Guest posted by
(remember to wish him a happy birthday in the comments section!)
The one thing that I was sure of since I can remember and since I knew enough was that I wanted a Guide Dog. I was always a lover of dogs and Animals and the idea that at some point I could have a dog that would Guide me and take me places was something brilliant to think about. I remember thinking about how we would go places or where we might live. I grew up in the countryside and loved to go for walks with my mother and our pet Labrador Cleo. I imagined how if I had a Guide Dog I could do all of this on my own and have our own place and stuff like that. It seemed like the day would never come.
When I first made my application for a dog, all eligible applicants had to be eighteen years old. I was a bit older than that when I applied as I realised that I needed to know where exactly my life was going and what plans in the short term I had that may impact on the dog should I be matched up with one. I was still living in the family home and commuting from Carlow to Dublin to work every day. This was roughly a two hour trip morning and evening so that would also more than likely require a dog with patience.
My assessment visit went well. When you are assessed you are measured for walking speed and asked some questions about your life in general and what sort of things you might expose the dog too and what my daly routine was. This was to ensure that the dog I would get could cope with all of this and that we wouldn’t in so far as possible have problems.
It was near enough to a year later before I got the call that I had a possible match with a Labrador called Richie. I remember meeting Richie in Cork for the first time and the meeting went very well. We had a good matching walk together with the instructor and she was pleased with how we got along together. It was decided that I would start on class with him in three weeks from then.
The class had its ups and downs in terms of our walks or how we were getting on together in terms of working as a unit or a partnership. Off harness Richie was a pet. He was very loveable but cheeky. He could also be bold and grab things like socks or shoes and run round and round a room with them and would refuse point blank to give them back. On our walks there was a good deal of pulling when I had him on harness and we tried to just put this down to him being excited or eager but unfortunately he became a hard dog to control.
Coming home was no bother to him. He settled in well and wasn’t a very sensitive dog so he took it all in his stride.
Straight after my home training and the class training had finished, I started to get gradually back into my lifestyle. Richie was becoming very dominant with other dogs and at the time I didn’t really know what was happening but I learned a lot about dog behaviour with Richie and from the instructions given to me by the centre. He was also a scavenger and at times if he saw food or some interesting bit of rubbish on the road that he wanted to have more of a look at he would pull me straight to it not realising that it mightn’t be safe to do so. It got to the stage where I needed two hands to control him having the lead in my right hand and his harness handle in my left. If we saw another dog this became a nightmare as he would growl and bark and go on the attack as if he was telling the dog off and wanted to let them know that he was the boss and that they had to do as he wanted. In one incident shortly after we had come home and were back at work he walked me into a motorbike and we knocked it over. I was so embarrassed that I just kept walking and I knew that he did that because he just simply was not concentrating on what he was supposed to be doing.
We lasted two and a half years together. In recounting my experiences I am conscious that I do not want to scare people and I have left some details out as to other little problems I encountered with him as I don’t feel it would be appropriate to go into total detail. I knew at that stage the game was up. He never ever let anything happen to me and whether that was a fluke or not I just don’t know. I always felt safe with him but his behaviour was not in keeping with the behaviour of a dog that is supposed to be working. He was being so distracted by dogs that he might see while working or noises he heard, that he would bark continuously at them or cower at suspicious objects which was only one time as harmless as a Christmas tree, but to him it was something he just couldn’t get to like and it startled him.
I retired him and felt very sad. I knew the game was up and was given great support by a man no longer working with Guide Dogs here in Ireland but a man that I very much still respect. Simon Higgs had a great way with the dogs and the clients and he certainly took the time to talk to me and help me realise that none of this was my fault. This was important and there were times when I felt that maybe I didn’t do enough to make the partnership work better but I know now that Richie just wasn’t happy being a working Guide Dog. He just wasn’t cut out for this sort of thing where he had to work to a routine every day. He was most happiest when he could get out and run and play around and be his cheeky self. He is now still alive and well living with a family in Co. Meath and I know that he made such a difference to their lives and has brought them great happiness.
Richie retired in the Autumn and by the summer of the following year I had successfully trained with my current dog Ralph. I still work with Ralph nearly six years later and we have a fantastic working relationship. I learned so much from having Richie about how I might cope with situations should they ever happen again but thankfully they didn’t. I am so glad that I didn’t give up like I was tempted to at the time and not go for a successor dog. Ralph fits into my life now and having him is not like having an attachment you have to think about its just like being part of a good team. He is there for me and is my eyes when we are working and I am there to look after him and take care of him, and we work well like that with each other.
I really hope that my account of my experiences with Richie and how everything didn’t quite go to plan, and how I did eventually become very lucky to get a dog like Ralph gives people encouragement to keep going even if they have a bad experience. Never ever should people blame themselves if it doesn’t work out. Its all a learning curve. At some point I will have to face the time when Ralph will not be able to work for me any more and I will have to go through another stage of learning to get use to the personality of another dog all over again.
I have never before written anything about my experiences with Richie and would like to thank Jen for letting me contribute my story and hopefully it will benefit people to know the negative experiences along with the positive ones.