Thanks for reading

In July 2007, I wrote my very first
blog post
before I went to Cork to train with OJ. I didn’t really know how blogs worked, how long I would keep writing for, and if anybody would actually ever read what I wrote. Time has absolutely flown, and we’ve done a lot in those ten years.

I decided earlier this year that I would write my last blog post in July. I didn’t want to be repeating things I have already written, and didn’t want long gaps between blog posts. I think I have told my story with O.J now, and hopefully given people an insight into what owning and working with a guide dog is like. When I made that decision to finish my blog, I didn’t think that O.J would no longer be around. I thought he would outlive the blog, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I’m just very glad that I kept writing for so long, and now I have so many memories and stories of our life together to read back on.

When I began blogging, I did so to keep a record of training and working with my first guide dog. It wasn’t written to please other people. I really enjoy writing, so I usually put time and effort into putting posts together. I didn’t put much work into sharing and promoting the blog. I posted when I wanted to, not because I hadn’t posted in a few days and needed to update people about my life. It was online,and if people enjoyed reading and learning from it, then that was a huge bonus. People did interact with it and learn from it. I’ve made many new online friends, and some who I have enjoyed meeting and spending time with as a result of this blog. That was something I hadn’t expected. I really appreciate people’s thoughtful comments, advice and encouragement on the blog. Thanks especially to those of you (who I won’t name but you know who you are), who regularly left comments. It was always so nice to hear from you, and I hope we can stay in touch. Those of you who have blogs, I’ll definitely keep reading them. I’m on Facebook, i’m @ojdoherty on twitter, and my email address is
jennydoherty86(at)gmail.com
if anybody does want to keep in touch. I’ll be doing something soon in memory of O.J, so you might want to hear more about that.

All I can say now is a massive thanks to everyone for reading during the last ten years. The biggest thanks of all goes to O.J, for changing my life and being the inspiration for this blog and everything I’ve written.
Jennifer xx

A Very Special 30th Birthday!

I was 30 last Thursday. I had decided a long time ago that I wanted to do something different for my 30th birthday. I didn’t want a party or presents, but my family love celebrating birthdays, so I knew it wouldn’t be that easy! I also wanted to spend time with them, so it seemed like an obvious thing to celebrate for guide dogs.
I came up with the idea of having a coffee morning in my uncle’s bar. People could come and spend time together, relax, have some food, and donate a small amount of money to Irish guide dogs. I literally came up with the idea, created a Facebook event, told a few people, and put ten posters around the town. Everybody else did everything, and it was such a special day.

I woke up early and was entertained by my best friends sending me messages on our what’sapp group. They sent youtube videos of happy birthday songs; one sung in harmony, one barked by dogs, and one called ‘happy birthday Jenny!’
Some of us had spent the previous afternoon having lunch together with Sibyl and a couple of their small children. One friend drove to the cafe (a 20 minute drive) without even telling me where I was going! Only because she knew she would get away with it because I can’t see. Another friend baked me a cake! They are so generous and always want to have fun. I’m very lucky!

Unfortunately Nicky had to go back home that morning, and was unable to be there for the day. My brother-in-law also couldn’t be there. I really missed them both, and thought about them a lot during the day. They would have enjoyed it. Unfortunate things happen, and there was nothing anybody could do. It was too late to cancel anything, and the day just had to go on.

My sister came to do my make-up and brought me to the bar, where people had been busy organising and decorating all morning. They even had napkins with labradors on them! People had made granola, scones, buns, bread and another birthday cake! They decided that a breakfast/coffee morning would be a little bit different rather than the usual sandwiches and lots of sweet buns. People seemed to like the idea too, because during the next 4 hours, probably 200 people came through the pub doors, right from the minute they opened at 10:30. People made such an effort to be there. People that I hardly know. People that I wasn’t expecting. People who went out of their way. Two other guide dog owners came. Everybody donated so generously, and I spent the day feeling so overwhelmed and happy at how supportive people in our town are. My family did so much. My nephews all helped to make it very special. One worked hard behind the bar, while the younger boys made sure that all the children who came were fed, as well as keeping me up to date with anything they felt that I needed to know. O.J was there too of course. Himself and Sibyl had sniffing competitions where they lay, but they behaved really well, and everybody enjoyed petting them.

I received some lovely presents, even though I wasn’t expecting any. Some people even gave me hand-made cards. Everything was so thoughtful. My phone never stopped all day. I was exhausted from talking when we left the bar after 3 PM. We visited my Godmother, who gave me a present, and another homemade cake! That’s three cakes in 24 hours! All very different, but equally Yummy! My brother and his girlfriend made a lovely curry, which we all enjoyed before sitting down to read cards and count the money. There’s still donations coming in, but my birthday raised over 1,600 euros so far. That’s an incredible amount of money!

Guide Dog Training

Since the beginning of February, Irish guide Dog Instructor Cliodhna NiLaoghaire has been writing a fortnightly guide dog trainer blog, where she explains in detail what is involved in the advanced training and matching of guide dogs. It’s very informative, and judging by the reaction on the
Irish Guide Dogs facebook page
People like reading about it too. I’ve been meaning to share the posts here as well, so here’s this week’s one.

“Hi everyone, hope this finds you and your mutts well. Wow the year is flying by; I can’t believe it’s almost Easter (Mmmm Easter eggs! What can I say, I’m highly food motivated… just like the dogs!!).
Over the last two weeks I matched two more of my pack and I passed one dog back to another instructor called Martin. We generally go on class with four dogs and four clients so that is why I dropped my fifth dog back. He will get another chance to be matched on the next class later in the summer.
So myself and the now gang of four will have a busy month ahead getting ready for class, which starts the last week in April. A Guide Dog Class comprises three weeks at the centre for the clients and their dogs, followed by separate home visits once the new pairings qualify and leave the centre. These visits happen in the weeks following residential training which means lots of driving around the country for me! The home visits ensure the dogs are settling into their new environment and allow us support the client as they introduce the dogs to their routes and workload. (I’ll tell you more about class and post class in a few weeks!)
Now that I know who the dogs are going to I will try and adapt my handling and my training environments to prepare the dogs for what I like to call… Real Life! (You may have heard of it). I matched my male lab X golden retriever to a man that lives in the Dublin area and I matched my female lab X golden retriever to a young woman from the north of the country. Both of these people have had Guide Dogs before. I had already matched my other two dogs. One of them will be living on an island and the other from the west of the country in a town centre. One of the clients works in an office environment; another works from home; and one of them works with students in different schools, so as you can imagine a different type of life for each dog and totally different working environments.
The clients all have different walking speeds, personalities, accents etc. I try to emulate some of this except of course the accents. That would just be weird! The dogs do adapt quite quickly to new people though especially when they start to spend time with them and the client gives them their dinner, grooms them, plays with them and starts to work with them. Dogs have simple requirements (affection and food being high on the list!) and let’s face it we could all learn a little something from them and their positive outlook on life!
At this stage of training I am consolidating the dogs’ guide work. This means I am not really teaching the dogs anything new but rather testing the skills they have and making it a little bit harder for them. I will do some blindfold walks and I’ll rope in some of the other trainers and my colleagues to do the blindfold walks too. Any time I have paperwork or meetings I will usually bring one of the dogs with me. That way they are getting used to lying in the one place and not looking for attention. It probably seems strange for you to think about having dogs in canteens, meetings, offices etc. but that is all so normal to us here at the Guide Dog centre.
I hope to see some of you around for our Easter Egg Hunt at the training centre on Monday April 6th. If not, remember chocolate is toxic for dogs so take care to keep those eggs well stored away. Talk to you all in two weeks’ time. Take care, Cliodhna.”

One of the people that was matched to one of Cliodhna’s dogs is me!!

On 27th April I’ll be starting training with my second guide dog in Cork. It’s all happened so fast and so unexpectedly that I didn’t really have time to think about it. Cliodhna from guide dogs rang me the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and last Monday I travelled to Cork to meet the dog. I spent time with it overnight, and went for a couple of walks, after which the instructor asked me if I’d like to come and train.
I wanted to tell close family, friends and O.J’s puppywalkers before posting it on any social media.
After the initial shock, I’ve started to realise how fortunate I am that this is all happening while O.J is still happy, healthy and working well. Lots of people have to wait for periods of time in between dogs, and I know I wouldn’t be able to handle that situation well. Although this was a shock, I think it will be a good thing overall.