You meet all sorts!

Most guide dog owners know that when your out and about with your dog, you meet all kinds of people who sometimes say and do the strangest things. Here’s a few situations I’ve encountered during the last week.

Last Tuesday my cousin and I went to Lydl to get some food to make lunch. We met a friendly woman who stopped to talk and to talk about how nice O J was etc, the usual conversation. She told me that she had a black labrador that looked very like him when he was younger. It was a great dog and she was mad about it, and it died. I asked her when it died, and she said:

“It died this morning.”

Awkward! What was I supposed to say after that?

As we made our way towards the counter I heard a little child saying, “mammy I nearly petted it”, obviously talking about O J. She was coming behind me and O J kept walking so he mustn’t have noticed. Then the mother said, “just run up and touch its tail really really quickly.” I told O J to walk straight on, making him speed up towards the counter. I was so annoyed, not because the child or the mother didn’t ask if they could pet him, but because the mother encouraged the child to touch a working dog, acting as if myself or my cousin weren’t even there.

While we were paying for our things, a small girl came up and asked if she could pet O J, and I told her that of course she could and that she had lovely manners to ask first. I just wish that other mother had been behind me.

Today I walked to town with my parents, O J and Dougal. As I was coming near the beach I met a woman with a big dog, which got very excited when it saw O J. He was excited too but I encouraged him to ignore it and walk on. The woman said, ”’oh, my dog just wants to say hello’, and I explained that O J was working and couldn’t play with other dogs because it would distract him. The main reason that I did this was because she made no effort to take control of it or stop it from blocking our way as we walked. About five minutes later we had to walk past the same dog again, who ran at O.J making him yelp. I thought he had maybe bitten him, but my dad told me that he had a muzzle on, so they must have just banged heads or he put his paws on O.J and frightened him or something. The same woman didn’t appologise or even acknowledge that anything had just happened.

Meeting her today made me really question how much adults honestly know about guide dogs. Is it presumptious of guide dog owners to think that everybody knows what that harness means? Do people like her not care, or do they genuinely understand the purpose of a working guide dog? Maybe we as guide dog owners still have a lot of educating to do, and it shouldn’t just be taught to schoolchildren in the classroom.

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Aftercare

Every year since I trained with OJ in 2007, a guide dog trainer comes up from the centre in Cork to see how we are both getting on. This is known as an aftercare visit, and today was mine and O J’s turn to be observed. Thankfully I have never had any issues, and the visit takes no more than an hour, but todays was a bit different, so I wanted to make note of a couple of things that happened.

The trainer rang just before three to say that she was in town, so my dad and I drove to meet her. I met her briefly before but she had never done an aftercare visit with me. OJ was in great form so I wasn’t nervous. Working with a new trainer has its advantages, because they don’t know much about the dog, and it is interesting to hear what they think when they follow behind and observe. We brought her to my new house, and my dad pointed out road crossings and things that could be difficult. This meant that she was able to choose the safest routes and talk them through with me before we started walking.

The road crossing outside my house is one of the busiest in the town, and is very difficult for anybody to get across. The trainer suggested that I turn right outside my front door, walk a couple of minutes until I get to a crossing with a small bit of tactile and an island. It means going a bit out of the way but it is much safer. It is vital that OJ finds this exact crossing, or there is less of a chance that I will get across that road safely. We walked to the supermarket to buy treats to make sure he gets it right. I never use them while working unless he’s learning a new route, then I gradually iliminate them, so he was introduced to Schmackos and thought this was all very exciting! He was quite sniffy, and tried to eat a tomato from the ground right outside the supermarket, but the trainer removed it from his mouth making him whine, and he wasn’t impressed! It poured rain and we got completely soaked, which made him a bit more distracted. This type of thing used to annoy me, but I reminded myself that it is realistic of his behaviour, and the trainer didn’t see it as a major problem so neither should i.

I have walked the main road from my family home to my future new house a couple of times with OJ, and it has been fine apart from the busy crossing right opposite the house. We walked there and back, and found a slightly safer place to cross. I feel much more comfortable with that route now.

After more than two hours of working and walking, we went back to the supermarket for a well deserved coffee and a nice chat. The trainer said that she was very happy with OJ’s work and how I could control him. She said he looked great, but did notice that he looked a bit lean. I showed her the vet book and explained that I had already noticed this, so its something I just need to keep an eye on. His quantity of food hasn’t changed, and his workload hasn’t increased, so there seems no obvious reason for it. It means that he can enjoy a couple of treats while working, until he gets this route perfect, but if he is still losing weight in a month’s time, I might have to look at other possible causes and do something about it. She stressed how important it was for me to follow his recommended weight given to me by the centre, along with how he feels, and not be persuaded by vet’s opinions or sighted people telling me that he looks fine. I have always judged his weight this way anyway, so its nothing new for me.

It was interesting and challenging to be working a new route with a new person teaching me, and it reminded me a lot of the first couple of weeks with OJ. It made me observe his body language more closely. I should also be aware of times when I should take his lead to prevent him from veering too much to the left. It also reminded me of how much praise and encouragement a dog needs when learning a new route (I do so many of mine now without hardly having to give OJ directions!)

The only thing I found strange about working with this particular trainer was how much she interacted with OJ while he was working. From my past experience, trainers usually ignore the dog as much as possible, and all the commands come from the handler. I’ve even had an aftercare visit where the trainer didn’t even touch OJ or speak to him at all until I removed his harness when our walk was finished. Today, she praised him and gave him verbal directions and petted him while I was working him. She was very thorough which I liked, but` I just found this aspect interesting.

I don’t have an aftercare visit from guide dogs now for another two years, unless I need help or have a problem in the meantime. This is partly a cost-cutting exercise, but also because of his age and the fact that he is settled. Its good to know that they don’t think I will need one in the meantime, and its good to also know that I can just give them a call if I need help with anything.

Guest Post: At A Glacial Pace

The first blog post of each month is a guest post from a guest blogger. This month’s is from Jes, whose blog has been an inspiration to me since I discovered it earlier this year. When you read her post, you’ll know exactly why. Then go follow her blog:

At A Glacial Pace.

You only think your life is busy until you read about hers!

Have you ever taken a step back and wondered

“where did the time go?” or,

“what have I done in the last six years?”

I didn’t necessarily think these things exactly, but in December of

2005, I started writing a blog. I don’t think anyone really read it,

but I was okay with that. It was more for my own entertainment and

musings; something I could look back on and remember what was going on

in my life. It was also a place for me to vent my feelings and

sentiments about living as a twenty-something, blind girl blundering

my way through life with my first guide dog, Jetta, by my side. A lot

has changed since December 2005. Jetta has retired, I’ve moved a

million times-it feels like it anyway-and I’ve grown up a lot. I still

rant from time to time, but I think I’m a bit more eloquent now and

perhaps don’t get as fired up about certain things as I used to.

Now, my blog focuses primarily on my life as a blind woman in the

process of moving from the United States to Edinburgh Scotland. It

chronicles the happenings in my house with two guide dogs and a

husband. It’s much different from the raging, slightly radical

Sociology student that often spewed words out in an attempt to make

her brain shut off. I still advocate for equality and accessibility; I

still try to raise awareness for those populations who may not

necessarily have a voice-that includes animals; but it’s a less

aggressive and probably much more readable approach.

My blog is constantly changing and it’s probably because I don’t stay

still well. I always have at least two projects on the go and if not,

I’m looking for something else to add. I used to be a competitive

swimmer for Canada and retired in 2008. It took me a few years to

realise that the fire for competition had not burned out and I made it

my mission to fulfill this void; this happens to be training for a

triathlon. I have dreams of competing in the Paralympics again as a

triathlete. If you’re going to dream, dream big.

Athletics are not my only interest. I have a degree in Sociology and

Massage Therapy. I would also like to get my Master’s in

Physiotherapy, which is in the works for September of 2012. On the

side, I love training dogs and interacting with them. My most recent

dog related adventure was starting up a Pet Consulting business that

will be a side project until I can build up a client base. On top of

all of this, my posts are full of stories about the move to Scotland,

my experience as a guide dog handler and a few random ramblings about

the necessity of coffee. In reality, you will probably never know what

the next day’s post is going to be about as I never run out of things

to say. Strangely enough, I am quite the opposite in person; if I

don’t know you, I probably won’t talk much.

“At A Glacial Pace” is the title of the blog and is intended to be

ironic and a play on words all at the same time. Glacier is my current

working dog and nothing moves “at a glacial pace” in our lives. The

URL for the blog is “Walking Barefoot in the Sand” because that is

what life is like. Sand is unstable and if you were to walk on it

every day, or at different times of the day, it would be different.

Sometimes it’s warm and pleasant under your feet; others you must run

because it is too hot; and sometimes it is cold and wet and sticks to

your feet. Life is like walking on a sandy beach: you never know what

you’re going to experience and sometimes it can be pleasant, soothing

and exciting and sometimes it is cold, ungiving and desolate. Either

way, life-and sand-go on and the next time you step out your front

door, or on to a beach, it will not be the same. That is what is

exciting about life and I think my blog reflects that; or at least I

hope it does.