I am writing this post as part of Sharon Wachsler’sassistance dog blog carnival
It seemed like a very obvious topic to write about, but I couldn’t think of anything else, and can remember the first day I met O.J in crazy detail,so thought I’d go with it.
22nd June 2007 was a day I will never forget. I woke up two hours earlier than I needed to get up, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I had to force myself to eat breakfast, and my aunt drove my parents, my nephew and myself to the train station. Jack couldn’t decide if he wanted to come to the guide dog centre with us, but eventually decided he’d come. We got the train from Laois to Cork where the guide dog training centre is. I had coffee on the train, and we met a lovely man from Kerry called mr. O Shea. He was a retired school teacher and was very friendly.
When we arrived at the centre, we met the trainer who had trained my dog, and we all had soup and sandwiches. She talked about guide dogs in general, and the dog she thought might be a good match for me. I was so excited and just wanted to meet him, but she told me not to get my hopes up. She felt that the dog was a good temperment, but the main reason she needed me to travel the eight hour journey to Cork to meet him before class was that he had high body sensitivity. This meant that he didn’t particularly like his harness and needed someone who was light on the handle and wouldn’t be too strong for him. He was a bit big for someone my size, so she was concerned he might be too strong. We’d just have to wait and see.
She asked us to sit on a couch in the dining area while she went to get the dog. My mum told my nephew to let me touch him first and not run up to him and make a fuss, but as soon as the dog came he soon forgot! “This is O.J” the trainer said, as he came towards us wagging his tail. As soon as I petted him I remember thinking he was huge! I’d had a golden labrador as a pet for thirteen years, but was expecting my guide dog to be a lot smaller. His black coat was more coarse and his ears were much smaller. He wasn’t as tall and his muscles were still growing. He was only 15 months and still had five weeks training to complete, but it was obvious he was a big strong dog with lots of energy.
Then the real test began. The trainer taught me how to do obedience and I walked O.J on his lead up and down the corridor. Then we put him in the training van and did some short handle work so that I could learn the foot positions and commands you use when your walking with a guide dog.
We drove to a quiet residential area about ten minutes away for my matching walk. Queen’s greatest hits was playing in the van and my trainer had a sore throat and was very hoarse. When we got there, the trainer showed me how to put on the harness. O.J didn’t like getting it on anyway, never mind having it put on by a stranger, so I had to give him a treat each time. She showed me how to hold the handle properly and I was so nervous I could hardly hold it. She stood a bit behind me and told me to tell O.J to go “forward.” I waited for a few seconds, nearly afraid to say the word. When I did he started walking immediately. It felt like a run rather than a walk. After about two minutes, that feeling of nervousness was gone. It was amazing to be walking along a footpath in an area I didn’t know, being lead by a dog. We walked a straight route with no turns or obstacles. O.J responded well to my commands and the trainer was surprised at how well he walked with a new person. He did bring me into the grass so he could sniff, but walked in front of me when we turned around to go home. The trainer said that dogs generally won’t walk across somebody like this if they are nervous, so this was a good sign. He walked much slower this time, because he didn’t want to go to the training centre. The route we’d just done was short and not challenging enough for him and he wasn’t impressed.
When we got back to the van I gave O.J lots of praise for such a good walk. Then the trainer asked me if I would like to come on class to train at the beginning of August. I knew that the walk went well, and that O.J felt right, even if he was a bit big, but it was still amazing to be finally asked to come and train. I have wanted a guide dog for as long as I can remember, which is probably since I was three years old. I was on the waiting list for a dog with another organisation who assured me they’d have one for me when I was at college, which didn’t happen. I had been waiting far too long for this day to come, and I smiled all the way back to the centre. I had so many questions, so many things I wanted to know about O.J. He had the same trainer since he began official guide dog training, which isn’t always the case. It was great because she was able to tell me a lot about him.
Back at the centre I filled in some paperwork and the trainer let O.J stay with me while she went to get something. She showed me how to get him to sit and lie down, and he did everything he was told. We took a few pictures of him, and some of the staff came over to congradulate me and tell me their own stories about O.J. I didn’t want to go home, and I couldn’t wait to start training. It all seemed so real now that I had actually met my dog.
I probably talked constantly on the way back to my aunt’s house. I even remember having a yorkie and Lucozade sport on the train on the
way home. Jack had been comparing the price of the drink in different shops since we left our home town, and concluded that the train station was the greatest ripoff!
I texted everyone in my phone, and I even still have some of the messages i got that day:
“Are you in Cork yet? Did you see O.J yet? Is it wild exciting? Get a photo” – Veronica
“Im so happy for ya one of the best days of your life id say. Wahoo!” – Mark
“Hey Jenny Im soo delighted for you that’s great. will you have to give him a name? Dougal will be the craic…” – Jennifer
Now, more than three years later, the feeling of working with a guide dog is still very enjoyable. The first time you walk with a dog, and you secretly know you are going to be a good match is something that can’t really be explained. If you’ve done it yourself, you’ll understand.
O.J isn’t a perfect dog by any means. I don’t think there’s such thing to be honest. He is a great match for me though. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I know that the extra long wait to get a guide dog was worth it!