Would You Trust a Blind Pilot?

Last Tuesday I had the amazing opportunity to fly a duel-controlled plane in Newtownards airfield, just outside Belfast. It was, without a doubt one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.

As part of disability pride, an organisation called
Aerobility
brought an accessible plane to Northern Ireland for the week. This gave people with disabilities an opportunity to have a flying lesson with a qualified instructor. I received an email and passed it on to my manager in work, never even considering it myself. She persuaded me to take the opportunity. A work colleague would bring me there, and we could use the opportunity to raise awareness and money through sponsorship for our organisation. At first I wasn’t convinced that this was a good idea, but the thought of a blind person flying a plane is so random that it’s proving to be a great success.

Before anyone gets worried, I left O.J safely at home when I went to fly last Tuesday. My PA took him for a long walk, and he was oblivious to what I was up to. My colleague Shane and I traveled to Newtownards, and to say I was nervous would be an understatement! We had to wait almost three hours before we could fly because the weather was misty. While we were waiting, Michael showed me around the aircraft, which was fascinating. I had a chance to touch everything, even learning how to check the fuel, and going under the plane to feel the wheels. This made me feel much more relaxed, and when it was time to take off, I was so excited!

James the flying instructor was very enthusiastic and explained everything throughout the whole flight. We had to wear a headset with a microphone because the noise of the plane was so loud. He took off, and we flew to 2,500ft, where he let me fly myself. He gave instructions which I carefully followed. I could feel every movement the plane made as I steered it. Making it go up and down was particularly good. My ears popped, and I got that butterfly feeling in my tummy. We flew for about 45 minutes altogether. It went so fast, I would have wanted it to last longer. The landing was surprisingly very smooth. Much better than when you land in Derry airport in an even bigger plane.

One of the best parts of the flight was that we were allowed to film it. Shane filmed out the window on his mobile, and he also brought a tiny Go Pro camera which he stuck on the front window beside the pilot. There are lots of photographs on the
Donegal CIL facebook page
and a video will be put up there soon. I have all the footage on my computer, which is nice to be able to look back on.

It’s not every day you get an opportunity to do something adventurous like fly a plane. Even though I was unsure at first, I’m glad I did it, and really appreciate the opportunity. Aerobility are hoping to return to Northern Ireland next year. Their staff are amazing and so professional.
The whole experience hasn’t put me off flying at all. It’s given me a better understanding of how the whole thing works, and a better idea of what a plane looks like. Funny enough, I’m actually flying to Portugal tomorrow. Well I’m not flying this time!

Our Weekend in Cork

I went to Cork on Friday to attend the service dogs of Ireland seminar I mentioned in my previous post. O.J had a play on the beach, followed by a walk on Thursday, so he was looking good for the weekend. He was the only guide dog at the event, and behaved very maturely, making me very proud!

When I arrived at the Corin Centre in Fermoy, Andrew who organised the event was the first person I met. He put a lot of time and effort into this event, and should be happy with what he had achieved. There was a good crowd, and four of the five charities were very well represented. Irish guide dogs had three members of staff, but since no guide dog owners were informed about the event by the charity, there were none there except me. This was quite disappointing, but I’m glad I came, and I enjoyed spending the day with their staff, who were very helpful.

Each of the five service dogs charities gave interesting presentations. I particularly enjoyed Dogs for the Disabled, who used a dog to demonstrate how a person using a wheelchair can be assisted by a dog. The dog helped to pull off her gloves, pull off socks, and most impressively, pick up a bottle she dropped and put it in the bin. Assistance dog owners spoke of the lifechanging difference having a dog has made to their children with autism and their families. This story is so touching, no matter how many times you hear it. We had discussions about access issues and legislation among other things. The president of the Irish Kennel Club gave an interesting talk in which he promised financial aid if the five organisations decide to come together and form an umbrella service dogs group. So many topics were discussed, its hard to remember them all. With Andrew’s permission I recorded the event, and I’m hoping to transcribe some of the information in the next few weeks, just for future reference encase anybody wants it.

Apart from the talks, I really enjoyed meeting lots of friendly people and lots of gorgeous dogs. I was lucky enough to be sitting in front of a Newfoundland who was a therapy dog. Needless to say, I just wanted to keep petting him all the time. Probably luckily for his owner I moved seats after lunch, and ended up sitting behind Thorp, a Newfy x Retriever who was also beautiful. I loved getting to pet lots of labradoodles and golden doodles, since I am interested in knowing more about these breeds. The highlight of all the people and dogs was meeting Clive, Murray and Fiona. I’ve been reading
Clive’s blog
since Murray was nine years old and now he’s sixteen. It was lovely to finally meet them. Clive is taller than I’d expected, and I think Murray is too! I wish I could have talked to him more, but the room was noisy and busy with lots of dogs. I got a photo taken with them both which was really nice. Fiona was great, introducing me to all the doodles and describing them for me. Hopefully someday we’ll meet again and get a proper chat.

I traveled to Cork with my aunt, and we stayed with her son who lives there. We had a lovely weekend relaxing, going for walks and spending time with their children. O.J and I were spoiled there, I think we could have easily stayed a bit longer!

Service Dogs of Ireland Seminar

Ireland’s very first seminar for service dogs takes place in Fermoy in Cork on Saturday 13th September. The seminar is organised by Andrew Geary, who’s five year-old son is being trained with a hearing dog. Andrew says:
“I discovered there are a number of charities operating in this field in Ireland, all of which are self funded through the work of volunteers. Through our connection with Irish Dogs for the Disabled we have become involved in various fund raising events. Through these events we have met others who are involved with other Canine Charities. All, bar one, are self funded through the dedicated work of their volunteers. The only state funded group being the well known Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, which gets approximately 15% of its budget from state support. I am a committed volunteer all my life and believe Community Spirit is what makes this country work, however in this case as in other spheres the volunteer can only do so much. The Charities concerned in this Seminar are listed alphabetically as:-
1. Autism Assistance Dogs of Ireland
2. Irish Dogs for the Disabled.
3. Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind which also runs an Assistance Dog Programme.
4. Irish Therapy Dogs
5. My Canine Companion
From my voluntary work in this field I saw a need for more information, education, networking and interaction throughout this sector and therefore took this project upon myself to organise.”

“Through a number of speakers, demonstrations, workshops, discussions, surveys and educational material, the seminar will bring hundreds of people together.

Seminar Goals
1. Endeavour to seek state funding for guide/assistance/therapy/service dogs across disabilities.
2. Raise the profile of Assistance, Therapy & Service Dogs nationally.
3. Cut waiting lists and make the dogs more available.
4. Reduce duplication of services in the sector.
5. Look at Accreditation of the Sector and models of same.
6. Through networking get best practice for charities, families and trainers.
7. The event would grow as in other countries such as Canada, UK, and USA etc.
8. Showcase the world of Disabilities through positive media exposure.
9. Encourage future study in the area through the results of the surveys and workshops.
10. Look for more legislation in the area of disability and dogs.
11. Raise awareness of Dog needs, respite, retirement etc.
12. Highlight rogue operators. This has become a major problem in this country.”

You can find out more information about the event, and hopefully feedback about the day afterwards on the
facebook page.

I think this is a fantastic idea, which will help to highlight some very important issues facing service dog owners in Ireland. In the little amount of media coverage I’ve seen about this event, it was disappointing to learn how far behind Ireland is compared to other countries in regard to the use of assistance dogs, therapy dogs and dogs for medical purposes. Hopefully this seminar will be the first of many opportunities for us as a country to expand how we use dogs to help people in the future. Dogs are amazing, and can be used to do amazing things. I think we just need to learn how to get the best out of them.