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 🙂