Why do I blog?

This is a question I’ve asked myself a lot since I started keeping this diary of owning a guide dog three years ago.

When I started blogging, the idea was to keep a record of training with O.J and his progress. I didn’t think of it as a way of talking to new people. I didn’t think people would really care. If somebody discovered it and found it useful then that would be great.

Sometimes I wonder if its a bit strange or boring writing about my dog all the time. I have so many other things in my life apart from him. On the other hand, I like having a subject matter and a focus for the blog, because it means that I am less inclined to write about random off-topic things or write in too much detail. I like my privacy too, and I think sometimes people lose sight of that when they spend so much time online. I blog about other things I’ve been up too, and how O.J fits into my life and helps me to become more independent and do things I enjoy. That’s not saying I only read blogs similar to mine. I enjoy reading when people write about a wide variety of things, but I think if I did that, this blog could go in a very different direction, and not necessarily a good one.

I’m not the type of blogger who thinks, oh crap, I haven’t wrote something in two days, I must blog. In fact I don’t even have 200 posts yet, which isn’t much in three years. Still, I enjoy it enough to write something when I have something in mind, or when O.J does something important. I like the fact that people take time to leave comments if they agree/disagree with something I’ve said. I like how people on guide dog waiting lists have found it useful, and I have been able to follow their journey of getting a dog too. It’s always amazing when people who have no connection to blindness or guide dogs read what I write and enjoy it. My favourite thing is that O.J’s puppywalkers read sometimes, and are able to see how the dog that they put so much time and energy into when he was a pup is doing. They have the choice to read as much about him as they want too.

I wonder how long I will blog for? Will I read this someday and think why did I write all this stuff, and just delete it? Who knows, but for the meantime It is enjoyable, and O.J has a lot of work to do over the next number of years, so I’m not disappearing off the blogosphere just yet!

OJ, did you not realise we were having aftercare?

A trainer from the guide dog centre visits once a year to see how O.J and I are working, to teach us a new route if we need help, or to deal with any problems that might be happening. Yesterday my sister and nephew helped me to wash O.J as his coat hasn’t been as nice as usual since his operation. The weather was lovely so he dried quickly. I gave the house a good proper clean to make myself look like a responsible guide dog owner. I’ve been a bit slack since the folks have gone, so it was a good excuse to get it done.

Natalie came this morning after ten. She got a bit lost and I decided I’d meet her in town to make things a bit easier. We’ve done the same route on the previous aftercare visits so it was good to have a bit of a change and to see O.J working in the town in a busier environment. We met at supervalue and walked to my grannys at the other end of the town. O.J decided two minutes after we left that he needed to go to the toilet. I tried to run to grass at my granny’s house, with him walking sideways down the street. He very rarely has to go while he’s working, unless he didn’t go in the morning, but he did this morning so it didn’t make sense. Of course I didn’t come prepared but met my aunt who went and got me a bag to clean up after him. Natalie said he probably just picked up on the fact that I was nervous, and thankfully she saw the funny side of it.

We went to a cafe for a much needed coffee, and O.J lay quietly and slept. I always enjoy talking to the trainers, as their experiences and the work they do is so interesting. Natalie is from New Jersey and worked with the seeing eye there for five years before coming to Ireland. It is interesting to hear how the two organisations are so different, and her perspectives on both. When we left the cafe to walk back to the supermarket it was beginning to rain. I changed part of the route slightly and the rain made O.J’s sensitive sniffy nose go into overdrive. He was very distracted and sniffed at everything. I wasn’t impressed! Natalie reminded me that this is all quite normal, and if sniffing is the extent of my problems then I have absolutely nothing to worry about. She was happy with how quickly O.J responds to me, and how focused he can be when he needs to be. It was funny because he has behaved perfectly during his last two aftercare visits, and I told her he probably would after she left. Sure enough, I decided to walk home, and he didn’t stop to sniff once. We met people with dogs and he ignored them all. Bloody typical!

Do you remember what you did this day three years ago?

Strange question, but I do.
On August 10th 2007, I officially qualified with O.J and became a guide dog owner!

It was a Friday afternoon, and I’d just spent two intensive weeks in Cork training at the guide dog centre. It was hard work but the people were amazing and I loved every minute. The four people in my class, along with our dogs and trainers went for a walk in the city. The client services manager at the time (who was also a guide dog trainer) came to observe us individually. Three of us sat and had coffee while one person went for a walk in the city. The aim was to see how we would handle busy environments, with people, animals, shops, busy traffic and as many distractions as possible. The trainer walked behind giving me verbal directions and describing what was ahead, but it was up to me to work the dog correctly based on where I was told to go. Apart from bringing me into a random shop and trying to go up some random steps, O.J worked brilliantly.

When we returned to the training centre, we waited in the dining-room to be called to sign or lease agreement form and be given our qualification packs. I was called first. I was asked about my training experience, if I had any problems and if there was anything I think should be changed. I was happy with everything so the meeting didn’t take long. I signed the forms and officially became a guide dog handler.

We got some photos taken of our guide dog class when everyone had qualified. There were still a few walks left to complete as people didn’t go home until Monday or Tuesday, but it was a relief to know that everything was official. Unlike other guide dog training schools, you qualify in Cork before you complete your home training. It doesn’t make sense really but I suppose they want to do all the official paperwork at the centre. You don’t really feel like a guide dog owner though until you go for that first walk on your own, when the trainer has gone home and you are left with the dog and the harness.

The reason I am writing this apart from randomly discovering that it was this day three years ago, is that
is starting training with a dog called Ushi in Belfast in a couple of weeks. She has all this to look forward to. I hope she enjoys it just as much as I did 🙂

Operation O.J is complete!

I worked O.J today for the first time since his operation two and a half weeks ago. I didn’t want to overdo things, but he seemed in good form and had no objections to having his harness put back on.

Since his vet check-up last Friday, I’ve just been taking O.J for short 10-15 minute walks on his lead. Its great because he can walk a regular route around the beach and guide me, even though he has no harness on. He seemed tired at first when we were almost home, but by the beginning of this week I knew he was bored and wanted to get back to work again.

I got a lift to work on Tuesday but had to use the cane when I got off the bus yesterday. I haven’t used it in over three years, and even though I only had to walk three minutes, it was horrible. There’s an entrance into a car park just before the footpath and row of buildings where our office is. O.J always goes to the extreme left when we come to the entrance, and usually has to go right a bit to get us on to the footpath. He goes so much to the left that it almost annoys me. Pity I didn’t follow his example and do the same, because I missed the footpath and walked straight past. When I turned round to correct myself, the postman came over to see if I was okay and to ask where the dog was. We chatted for a while and he was going to the same building so I knew I was in the right place. He said he sees me every day but that the dog is so quick and confident when he’s working that he doesn’t want to interrupt.
O.J didn’t seem to mind being away from me at all until I started back at work. He refused to get into his bed in the morning when I was leaving. As if I didn’t feel guilty enough!

Today my aunt and I took my baby nephew for a walk from her house to town. We bought a few things and went for lunch. O.J was very alert and wasn’t distracted by the pram. I’ll just gradually lengthen his routes each day now until we’re back to normal.
He has lost a bit of weight in the last couple of weeks, and his appetite has just about returned to normal. He’s not exactly wolfing his food down proper lab style, but as long as it goes in and comes out the way its supposed to, I don’t care! One of the dogs did get sick earlier, and since they are both hyper and it was only a small bit, I’m not sure who it was.
My nephews are looking forward to helping me to bath O.J during the weekend. His coat is very lifeless and he’s shedding a lot of extra hair.
He has recovered well for all he has been through, and I’m very glad. Any operation is a big risk, but I think it was worth it in O.J’s case. Hopefully I will have a much happier and healthier dog from now on.