You just had to be there!

Last Saturday one of my friends came out for some coffee, music and a chat. I walked towards town to meet her, and decided to take the two dogs with me. *I would only recommend this if you know your area and your dogs really well, and you know how to handle them when you meet people coming with loose dogs running in all directions!*
My friend walked Dougal back, so needless to say the walk home was a bit more relaxing for me and O J.

This friend is fascinated by how guide dogs work, and is always impressed by how O J guides me. I wanted to give her a bit of an idea of what its like having to trust a dog, so I blindfolded her in our garden and O J walked her around my house. Well that was the plan anyway!

One of the mobility officers who visited me when I was small used to blindfold my friends as well if they came to visit. They have had to butter bread, tie their laces, write their names and even use a cane while blindfolded. My family members and friends used to play board games with me, and if they won I probably accused them of taking off the blindfold and cheating.
Blindfolding someone whose used to having full sight, and then telling them to relax while a dog leads them doesn’t really work, no matter how many times they’ve been blindfolded before. I walked in front with O J following me, but I really wasn’t expecting my friend to be soo nervous! O J ignored me and tried to lead her out the gate, hoping she might take him to the beach. I called him before she reached the road and he followed me this time. There are steps to the front of our house leading up to a decking. I never use this entrance with O J, but he thought he’d use it with my friend, who started screaming when he started walking up the steps. She had absolutely no idea where she was or what he was doing, and I was laughing so much I couldn’t tell her. She was very surprised to take her blindfold off and discover where she was. Even though she was terrified most of the time, and thought O J walked very fast, it was an interesting experience.
O J probably thought she was nuts, but she played with him for the rest of the afternoon, so I think he forgave her for putting him through a few minutes of trauma!

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Stem cell treatment: am I crazy?

I know somebody who has recently been accepted to go to China for stem cell treatment. Its all very exciting!
I didn’t take much interest in this research until I heard an interview with the father of
Dakota Clarke
from Northern Ireland. Its a fascinating story.

At the moment I am unable to benefit from a treatment like this, but who knows what will happen in the future. If I was offered a treatment to restore my sight tomorrow though, I wouldn’t be tempted at all. Am I crazy?

Being blind can sometimes be a pain. You can’t drive, and it takes longer to do things. You have to deal with patronising people, and people who are afraid of anything that is different.
Of course I wonder what my family and friends look like. Of course I’m curious to know what people, places and objects look like. I know I would be a very different person if I could see, but not necessarily a better one.

I can completely understand why people have opporations and undergo treatment, and really want their sight back. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, and I love hearing the success stories as much as everybody else. I think losing your sight gradually or suddenly would be very difficult, and I’m glad I’ve been blind all my life and never had to go through that pain. That’s what I’m used to, so suppose i’d be afraid of living any other way.

Is having a disability really so bad that everybody should want rid of it? I know lots of disabilities are difficult, painful and restricting. People deal with things differently, and shouldn’t be compared or generalised because of their disability. I’m healthy and happy and fortunate to live the way I do. I just happen to be blind and happy being blind.

I found an interesting perspective on this on a post on
Alex Scott’s blog
The post suggests that nobody would really want to retain their disability if they had a way of curing it. My parents enquired about treatment for me in America when I was very small, and a doctor they talked to had the same attitude. He asked them if they really thought Stevie Wonder would still be blind if he could cure his sight problem? I’ve heard that he said he’d like to see his family, so maybe he would like his sight restored, but that isn’t really the point. Assuming that nobody in the world wants to be blind is either an incorrect assumption, or I’m the odd one out!

doggy stuff

O J had lots of free runs on the beach last weekend, and a 4 day break from any harness work. This was the longest break he’s had since I went to Cyprus almost a year ago, so I wondered if he’d be giddy or unsettled when we got back to work. He worked perfectly all week, but unfortunately his saliva control wasn’t so good!
He druled constantly for most of the day yesterday. It was gross! There were small puddles on the ground if we stood still for at least a minute, but he was in great form. It stopped as soon as I got home, but I had to take Dougal to the vet today so thought I’d get him checked encase it was possibly a gum infection.
O J doesn’t really like the vets, but stepped on the scales as soon as we went into the room. The vet laughed and I was pleasantly surprised. He’s 34.2 Kg, the heaviest he’s ever been, but he should stay between 32 and 34 so its fine. The vet said his gums were fine and that he might have just had an upset tummy, causing him to drule but not bad enough to make him throw up.
Dougal got his booster vaccine and he didn’t seem too bothered by it. I asked the vet for some advice about housebreaking him, because even though he is 2 years old he’s still very unpredictible. She gave me the number of a dog behaviourist that might be worth contacting. I’ve had advice from a lady by email, and i’m trying to follow it as much as possible. It would probably be better to meet someone in person though. The one interesting thing she did say first was that bichons are so difficult to train, and when people contact her with this problem she can almost guess what breed of dog they have without even asking. That doesn’t make me feel so bad.

I really don’t think I’m going to have my documentary finished for shades week (which is the guide dogs fundraising week at the beginning of may.) I found out that one of the people I interviewed doesn’t have their dog anymore. I was very disappointed to hear this, as the owner spoke highly of the work guide dogs do during the interview. I don’t know whether to include it still, as technically I recorded it before this happened. If I edit it out I will have to record more with somebody else and I will be losing a lot of good material. I think I’ll contact Cork and see what they think.

Today I heard that two people I know are training with their first guide dogs soon. I have been talking to one by email, but we haven’t actually met yet. The other one has a great awareness of and experience with guide dogs, and the dog is going to a fantastic home. Good luck to both of them and I’m sure they’ll do great.

Finally, and not dog related, I love my new phone! I hate its brittish accent though as I’m so used to the American one. I haven’t used the internet much on it so must do that this weekend.

Easter

Hopefully everyone had a nice easter. I spent it with my aunt and cousin in Laois and it was lovely and relaxing.
We got the 7.45 bus to Dublin and then the 1.20 train to Laois on Friday. My cousin lives very close to the train station and you can hear the trains from her house. The weather was lovely and dry all weekend, which was nice because we spent most of it outside.
My cousin was working at a hunter trials event in Stradbally on Saturday so we were there for a few hours. There were horses everywhere, and everybody seemed to take their dogs with them too. We had a king charles and a Jack rustle with us, and they barked all the time. I’m not sure if OJ would have enjoyed it, but he was happy at home relaxing and playing on the beach.
Leah used to always have an easter picnic when she was a child so she wanted us to keep up her dad’s tradition. We lit a fire outside on Sunday afternoon and cooked eggs, and monk fish and vegitables on scures. I was a bit unsure at first, but the fire stayed lit and apart from inhaling far too much smoke, we had a lovely afternoon. I was surprised to get any easter eggs, but I got a few.

I have the house to myself today so thought it would be a good opportunity to get some editing done. I hoped to have more done by now. We had visitors and I’ve been distracted all morning. Now I’m a bout to watch the Irish grand national, so that will either cheer me up or annoy me. I only bet horses on the grand national, and used to always win something. I’m not feeling so lucky today though. I’m doing two horses each way and only betting 5 euros so Its no big loss. I just pick names that I like or the first thing that comes to my head. This year my money is on Rare Bob (because I know someone called Bob who is quite a character) and Wichita Lineman (because I love the song.) Great logic I know! Wish me luck!

guide dogs are like kids

In some ways owning a guide dog is a bit like having a child. They depend on you to be fed and cared for, their behaviour depends on how you discipline and teach them, and their owners love them to bits!
I’ve been thinking about conversations i’ve had with guide dog owners since I got OJ. Some trained in Ireland, some in the UK, some in the US etc. Like kids, all dogs are different and their owners handle them differently. Dogs have different sensitivities and stress levels, and some need more encouragement than others. Nobody knows a dog better than its handler, and the handler knows how to deal with issues that might occur. You learn a lot during guide dog training, and a trainer is always availible to give help and advice when you need it.

I know that I spend a lot less time with my guide dog than a lot of people do. There are people who have them with them 24-7, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously I love having OJ with me, but sometimes it just isn’t practical or possible. For that reason I was determined that my dog wouldn’t become clingy and completely dependent on me, and could handle being alone without becoming stressed and agitated. I live at home, so always wanted to control his behaviour in the house and not let him have access to every room. My parents will mind him if I’m away somewhere and can’t bring him, so I want him to be familiar with them and behave well.
During training I was encouraged to leave OJ in our room alone for short periods. There were usually 4 dogs around the breakfast and dinner table, so I would often leave him in his bed then. This was never a problem, and because of this he will happily stay alone now if he needs to. Of course he has Dougal to keep him company sometimes and he is always happy to see me when I get home.

This topic came up in a conversation recently, and the guide dog owners I was with couldn’t believe that OJ didn’t sleep upstairs in my room. One said, “You don’t seriously leave him downstairs all night do you?” For a fraction of a second I felt like the worst guide dog owner ever!
This person is not very strict with their dog, and admits that it has picked up some bad habbits. The dog has some behaviours that I would find intolerable. Their reasoning, or excuse for this is that they have some sight and perhaps doesn’t depend on it in the same way that someone like me with no vision would depend on their dog to guide them safely. I know I’m a strict guide dog owner, but fair at the same time. OJ always behaves well in public, and I know that is because I am constantly keeping an eye on him so to speak. I also know its important to let him have free time to play and be a normal dog. Finding a balance between these, that works well for you and the dog is a skill that you start to learn when you decide to work with a guide dog. Its important to learn that each dog and owner are different, so do what is best for you and your dog, regardless of what the people around you think.

Currently reading: Accident by Danielle Steel
Currently listening to: ‘white lies’ by Mick Flannery

World Autism Awareness Day

Today is world autism awareness day. I want to mention Aileen McCallan’s book Again.
http://www.poolbeg.com/product.asp?P_ID=476
Please buy a copy if you can.
Aileen is the subject of a documentary produced by Kevin Kelly for Inishowen community radio. It was broadcast this morning and will be repeated tonight at 7 PM on
www.icrfm.ie
Its really worth a listen.
I think Aileen is doing some interviews soon so keep an eye/ear out for her.