Reactions to OJ

This is a post for the third assistance dog carnival, hosted this time by
The Trouble Is…
The topic this time is reactions, and I wasn’t going to take part, simply because I couldn’t think of something to write about. Then I decided I’d write about a mixture of things, a mixture of ways people have reacted, both positively and negatively to O J.

The first unusual reaction that I noticed towardsO J was during our training in Cork in August 2007. I was sitting at a cafe with two of the other trainees, waiting for our turn to go for a walk with our trainer. A man came over to look at our dogs, two goldens and O J being the only black. He commented on how well behaved they were, and then said that he’d heard how the black ones didn’t have as good of a temperament as yellow or chocolate labs. My classmates and my trainer reassured me that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. If black dogs aren’t as friendly, O J doesn’t follow this stereotypical rule.

I guess about 95% of the people we meet react positively to O J. Many people comment on his handsome looks or his gentle personality. I’ve had people ask if they can pet him, which sometimes turns out to be more of a cuddle or a hug. Many people have offered to look after him when he retires. People who know us often say hello to him before me.
Some people tell me that they don’t like dogs but they like him. I have worked, and currently work with people who are afraid of dogs, and wouldn’t touch one in a million years, but they respect O J’s work as a guide dog, and my right to have him in our office.

Children’s reactions to a guide dog are always interesting. They regularly call him a “guard dog” or “blind dog”, ask loudly, “why is their a dog in the shop” to their parent’s embarrassment, and pet him without asking first. They are children, a guide dog in a harness is a novelty to them and they will never learn how to behave around one if they are not taught correctly. Instead of becoming frustrated at them, I use these interactions to educate them about blindness. If only teaching adults was so easy!

Adults are strange. Mostly they are genuinely interested in how a guide dog works, and they like to ask questions. Sometimes though, I meet the odd one who just doesn’t get it, and no amount of explaining will change things.
Like the people who call him over to them when they can see that he is guiding me. I usually tell O J to go “straight on” in a firm voice loud enough for them to hear, and hope they’ll get the message. I’m always happy when O J ignores them and walks on.
People who don’t get it, like the man who quickly dropped something in front of O J while we were waiting for a bus, and casually said, I just gave the dog a biscuit. When I explained why this was not acceptable, and he could see that I wasn’t pleased, he walked away and said nothing.
The strangest of all happened just after Christmas, when I went to look at furniture with my mum. The shop owner came up to chat, and proceeded to ask about O J, like he’d never seen him before, which he had. I suddenly felt O J’s front legs move off the ground like he was jumping up. He never does this, and definitely not in harness, so I was very surprised. I firmly corrected him, only to be told by my mum that the shop owner we’d been talking to had actually lifted O J’s front paws off the ground. He put him down and carried on talking as normal as if nothing had happened. Needless to say, I didn’t buy any furniture there, and don’t plan to in the future.

Record Store Day 2011

Last Saturday (16th April) was
record store day
I spent the afternoon listening to live music in
Cool Discs
in Derry.
It was great to see the shop busy with people coming and going, with new CDs in their hands as they left. I stood near the door with O J and tried to keep him from being in people’s way as much as possible. He enjoyed getting petted and trying to sniff people when they went in and out. Who knew he could have a career as a bouncer as well? I brought him encase I decided to go out anywhere during the performances, but they were all great, so we more or less stood in the same place for three hours and listened.

The performances included acoustic sets from
Paul Casey
Bronagh Gallagher
Paddy Nash
Furlo, Connor McAtteer, Justin Black and a few more (who I can’t think of to save my life!) They were all great though!

I’ve written
about why I like this shop so much and why I prefer shopping in Cool Discs to shopping online. Downloading music is quick and easy and it doesn’t take up physical space. There are times, when I’m making a radio show for example, when I need something instantly so I will download music. However, shopping online is a lonely activity. You can’t have a face-to-face conversation with the retailer before you buy what you are looking for. Websites like Amazon can recommend music, but they won’t ask you what you thought of the last albums you bought next time you go to buy more. They definitely won’t promote the music released by Irish artists or local bands in your area.

Before I left on Saturday, I wanted to buy some new music. I’d been meaning to buy a Paul Casey album for ages, and when I met him after he played, I promised him that I would. I had a million other things I wanted to get but decided to let Lee and Danny who work in the shop recommend something else for me. Its a great way of finding new music that I know I’ll like. I’ve never been in a shop that knows its customers so well. Its not like I’m in every few days or few weeks even. If I could afford all the music I want I’d never leave the place! I was given ‘the king is dead’ by The Decemberists, which I absolutely love and haven’t stopped listening to for the last two days.

Record store day is definitely a great way of celebrating shops that work hard to promote independent music and local talent. Its a pity it only happens once a year. I just hope all the people who came to their local shops on Saturday keep coming back and supporting independent music.

“Record Stores can’t change your life. but they can give you a better one.”
–Nick Hornby

My future dog

At just over five years old, and having been a working dog for over three and a half years, I’d hope that O J is only mid-way through his career as a guide dog. He is very settled and knows his job well. He is very relaxed while working, and even when his harness is off he knows to behave if we’re out in public. I tell people it’s like having two dogs, because when he gets the chance to play, O J is still a very playful, hyper, puppy-like animal, with plenty of energy.

I’m not exactly sure why I’ve been thinking about this so much recently, but I have been considering what I would want in my next guide dog.
Ideally I want O J to work as long as possible, as long as he is healthy and happy, and willing to work. I hope I am able to recognise the signs when he does not want to do his job anymore.
He will always be very special because he was my first guide dog, and I waited so long to have the independence and freedom he has given me. I think I have been incredibly lucky to have him as a first dog, because despite being quite big and strong, he has been brilliant to work with. I haven’t had to contact a trainer for any advice since I finished my official training with him at the end of august 2007 (his only major problems have been health issues.) I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with contacting a trainer at all. Sometimes maybe I could have benefitted from their feedback if we had problems, but I persevered and worked things out, I’m stubborn like that. This doesn’t mean O J is a perfect dog, because he’s far from it, and I don’t think a perfect dog even exists.

O J has plenty of personality traits that I would rather my next dog didn’t have. He is a constant sniffer, never passing an opportunity to be nosey. He takes forever deciding where to relieve himself, going round and round in circles until he finds the perfect spot, even on grass he is familiar with. This is very annoying when its pouring rain or I’m in a hurry to be somewhere. Like most labs, he is highly motivated by food, and forgets his manners very quickly if left alone and there’s food in sight. He walks to the extreme left of everything and goes right up to an obstacle before working his way around it. People find this quite unsettling to watch, as they are sure he will walk me into something, but I know he won’t. He works much better when we’re alone together, when he has to take the lead and make the decisions. If there’s someone with us he’ll slacken off as if to say, “They can see so they know where to go”, and people can interpret this as him not being a good guide dog. I find myself having to explain his strange quirks to people over and over again.

Although he is very easily distracted, it is just as easy to refocus him again and continue working. All his problems are things I can work around and have learned to deal with, and they make him the dog I love being guided by. If my next dog doesn’t have any of these quirks I’ll be perfectly happy, just as long as his or her own personality traits aren’t any worse than O J’s.

I have also been thinking about dog breeds recently. I am very familiar with lab/retrievers, and love the temperament, adaptability and easy going nature of the breed. I like having a black dog because they are less common guide dogs around here than goldens, the hair isn’t as obvious when it sheds, and (I don’t know if it’s anything to do with the colour or not) but O J has a very shiny healthy coat, which people often remark on. Maybe if my dog is the same breed but a different colour, I’ll be less likely to compare them, and other people will too. I have always preferred male dogs for some unknown reason, even though as pets, they were harder to housetrain. That doesn’t mean I’d be disappointed if I got a female.
I would also like the challenge of working with a different breed of dog for a change. I’d be too small to get a shepherd and not sure if I could afford the high maintenance of a goldendoodle. I have no strong feeling for or against retrievers. A change of breed would help me not to compare my future dog with O J either.

These are just thoughts. I’d never actually request a certain breed, sex or colour of guide dog. I will let the guide dog trainer decide my dog by the best possible match when the time comes.
I hope dog number two is a long way away yet, and O J would probably be disgusted at the fact that I’m even thinking about this. I know I have to be realistic when the time comes though. Living without a guide dog is not an option for me anymore, so I will always have to think of the future dog.

‘For the Birds’ tenth anniversary gig

I’m only getting a chance to sit down and write now, and try and describe what was a really special
anniversary gig
for the frames last Wednesday.
After discovering that the bus times had changed, O J and I had to get a connecting bus on the way to Dublin. I got a very friendly taxi driver who brought us to the friends house we were staying with. I’d never been there before, but we were well looked after and I think they enjoyed having a guide dog around.

I intended going into Vicar Street a bit early, encase I needed to sort out anything with O J, and to meet some friends and look at the merch stand. We had to wait on a friend’s friend who had our tickets, but when we got in ten minutes before the gig started, the staff were very helpful.

O J eventually lay down under the seat and slept while
played. They are a very unique band, and despite their lead singer Fergus O’Farrell being seriously ill a couple of months ago, he sounded amazing. A few people came up to talk and to pet O J, and the staff took him out just before the frames came on stage. I gave them his bed and a bone and he went with them no bother.

Long time Frames fan Emmett O’Brien came on stage to provide a heartfelt introduction and tribute to the band and to the Album, which you can read
After a huge round of applause, the band came on and played the entire album from start to finish. Magic is the only word I can use to describe it.

Thanks Dave for the picture!

When they had finished someone shouted “play another album!” Glen asked Roddy Doyle to come up and read one of his stories. It is called
and is really entertaining and funny. Then the second half of the Frames gig began, with them performing tracks mostly from the earlier part of their career. Then it was time for more special guests; Bronagh Gallagher and Damien Rice both sang a song each, then Fergus joined Glen for an amazing version of a song called ‘Gold’. This was followed by a performance by Liam O’Maonlai, which was the strangest twenty minutes of music I’ve seen in a long long time. Liam seemed like he was in a world of his own and didn’t know when to stop. My friend turned round at one stage and asked if we were in India or somewhere! He had the audience on their feet, singing and clapping, and from reading reviews and comments online the next day, I’d say some of them didn’t know whether to laugh with him or at him. . He eventually decided to finish by playing a version of forever young with the frames, which was flawless. Finally, Glen, who was a bit emotional at this stage said, “we have one more special guest”, at which point a backdrop of a picture of
Mic Christopher
appeared and the members of the Mary Janes joined him onstage. they all sang hey day, with the audience joining in as loud as they possibly could. If you’ve seen the Frames playing this, or you know anything about Mic Christopher, you’ll understand how special this is. If not, go and do some research, and if you get the opportunity to hear it live, you’ll also sing as loud as you can as well, maybe with tears in your eyes, and definitely a happy smile on your face.

The three-hour Frames gig ended at half twelve, and soon afterwards O J was brought back in to me. He came in wagging his tail and I knew he’d been looked after well. The staff gave him water, walked him, took him to the toilet and gave him lots of attention. They said everybody liked him and they’d be happy to have him again any time. They had done so much more than I was expecting, and I can’t praise Jake and Marie enough for their help. They were friendly and helpful without being patronising or going overboard. It makes me recommend what already is a fantastic venue even more.

The weekend continued to be brilliant, with the announcement of the
Buncrana music festival
lineup for July, and probably the best party I’ve ever been too last night.
It was fantastic to be able to introduce some new people to the Frames, and have them react so positively to their live performance. It was also brilliant to know that I can go and see my favourite band, in a fantastic venue that allows me to bring my guide dog as well, which makes life so much easier.