Where Did July Go?

I’ve been writing this blog since August 2007, and I’m almost sure I’ve posted something at least once a month every month since then. I know that’s not many posts in nine years, but the point I’m making is that I never missed a month. Until now! Disgraceful! I did think about this during July, but never sat down to write, so here’s a summery of what I’ve been up to.

In January this year I became a volunteer with the local Foroige club in our town. I help out with the junior group on a Monday night, and the children are between the ages of ten and thirteen years old. Everybody was very welcoming right from the beginning, but I feel like it has taken me a while to really find my feet, and learn how I can be a help to the children. On second July we spent the day in Dublin at the citizenship awards, because our group had entered a project that they had been working on throughout the year. It was a long and busy day, with lots of noise and food around to distract Sibyl. She was quite sniffy and tried to eat sweets from the ground a lot, which is something we have to work on preventing. Apart from that she was good. The kids won an award for their project, so they all went home happy.

The following Saturday I travelled to Dublin again, without Sibyl this time. Myself and my five best friends went to see Beyoncé in Croke Park, which was a present for one of the girl’s 30th birthdays. I’m not a fan of Beyoncé at all, and honestly didn’t even know how to spell her name properly until we were getting the tickets!! The weather was beautiful, I had bought some new clothes, and we all rarely get a chance to meet up without partners or children anymore, so I was happy enough to be there. While a few of us waited for a taxi or bus to the stadium after dinner, a rickshaw drove passed, and I was so excited when the driver said he could take us there. It was such a fun journey, and I hadn’t laughed so much in a while. I said that even if the concert was rubbish, it was worth it for the journey there.
The concert wasn’t as bad as I thought. Beyoncé’s voice was amazing, and she seemed very humble and genuine, not what I was expecting. It was a very visual performance with lots of costume changes. Videos were shown each time she went off stage, which I didn’t really appreciate, and she played bits of some songs, without doing the full thing, which I found annoying. It definitely was better than I expected, but I wouldn’t go to see her again.

I had the next weekend free, which I used to finish a big transcribing job which I’d been working on for almost two months. It was really enjoyable and I learned a lot.
The following weekend Sibyl and I, along with my parents travelled to Liverpool, where we met Nicky and went to a wedding. It was very different from weddings we’d have at home, but it was good fun and the weather was amazing. I had a chance to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in a few years, and meet her new baby for the first time. We also used the trip as an opportunity to spend a few days in Wales, as Nicky had a friend there who he’d been promising to visit for a long time. I’d never been to wales before, but I definitely want to go back. We spent a few days with lovely friendly people, who I liked as soon as I met them. We went to Hereford to meet other friends and their new guide dogs, which Sibyl loved. We went to a seaside town called Barry and had the nicest fish and chips ever! The children walked Sibyl and bought us two mugs to keep as suveneers. We had drinks sitting outside a pub which had blankets if we got cold. We were spoiled and looked after so well. Hopefully I can return the favour if they come to Ireland next year. Sibyl wasn’t there long enough to really learn her way around, but it was useful to have her, especially in the airport on the way home, when Nicky walked with the assistant and we followed behind. By the time we had landed in Belfast, Sibyl had been to seven different airports, which isn’t bad considering that she went on her first holiday almost exactly one year ago. I wonder how many she’ll have been in by the time she retires?

Of course when you come back from holiday, life just goes back to normal, or what seems to be normal in O.J’s world anyway. We collected him from the vet on Thursday after he had another lump removed. I think this is his forth. I’ve lost count. This one was under his tail, and the vet didn’t like the look of it as soon as he saw it. It might be nothing, but he said that if they left it and it grew bigger, removing it could make him incontinent. That would obviously be a nightmare, so removing it was the better option. He had a cone to stop him from itching it, but it was annoying him so we took it off after a couple of days. He’s eating and going for walks and seems lively and happy. It’s the quickest I’ve ever seen him recover from anything before. The fact that he’s so fit really does make a difference.

So there it is, my July update, which could have been made into three or four well written posts if I took the time to write them.

Holidays in Spain

I mentioned in my last
that I was doing something with Sibyl that I’ve never done with a guide dog before. Two weeks ago, Nicky and I went on a ten day holiday to Spain with my whole family, and Sibyl came too.

Before I write about the holiday itself, I think it’s important to mention that taking a dog on holiday requires a bit of extra planning and preparation, and the pet passport takes a bit of work to get sorted before you go. It’s not something I’d recommend for every dog, and I really thought carefully about taking Sibyl before we went. I’ve only had her for three and a half months which isn’t long at all. Her trainer or Irish Guide Dogs staff may have been very surprised if they’d known I was taking her so soon. But I know her well enough to know that nothing really phases her, and she’s the kind of dog you could take almost anywhere.

Two days before we left for Spain, I had to have Sibyl checked by the vet to ensure that she was fit for travel. He stamped her passport and gave her some medication which she needed before entering a new country. The department of agriculture checked her passport at the George Best airport in Belfast before we checked in. She was the first dog they’d had traveling outside the UK, so they were very excited! Special assistance in Belfast and Malliga airports were fantastic, as were the air hostesses on the plane. Sibyl didn’t react at all during the flight, and I think we were all shocked by how calm she was.

The holiday was great fun. We spent a week in a town called Salobrena, where we rented a house ten minutes walk from the beach. The area was lovely, but the streets were steep and narrow, with steps everywhere, and a steep walk to and from the beach. The weather was too hot to take Sibyl out during the day, and it would have been impossible for me to learn my way around. As a result we were quite restricted, but she had a cool place to lie in the house, and it didn’t bother her at all. I brought food with me, which the airline let me carry in my hand luggage. As long as she had that, water and company, she seemed happy enough.

After a week in Salobrena, we moved to a house in a town called Otura, near Granada city, which was cooler and much easier to get around. I wish I had more time there, because Sibyl definitely could have learned some routes, particularly the walk to the restaurant and golf course, which was straightforward. At times I wondered if bringing her was a good idea, but when she was able to work, I had great freedom. I was able to walk with my small nephews, follow everybody in the airport, and follow them to restaurants if we went out to eat. A particular highlight was when we drove 2000 Meters up the Sierra Nevada mountains where people go skiing in the winter. There was a nice breeze, perfect weather for a dog, and I was able to walk around with her guiding, and she did some great work.

Before leaving Spain, I had to have Sibyl checked and wormed by the vet there. Depending on the country, this has to be done within a certain timeframe, so we went three days before coming home to Ireland. We had spent some time with friends from Spain who lived near where we were staying. Their sons were Spanish students who stayed with my parents for a year, so we got to know the family quite well. The father booked the appointment with the vet and brought me there, so it was great to have somebody who could translate anything if necessary. When they see the passport they know what to do, so it’s straightforward enough. They loved Sibyl, and gave her a couple of treats and cuddles after she was wormed. Spanish people in general seem to love dogs, and they were everywhere. Our neighbours had seven! We weren’t in a tourist area so people spoke little English. They probably didn’t see many guide dogs in that area because they would mostly live in the cities, so even though they stared a bit, we had no access issues at all during the ten days.

Nicky and I traveled home together, as the rest of the family are staying longer. Again the assistance at both airports was fantastic, and Sibyl was her usual chilled out happy self. We flew into Dublin so I had a four hour bus journey to do when we landed. I think we were both glad to get into our own beds that night. Sibyl seems happy to be home, and she’s got Dougal and O.J here for the next two weeks to keep her company. I might need another holiday after that!

I couldn’t have been happier with how well our holiday went, and how easy it was to travel with Sibyl. This doesn’t mean I’ll take her on every holiday from now on, and there’ll probably be lots I won’t bring her on. I was lucky that my family planned things well, were there to help if necessary, and were able to help me to get around when I couldn’t bring the dog.
I know I’m going to do lots of fun things with Sibyl and take her to lots of interesting places. I love how adaptable and confident she is, and I think she will give me more confidence as a guide dog handler in the future. Our holiday in Spain definitely showed me what great work she is capable of.

Thailand: A Holiday of a Lifetime!

On the morning of Friday 10th February, my parents, sister, brother in law, their three kids and I traveled to Bangkok in Thailand via Abudabi. It was a long journey, but didn’t go half as bad as I’d expected. Etihad airways were fantastic with the boys, (aged 20 months, 4, and 13 years.) They had lots of films and entertainment on the plane, and the airhostesses often brought them food drinks and games. There was lots of music to choose from too, and I was delighted to find a Paul Simon and JJ Cale album that I hadn’t heard before.

We arrived in Bangkok at 7 A.M on Saturday morning, 12 A.M Irish time. We met my brother there and everybody was very excited to see him. His girlfriend is from Thailand and she had already gone to Coh Samui ahead of us. The flight there took an hour. Coh Samui airport is mostly outside, so it’s a really relaxing place to be, especially in 30 degree heat. We were brought to our villa where we were spending the next week. It was gorgeous, and had everything we needed, including very helpful staff who showed us around the area and made a lovely breakfast for us every morning.

We spent the week relaxing at the pool or on the beach, playing with the kids and exploring the Island. There’s so much to do and see, you’d never get bored. Its probably the nicest place I’ve ever been to. The food in Thailand is fantastic, so much choice and everything is so tasty. We went elephant trekking, held a baby tiger and cuddled monkeys. The boys swam in a waterfall and went to a shooting range. We had massages on the beach and went to an amazing spa. Our modes of transport for the week were a pickup (that the ten of us often pild into) and three motorbikes. My brother even let me drive one a bit on our last day. Thai people are careful drivers, but they don’t use seatbelts or car seats for babies or anything.

On Saturday (which was my 26th birthday) we were woken up to a huge thunderstorm. Its just as well we were leaving Coh Samui and traveling back to Bangkok because heavy rain was forecast for the next few days. When we arrived in the capital, I went to my brother’s girlfriend’s favourite hairdresser to get my hair cut. He had no English so I was a bit nervous but it turned out good. Sixteen of us went for dinner in an amazing restaurant called the Greyhound to celebrate my birthday. I got three dresses from everybody, and had a lovely evening. Afterwards we went across the road to a place called After You, which only sold cakes for dessert. I’ve never tasted anything so nice in my life. My brother had it planned because he knew I would be in heaven, and it was amazing!

We were staying in a hotel for the next few days which was more like apartments than hotel rooms. There was lots of space and I had a room to myself, even though sharing with my nephews for the previous week was fine. We ate more lovely food and shopped. Visiting the markets in Bangkok is an experience in itself, so we went to the Chatuchak and Patpong night market. We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked but it was still great to see them again and buy some presents.

Thailand, and bangkok in particular is a fascinateing place for a blind person to visit. There is so much to take in, it would make your head spin. It’s almost impossible to get around because the footpaths are so bad. People with disabilities don’t have a great quality of life unless they have money. Service dogs are trained there but we didn’t see any. Again that depends on money as well. Blind people work in massage parlers if they are lucky enough to have jobs. People are attempting to change laws for people with disabilities in the country, but this is a slow process. Its something I want to find out more about, an definitely wouldn’t rule out a visit there again in the next few years for that reason. Saying all that, the attitudes of the people I met were fantastic and they couldn’t have been more helpful, letting me touch things, showing me where things were, talking directly to me and getting me a seat when we were in shops.

We came back to Ireland last Wednesday morning. Both dogs were very excited to see me. I know they were looked after brilliantly so it was great. I’ve been sick since we got home with some kind of bug, but got lovely flowers and perfume for my birthday from Nicky, who looked after me well and tried to make me feel better over the weekend.

Being in Thailand again with my family was brilliant. It was great to spend time with my brother, and to let the children experience something that many other kids couldn’t even imagine. They have seen cultural differences and experienced things that will teach them lots, but more importantly, they loved every minute of it.

I was in Thailand in 2004 when the tsunami happened, and although most of the holiday then was amazing, the disaster overshadowed most of it. It was nice to be reminded of how beautiful and brilliant the country is, how nice the people are and why they call it the land of the smiles.

Online break

The constant rain here in the last couple of days would usually annoy me, but the fact that I’m going to Dublin today and Thailand tomorrow morning means that it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m more or less packed, just have to leave the dogs in their new homes. I’m so so excited!
As well as seeing my brother, being somewhere warm with the nicest race of people i have ever met and celebrating my birthday with my whole family, I’m looking forward to the two week online break.
That’s the longest I’ve been away from my computer in the last 10 years. It will do me no harm at all!
See you all when I get back!
🙂 🙂

Holiday preparations

In my first post of 2012, I think I briefly mentioned that I’m going on holiday with my family in February. We’re all going to Thailand to meet my brother and his girlfriend, and to celebrate his 30th birthday since he won’t be home for it. It was all very unexpected and unplanned. To cut a long story short, its a chance to spend quality family time together, which we don’t often get to do, and lifes too short not to. We just happen to be going somewhere amazing and warm to do it!

Dog owners will understand when I say its not always straightforward to go on holiday and leave the dog. Putting a guide dog in kennels is an option for some people but not for me. Apart from at the vet, when he was probably too sick to care, O J hasn’t been in kennels since I began training with him in Cork almost four and a half years ago. He has a passport but I’d never even consider bringing him to Thailand as its too long of a flight, it would be too hot for him and I don’t want him getting any Asian animal diseases! Anyway, I’ll have three nephews to keep me busy!
I’ve never found a suitable place to leave O J when I’m on holiday. The place I used to leave him was fine. He was kept with Dougal inside and walked regularly, but he was fed too regularly too, which really annoyed me. The people were so good to him and felt that he should be spoilled when I was away, not really realising how that could affect his work when I got home.
The guide dog organisation in the UK has boarders who volunteer to look after guide dogs. They know what to do and what not, and its a fantastic idea if you ask me. I would love to be a dog boarder if they ever did something like that here.
No such thing exists here, and all the dog lovers I know already have dogs of their own and couldn’t watch O J, even though they’d love to.
I found a good solution that I’m very happy with. My aunt has agreed to watch O J in her house, and walk him the days she isn’t working. My cousin is using my house to study and she will keep O J company there when my aunt is working. That way he gets the best of both worlds, walked and company every day, but he gets to spend a bit of time in our house as well. Hopefully the fact that I’m not there every time he goes home won’t confuse him too much. He knows my aunt and she knows how we work together. My cousin is willing to learn. At least I’ll be able to text them if I want to know how he is behaving himself.

So one dog’s sorted, what about the other?
Dougal will have to go to kennels, but he’s very independent and not really bothered about people so I think it suits him fine. I’ve looked at a few and while they all had pros and cons, I’m going with one I visited today that the dog groomer recommended. The family are respected animal people, and the kennel owners are successful show dog participants. They run a small kennel in a quiet area, and although the actual main kennel building didn’t smell the nicest, the kennels themselves were spotless. She feeds her dogs what I feed Dougal so I don’t have to bring food, making them the best value kennels that I’ve found.

So as you can see, I’m very fussy about my dogs! Hopefully they will enjoy their holiday as much as I will enjoy mine, providing the waves stay small of course 😀