Surviving the cold snap

We’ve had snow here since Friday night, and it is really beautiful outside. My mum and I took the dogs for a walk in it today. O.J was let off his lead because there was no traffic and he loved it. Dougal refused to walk and had to be carried part of the way. His paws must have been freezing though because the snow had caked in around his feet by the time we got home. Ouch!

The snow created a good opportunity for me to practice obedience with O.J. It sends him completely crazy, and he will run constantly until you put his lead back on. If we’re out for a walk his recall is almost perfect, but in our garden he can be a nightmare. Yesterday he ran down the steps to the neighbours house for the first time in his life, because she had left out food for the birds. She has cats and feeds the dog down the road as well, so I was hoping O.J would never discover this. He hasn’t until now! He ran down today and completely refused to come back when I called him.
My mum thinks I should just always take him out on a long lead but I want him to learn not to go down there and to come as soon as he’s called. We did lots of obedience exercises to remind him of this. I call him and make him sit at my right hand side. I will walk a few metres away, then call him until he comes and sits at the same place again. I let him run free for a minute then call him again. I rarely use food to motivate him but he gets an unexpected treat now and again, just to make sure he keeps coming back.
The excitement of the snow is just so much for him and its not surprising he forgets to listen to me, but it was a good reminder for me that he can get a bit naughty sometimes.

The snow is fine because if its bad enough nobody can go anywhere and there’s nothing you can do about it. The trouble starts when the snow melts and we’re left with icy freezing conditions that are difficult to work in with a guide dog. The dog is trained to stay on the footpath and not walk on the road unless you are crossing over. Footpaths here never get gritted so walking anywhere is impossible.
How do other guide dog owners manage when they have to go somewhere? I keep meaning to try out a pair of
yak trax
which might help me to walk more easily. I know that O.J would have a fit if I put dog boots on him, and I wouldn’t blame him!

Icy weather and no walks means that bordum will eventually set in. I’m lucky that O.J has lots of space and toys inside and Dougal to keep him company. He is very relaxed, but by the third day of no walks he gets restless. Looks like we’ll be doing lots of training to keep his mind active if the cold weather keeps up. He’ll be learning to read soon enough 🙂

Back to Barnton

Last Thursday I travelled to Cheshire with O.J and my cousin Paul to visit my cousin and her fiancae. It was O.J’s third flight, and he must be the only living thing that has no hatred at all for Ryanair. In fairness why would he? He doesn’t get charged extra, in fact he doesn’t have to pay at all and still gets two seats so he has space to lie on the floor. The flight went well and landed ten minutes early, with a bang that made O.J sit up quickly and look out the window.

We spent a while in my cousin’s school while she got ready to leave and go home. We both visited it
eighteen months ago
and the staff seemed happy to have us back. I tried to avoid children and hid in the staffroom with O.J, but a few spotted him and got very excited. We did some food shopping and got him some dog food before going to their house. The spare bag of dog food from last time which hadn’t been opened yet was only three weeks out of date. They didn’t have lab/retriever royal canin and the nearest pet shop was far away, so I bought him the all breeds royal canin. Its very similar to his own, so even though he hasn’t eaten anything different since he left Cork, I figured it wouldn’t do him much harm. He had no problems at all.
We had dinner in a pub and spent the night relaxing. Friday was going to be a busy day!

Sarah, Rob, O.J and I were in Barnton primary school at half eight the next morning. I spent most of the day with Sarah’s year three class, thirty-five seven and eight-year-olds who were obsessed with dogs! We listened to reading, went to music class (where they were learning Christmas songs for a musical), watched a drama workshop and taught the kids how to do sighted guide outside. Children made us cards and drew pictures. They petted O.J multiple times, often lying to the teacher saying that they hadn’t had a chance to pet him yet. O.J behaved like a star as usual. He can be a brat at home sometimes, is usually as good as gold in other people’s houses and in public, but when he is among a group of children he is always incredible. He was particularly amazing with two boys with a variety of disabilities and special needs. They would usually not get so attached to anything but were very comfortable with myself and O.J by the end of the day. Even though they had difficulty with speech or concentration, they asked many questions and remembered not to touch a working guide dog.

We all took the train to Chester to shop on Saturday. O.J was surprisingly very relaxed in the shops, except he kept poking his head out of the changing rooms when I was trying on clothes! Lots of people commented on how lovely he is, and one staff member in Lush had the sense not to pet him but said, ‘oh I just want to cuddle him!!’
He worked well through the busy street, either following my cousin or walking calmly while I took her arm. He was very excited by the new surroundings but didn’t pull much. We had a quick drink before getting the train back. We relaxed for a while while O.J ran around like a maniac with a rubber turkey my cousin found. He wasn’t impressed with the squeak, but when it was taken out it was his new favourite thing in the house.

We got a taxi to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The driver loved dogs and O.J loved his car and didn’t want to get out. I’m not sure if it was a cultural thing or they just didn’t like dogs, but a couple of staff members tried as much as possible not to walk near O.J. They were polite though and the food was lovely. We watched ‘stand by me’ (my favourite film) when we got home, and O.J was obviously exhausted as he slept the whole way through it and barked in his sleep.

Our plane left Liverpool this afternoon and everything went well. The assistance were very helpful, just as they had been on the way there. I asked for them because my cousin who is eighteen might have been a bit shy about guiding me around in a busy place like an airport. He did great when I needed help though, and I think we all saw a different side to him this weekend.

O.J has done nothing but sleep since we got home. I had to get a friend to read twenty-five kid’s essays and help me pick a winner. Right now I have a sore throat and am getting a headcold. Our useless government have just announced we’re getting a bailout from the EU. I want to go back to Cheshire, where I relaxed and thought about nothing important all weekend. The saying ‘its a dog’s life’ couldn’t be more true!

Socialising when you’re blind

The idea for this post came from a night out I had last night.
There were a few bands playing in our town, and I really wanted to hear one of them. They are friends of a friend, I’ve seen them a few times before, and wanted to support them as they will release their debut album soon. A group of my friends said they’d go, then pulled out one by one. Some genuinely had no money to go out, while others made excuses.

A girl I know, who I get on well with but wouldn’t go out with often was working in the venue, and told me to come along anyway, because I could stay with her friends while she was busy. I didn’t want her friends thinking they had to bring me around all night. If they weren’t comfortable with doing it, it wouldn’t have been fair. At the same time I didn’t want to miss out, and am sick missing out on things because my usual group of friends aren’t interested.
In the end I decided to be brave and go, and had one of the most random nights I’ve had in ages.

I started off being with the people I had planned to be with, who were lovely. A friend from school came up to chat, and we talked about primary school and had a great laugh. Then my sister’s friends asked me to come and sit with them. This was fine because I get on well with all of them, but I ended up being stuck in the same corner while the band I liked were playing. This is the disadvantage of being blind, not knowing your way around a place and having no dog. You can’t just walk around and find people on your own. Sometimes with the best intentions in the world, sighted people bring you to a particular place because you can sit where it’s less busy, but you don’t get a chance to talk to anyone else, and other people can’t find you. The friend I came in with texted me during the gig to see where I was, appologised for being so busy but wanted to make sure I was OK.
I ended up getting a taxi home after 4 A.M, with completely different people from the ones I’d been with earlier. It was all very strange!

I’m very lucky because I’m well-known in our town, so will always meet people I know when I’m out. Some of them (especially males) are less shy with a few drinks in them, so it sort of breaks the ice and as long as they aren’t too drunk I don’t mind. I can be shy too, but realised when I went to college that being very shy and having a disability doesn’t get you very far. I can instantly tell if people are uncomfortable talking to me because I am blind, and I think its up to me to use humour or some distraction then to make it easier for them.

I am very lucky that I have a close relationship with my parents and family. They are like my personal taxi drivers if they think I’m missing out on something because of the cost of transport. If I’m stuck for people to come to a gig or something they will often offer to go, even though they will more than likely hate it. My dad came to Des Bishop with O.J and I last Friday (probably not the best thing to bring your dad too!) This probably makes me sound very spoilled, but they know that being blind has its challenges, and from a young age they never wanted me to miss out on anything socially.
I also have some amazing friends. We’ve done lots of brilliant things together, and even gone on holiday a few times. Some of us have very different music tastes, but we are all going to Kings of Leon in Slane next year, which will be our first concert together.

I know from personal experience and from reading other blogs that other blind people don’t have the opportunities to socialise like I do, and it is something I never take for granted. People shouldn’t think that their disability means they have to have few or no friends. It shouldn’t mean they should just stay indoors unless they have to go to work or to get their shopping, and stick to their routinely activities. They shouldn’t accept that this is normal just because they have a disability, and convince themselves they are happy and things can’t be any different. I understand it can be difficult to start conversations with people if you can’t make eye contact or use body language the same way sighted people do. There’s nothing worse than being in a group of people in a noisy environment, not knowing exactly where the person you want to talk to is. I think it takes a certain amount of participation and common sense from everybody to make socialising between blind and sighted people work.

Having a guide dog makes going to new places with people I wouldn’t normally go out with much easier, because I feel I can be a little bit more independent. However, going out last night without O.J taught me that sometimes people are much more accepting than I expect them to be. If we are going to the same place then we must at least have some similar interests. If we can talk about things easily and have fun, then the fact that I am blind isn’t the main thing on their mind. It definitely takes a bit of guts to force yourself to go out with new people, but if you give it a go once, you might be surprised at how enjoyable your night is.

The class clown

Funny story for you on this cold, wet, windy, miserable day in Ireland…

I visited a school on Tuesday as part of the disability awareness programme I’m doing for work. The kids had an idea of what to expect this time and were much more talkative. They petted O.J as they came up to collect their names in braille. I showed them some of his things: his brushes passport and a bone-shaped toy that floats in the water. The teacher told me there was a big space in front of me if I wanted to throw it for him. I told her that probably wasn’t a good idea since he would get very lively, but not wanting to disappoint the kids I threw it anyway. O.J fetched it and came right back to me. He didn’t want to give his toy back and we had a bit of a tug of war game. The children found it hillarius and O.J wasn’t impressed when I hid the toy back in my bag.

I decided to show the kids how to do sighted guide, i.e. how to guide a person with a visual impairment properly by allowing them to take your elbo. The first volunteer came up and we began walking around the room. The class started laughing hysterically and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I heard O.J coming behind me, dragging the swivel chair he’d been tied to along with him around the room!
The teacher offered to hold him while I worked with the children, and he got very excited when I came back, like he hadn’t seen me in weeks. The teacher said that it was great to see the relaxed, non-working side of him, and that he has such a strong personality. I’m just glad the children found it so entertaining. He was quiet as usual when we went to the next class. We have to go back next week. I hope he behaves then.

He didn’t want to get off the bus, then walked right past the building where I work this morning. What a strange dog.

What happens when you don’t train a puppy…

My family brought me home, cradled in their arms,
They cuddled me and smiled at me, said I was full of charm.
They played with me and laughed with me, they showered me with toys,
I sure do love my family, especially the girls and boys.

The children loved to feed me, they gave me special treats,
They even let me sleep with them, all snuggled in their sheets.
I used to go for many walks, often several times a day,
They even fought to hold the leash, I’m very proud to say.

They used to laugh and praise me, when I played with that old shoe,
But I didn’t know the difference between the old ones and the new.
The kids and I would grab a rag, and for hours we would tug,
So I thought I did the right thing when I chewed the bedroom rug.

They said I was out of control and would have to live outside,
This I did not understand, although I tried and tried.
The walks stopped, one by one; they said they hadn’t time,
I wish that I could change things, I wish I knew my crime.

My life became so lonely in the backyard on a chain.
I barked and barked all day long to keep from going insane.
So they brought me to a shelter, but were embarrassed to say why,
They said I caused an allergy, and then kissed me good-bye.

If I’d only had some classes when I was just a pup,
I wouldn’t have been so hard to handle, when I was all grown up.
“You only have one day left,” I heard a worker say.
Does this mean a second chance? Do I go home today?