My journey so far
Guest posted by
I was really happy that my good friend Jenifer asked me to write this article. I hope you all enjoy.
Applying for a guidedog is quite a hard decision to make. You have to know that you’re ready, and not jump into it without asking questions, and finding out what owning a guidedog is actually like.
I hadn’t really thought about a guidedog much. When I was younger I would say “In x years I will be eligible for a guidedog!!!” I thought it sounded great. I kept asking during the next couple of years what would happen when I applied, but I still thought that it would be cool, and hadn’t realised what was involved.
It was on a regular mobility visit that my rehab worker had asked if I would like to apply for a guidedog. He wasn’t going to force me into it or anything, but he thought that it might be good for me to think about it at least. I had loooooooooads of questions during his visit and afterwords. Things like “How would I be able to control the dog? Would it make me more independent? Would it not be hard to walk with the harness?” etc. After getting all those questions answered, I made the first step and applied a couple of days later. This involved ringing up our local district team and saying that I would like to apply. The woman I spoke to asked me a couple of questions like why I wanted a guidedog, and what format I would like information in.
A couple of days later, I got sent a letter and an enquiry leaflet telling me a bit about what everyone’s role was in the district team, and that I would be getting an “enquiry visit”, which would give me a chance to ask any more questions I had, and to start filling in the paperwork. This visit took place almost a week later. My rehab worker carried out this visit, where we discussed the different stages, and I could ask any questions I had. I think some of the paperwork was started by this point, or else it was in the next stage.
About a month later, I had to fill in a medical form which was posted out to me.
At around June time, my rehab worker came out again to do the “mobility assessment” of my application. This involved me doing a route that I knew with the cane, and filling in some more paperwork, such as how I got around, and what sort of things I used to help me when out and about, such as finding landmarks.
IT was waiting for a couple of months after this, until around October time, when I had the “Guidedog assessment”. This was with a Guidedog mobility instructor. This involved me asking yet more questions, then we went out for a walk. I used the cane a bit, then was introduced to what is called the “Short handle harness”. This is basically to simulate the dogs movements, and is a harness that the instructor holds, while you hold the other end with the handle on it. This is so that you get used to commanding the dog, and feeling what it would be like using the harness. You also have to learn “Foot positions” which are basically positions for certain commands. Like for example, if you wanted the dog to go forward, you would have one foot slid back a bit rather than your feet being together. You would have both your feet together, but then you would slide your right foot back as if you were about to step off with that foot. There are also jestures you use too as well as your voice and feet.
So on this assessment the instructor taught me some of the foot positions, then got me to command the dog. I felt a bit embarrassed talking to an empty harness, to be honest. I had to get really good with my “Good girls”!!!! which was quite hard, as I thought everyone would hear me lol. I hardly said “Boo to a goose” that day lol. I think it was cause it was a new person who I wasn’t used to, and I think because I had never used the harness before either.
After our walk, the instructor needed to fill in stuff about my height and lifestyle and that. She recommended that I have a further walk with an actual dog, which is called the “Guidedog Further assessment”. This is where you walk with the dog, to see how it would walk and such. This further assessment wouldn’t be necessary for everybody though. It just depends on what the instructor who assesses you thinks.
The “guidedog further assessment” happened about 2 months after the “guidedog assessment”. This was where I got taken up to the main office of our team, with the same instructor from the previous assessment. I basically did some short handle work, then worked with a dog that wasn’t yet matched, practicing correcting the dog when on lead, and in harness. That walk with the dog was quite scary!!!!!! He was really quick, and I thought that he wouldn’t stop at kerbs and that. Again, I think it was just me being nervous, since it was only the second time with the instructor.
After that, it’s the waiting list. This is where you are put on a list of people that wait for a dog. You are on it from approximately 6 months to a year, but this could be longer or shorter. It just depends when a dog comes up that may be suitable for you. Sometimes you might not go on the list immediately after your “guidedog or guidedog further assessment”, which happened in my case. This wasn’t particularly bad, and I was on the list a couple of weeks, but because I was doing my exams, they didn’t know how long the list would be and didn’t want to interrupt my studying. So I was put back on after about 3 months.
I’ve now been on for a year now. The waiting is probably the hardest part of the whole process. I’ve been doing lots to keep me busy though, from learning new routes in preparation for the dog, to doing some more short handle practice.
After you wait, you will finally get a phone call telling you that they may have a potential match for you. They come out and do a “matching visit” where they see if the dog is suited to your speed and that, then you wait for a couple of weeks before going off to a hotel to do a two week residential training course with the dog. This is where you learn how to work with the dog. After that, an instructor spends about 2 weeks with you at home learning routes with you and your dog. Well you know the routes but you work them with the dog. After that, you qualify.
I really can’t wait to get matched!