assistance dog blog carnival is being hosted by
I rarely post in these carnival type things, but the theme of “opportunity” was something I could relate to straight away, so I thought I’d write about the many opportunities that having a guide dog has given me.
Don’t forget to check out L’s blog soon to read all the blog posts.

When you think about guide dogs and how they help their owners, independence is the obvious thing that comes to mind. It’s impossible to describe the freedom that having a dog gives, unless you’ve actually had one. Many blind and visually impaired people never own a dog and manage perfectly fine with their cane. I knew from a young age that I was never going to be one of those people. I understand that I need to use it at times, but when I have to use it, I’m like a different person trying to find my way around. I walk much slower, am less confident, and the thought of moving from one place to another stresses me out. I need to point out that this is a personal weakness and definitely not the case for every cane user. Having O.J is like walking with a sighted person, since he guides me around obstacles, instead of me having to come into contact with them and find my way around them. I grew up among sighted family and friends, so this has always felt more natural. Going for walks is relaxing now, so as well as going to necessary places, O.J and I go for leisurely walks along with my pet dog, just for the enjoyment of it. Of course the exercise is another bonus.

If you are a confident person, you’ll automatically become more positive, therefore discovering and benefiting from more opportunities that come your way. I have been working since 2007, as well as doing voluntary work. It might sound strange to thank my dog for this, but I know having him with me has given me more confidence. Last week my contract in work finished, and I’ll have one or two days of work a week now if I’m lucky. I’m not too worried about it because O.J will keep me in a routine, and I know that when something new comes up, I can learn new routes and take new opportunities if I have him with me.

Owning a guide dog provides a constant opportunity to meet people on a daily basis, since everyone wants to ask questions about the dog. You’ll be tired saying the same things over and over again, but wouldn’t it be worse if people were afraid to start a conversation with you just because you are blind? I think when people see the dog, they are interested in him and overcome their shyness because they want to ask questions.
O.J has given me the opportunity to meet other guide dog owners, whether through training at the beginning, fundraising or talking online. This has led to me meeting some new friends and my boyfriend, and I know that we wouldn’t have all met if we didn’t have dogs.

Travel is another thing that I find much easier with a guide dog. Before I had O.J, I did go places, and often flew to England to visit my cousin. Now when I travel, I’m much more relaxed, and apart from bringing a few extra things for the dog and making sure the place I’m staying in has grass nearby, I don’t worry about where I’m going much. I don’t know my way around many of the places that I travel too, but people are inclined to approach me quicker and offer help when they see the dog.

I suppose if I was trying to summerise what having O.J means to me, I’d say that he gives me the opportunity to live a normal life. I hate using the word “normal”, but it’s the only one I can think of. A guide dog has given me the opportunity to live independently like my other family members and friends, and I can do lots of the same things they can do, without having to depend on them. Simple things like walking to visit people, instead of waiting for someone to come and get me, and being able to watch my nephews and take them places mean a lot to me. When I walk with O.J, it’s obvious that I am blind, and he stands out a lot. However, when he’s not with me, there are many situations where I feel much more disabled and less capable.
For me, having a guide dog provides a lot more opportunities than basic mobility and independence.

My Plans for 2014

I’ve started so many blog posts in my head since the start of the year, but this is the first that’s actually made it to the computer. Who knows, it might even get posted!

The start of 2014 has been busy, in a good way. I loved being off for Christmas, but it’s always good to get back into some sort of routine. A good routine is something I’m going to have to try and stick to from now on to stop me from going insane.
This week is the last week of my contract at work. From Monday 27th, I’ll be nearly unemployed. I’ll have work one day a week, or two if I’m very lucky until the end of the school year. Then I’ll have to find a new job, so I’ve started looking already. I need to try and keep myself in some sort of routine. I have some plans, but any suggestions from anyone who has been unemployed before would be great! Here are my plans so far:

1. Get up early. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t plan to get up before 7 like I would if I was working in Letterkenny, but I want to get up early and go to bed at a decent time. Staying up late and getting up late is a recipe for disaster!

2. Speaking of recipes, I want to cook more meals from scratch, freeze more dinners and eat better in general. I want to make dinner for my parents more often, and have my nephews over to give their parents a break. My brother in law is an amazing cook, and I’m not good enough to make him dinner yet! I’m lucky that I can use some of my PA hours to do a big food shop once a week, meaning that I can take my time, buy healthy food cheaply, and not have to run to the nearest more expensive shop every two days. I’ve been putting my new blender to good use by making lots of soup already, and I’ve started baking too.

3. Try something new. I haven’t decided what this will be yet. It could be volunteering, just something to keep me busy and allow me to learn new things. People keep asking me if I’ll go back to college. Apart from the expense of it that I just couldn’t afford, I don’t see the point of studying for the sake of it. Another degree isn’t going to guarantee me a job, so what’s the point.

4. Start surfing. Online that is, not real surfing. I’d be useless at it and I’m slightly terrified of waves! The internet will be my best friend during the next while, but I don’t want to use it just to pass the time. As well as looking for jobs locally, I’m going to look at online and freelance work. I’ve been lucky enough to get three transcribing jobs last year, and the idea that I can be working in my house for someone even in a different country is fascinating, and could open a lot of possibilities. I’m not going to be one of those people who constantly complains about not being able to find work, when the truth is that they haven’t looked past the adds in their local paper. There aren’t many job opportunities where I live, and even less if you’re blind, but I don’t want to move, so I’m going to find something and make it work.

5. Lots of walking. Going for long walks with the dogs is one of my favourite things to do, and I find it’s a brilliant way to relax and helps me to think. O.J helps me to get around independently and do the things I need to do, but I can’t take Dougal when we’re out and about. This means that he has to be walked, so we try to all go for an hour long walk a few times a week. People are used to seeing me out with both dogs around the beach, and they’ll be seeing more of us in 2014. I’m so glad that I have both dogs, and when I’m not working, they are the two things that will keep me in a routine and get me out of the house.

So that’s my plans. It’s going to be an interesting year.