience, she says. “Reliving that time was very emotional and looking back on it made me angry. It brought back to me who desperate and low I was, and how so many families have to go through the same thing every day.” “But it was therapeutic to write it. It’s out of me now. Even though the story isn’t over, I think I can have a new beginning.” “Things have improved for Cian and our family, but while this book has been written the story hasn’t ended,” she says. “Our voicestill isn’t heard and the powers that be still aren’t listening. Scoil Íosagáin recently lost five special needs assistants and the autism classes have been affected.” Having taught him at home using the Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) technique, she had tremendous difficulty in finding a school in which to educate him. She heard about Scoil Íosagáin and having checked it out, moved lock stock and barrel from Tyrone to Buncrana so that Cian could attend. Having slaved over the manuscript throughout the summer of 2008, this first time author now can only watch as the published booktakes on a life of its own. She has hopes for what it might achieve, not in terms of sales or fame, but in changing attitudes. “Over everything else, I hope that the powers that be will listen and try to get to know autism,” she says. “The book explains the stresses that autism puts on parents and how desperate they are for support – some parents get no respite and can’t even leavethe house to go to the shop because they can’t take their autistic child with them. I hope that the authorities read it and realise how they’ve failed our children and come to recognise that there are therapies and interventions that can help. Cian is proof of that.” “A World of our Own” will be published on 2 March and available locally from, among other places, Mac’s Bookshop in Buncrana andFarren’s Newsagents in Moville. The book will be officially launched in Buncrana Library on 12 March from 7pm, while Boyzone starKeith Duffy, who has done sterling work for autism charities, will attend a book signing in Eason’s, Letterkenny at the end of March. Proceeds from the book will go into a trust fund for Cian.

I hope to pass this book on to as many people as possible. People still need to be made aware of what autism is and how it affects a huge number of individuals and their families. Not having time to read is a rubbish excuse not to read a book like this. The author, who is busy caring for a family and the challenges of a child with autism, managed to find time to write about her experiences.
Aileen sold and signed copies of the book at the launch, and that money will be donated to Scoil Iosagain. There were a few acknowledgements and words of congradulations before Aileen read some extracts from the book. She is an excellent reader, and I wished she could have read the whole book. She is a lovely writer, and the talent was passed down to her oldest son Christopher who read a beautiful poem he wrote about his younger brother Cian.
OJ was in the middle of all the action, loving the attention as usual. Thankfully he was very quiet when he needed to be. Cian has seen him a couple of times in the school and absolutely loves him, but he wasn’t there tonight. Aileen pointed out how difficult it can be for an entire family to attend functions when you have a child with autism, and sometimes a parent is left at home to babysit. Those of us not in this situation take so much for granted.
I spoke to Aileen after the launch, and she seemed genuinely delighted with the response so far. I have only met her a couple of times in the radio station, as she volunteers there regularly. We talked about getting her to narrate an audio book of her own story, as I don’t think anybody else could do it justice. A braille copy could be produced, but I know it will be a while before I get my hands or my ears on an accessible copy. I know that when I eventually do, i won’t be able to put it down.

counting cash

I’ve spent all afternoon sorting coins into piles, counting them and putting them into bank bags, and yes it really is as boring as it sounds. After a while all the coins were starting to feel the same and I couldn’t help thinking how dirty money is. Of course I still love money!

We did the guide dog church gate collection this weekend, and OJ was so good during the whole thing. The 6 PM mass in town last night was fine, but the next one in a different chapel at 7.30 wasn’t so pleasant. It rained, then hail stoned, and by the end we were absolutely soaked and really cold. A lot of people didn’t stop to give us money, and I couldn’t blame them really. A man gave me some money and then came back to offer me his umbrella. My dad and I had intended going home when mass began, but some clown parked their car right across the gate and blocked ours in. We had to stand in the porch, dripping wet, listening to a group of boys talking loudly. I mean I don’t go to mass too often, but what’s the point in going just to stand in the porch and sware and talk like your on a night out. It was embarrassing.

I helped to collect at 3 of the 4 masses today, and people were very friendly and generous. You always get the ones who don’t give anything or have no money, and that’s fair enough, but the funniest are those who go around the long way to avoid walking past the buckets. OJ got lots of pets so that kept him happy. He had a lot of standing and jumping in and out of the car to do within three hours, but it didn’t bother him.

I counted most of the money myself, apart from when Jack and his friend helped for half an hour. Jack asked what the money was for, and when I said guide dogs he said “I’d love to be a guide dog!”
I’m not sure of the exact total figure yet, but we collected at least 1,900 euros this weekend. It was a lot more than I expected, the most we’ve ever collected and I’m delighted. Its nice to have some guide dogs in the local area, as people can see where the money goes. People are very generous with their time and money, and I really appreciate it.

good deeds for the weekend

I’m having my dinner very soon, and then I’m starting the Trocaire 24 hour fast. I’ve been doing it almost every year since first year of secondary school. I don’t raise loads of money, but every little helps right?
The fast is a bit pointless though. I don’t eat for a day, and feel grand until a few hours before I finish, when I get really hungry. I know that when the 24 hours are up I can eat as much as I want. I’m sure that I’m going to get food very easily, and I don’t have to think about starving myself for another year. It does make you think about how much we take for granted though, and maybe that’s the point.

The annual church gate collection for guide dogs takes place in Donegal this weekend. Myself and my parents have organised it in our town for the last few years. The area has three chapels, and altogether there are two masses on Saturday evening and 4 on Sunday morning. The chapels have one, three and five gates, so someone stands at each gate with a bucket, looking very bored and cold, and saying “thank you” everytime somebody throws their coins (or notes if your very lucky) into it.
I feel like a bit of a hipicrit because I don’t always go to mass, but it always raises over a grand, and every penny counts when your training a guide dog. My family, friends and my parent’s friends are very generous to volunteer their time, and there could be ten to fifteen people helping out each year. I will probably collect at most of the masses as I can bring OJ with me and people can’t resist giving a euro or two when they see his pleading puppydog eyes!
I’ll be spending sunday afternoon and evening eating and counting money!

Currently listening to: the Fleet Foxes – ragged wood. I love their album so much!