How are the dogs?

I’ve become terrible at writing here recently. I’m in the house doing nothing on a Friday night, which is actually really nice after a busy week of work. I’m feeling sorry for myself though because Eddie Vedder’s playing in Dublin right now and I had nobody to go with. I’m really lacking people who like the same kind of music as me and have time to go and hear bands play live. Since it is one of my favourite things to do, it’s really depressing! So I’m writing this as a distraction, and of course to write about my three favourite dogs and how they are doing.

Sibyl is the youngest and silliest of the lot. If she gets her play time off her lead every week, she’s fine, but if not, I soon know about it. She’s in no real working routine now that I’m working from home, but it doesn’t bother her at all, and she’s ready to go at any time of the day when I pick up her harness. She still gets a bit too overexcited when we have visitors, and moves her bed, or lifts Dougal’s instead, which is really annoying. I’m working on preventing this though, and she’s getting better. Her work overall is excellent, and her dog distraction is practically non existent now since she had her glands removed.

Dougal is almost ten and a half now, and he hasn’t changed much at all. He likes going for walks if they aren’t too often! He loves walking with my PA, so she takes him once a week, sometimes with her own dog and they are great friends. Dougal still hates being groomed, and likes attention, but only on his terms. He’ll always be OJ’s buddy, and Sibyl’s housemate. They don’t fight though, and are actually funny to watch together, especially when they take turns chewing the same nylabone, even if there were three to choose from.

The main man O.J is in great form these days, after a tough month of not feeling too good. A week before he turned 11 in March, he began limping, and it got pretty bad pretty quick. The vet x-rayed and examined and did blood tests, which confirmed he’s very healthy for his age, but has bad arthritis in his elbow. After weekly injections for a month, and then trying two different types of medication, we finally found a treatment he responded to. He’ll have to take a tablet every day for the rest of his life, but they have made a huge difference, so I don’t mind. Luckily I kept him insured for another year, so the vet can monitor him regularly and I won’t be robbed! He went from a dog that could barely put his foot on the ground in March, to one with a slight limp, who doesn’t go for long walks anymore, but can still swim in the sea, just minutes from his house, and he still loves it.

I have three dogs at three very different stages in their lives. Three dogs who are so much fun. and three dogs that I’m very lucky to own.

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What a weekend!

Clearly the wordpress app on my phone doesn’t work. I attempted to write a quick post while I was away last weekend but it didn’t work. I can’t remember exactly what that post was supposed to say, so I’ll just write about the great weekend we had instead.

My family went to Donegal town (which is only about 90 minutes from where we live) to stay for the weekend. Friday was my nephew’s first birthday, and it turned out we had a lot to celebrate. I’d been very busy with work all week, but made sure to take Sibyl for a long walk and a couple of runs in the good weather. She went to a new groomer on Thursday, and she came back feeling and smelling lovely. The groomer insisted on doing the job free, which was really nice of her.
We had a relaxing weekend walking, eating and playing lots of board games because there weren’t many channels on the television which was great. I wish we had weekends like this more often. One of my nephews missed a lot of the weekend because he was playing football in a friendship cup, and he played really well.

The main reason why we stayed only 90 minutes from our home for the weekend was that we were all attending an award ceremony last Saturday evening. I was nominated in February for a ten outstanding young person (TOYP) award from Junior Chamber International (JCI) which is ultimately a world-wide event. I attended the awards ceremony in Donegal at the end of March, and it was a fantastic night. Everyone was so nice, and all the speakers were so humble. Three weeks ago I got an email to tell me that I was chosen as one of the three award winners from Donegal, and one of ten overall winners to be awarded at the ceremony organised by JCI Ireland in Harvey’s point. The hotel is located three minutes drive from the house I rented for my family, and we cecided to make the most of the opportunity.

After a nice walk and lunch, I met the other JCI members at the hotel where we drove to a mountain called Sleeve League for a bit of a climb. Only three of the winners were able to attend. I was nervous because I didn’t really know anybody, but everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and helped Sibyl and myself to climb part of the mountain, before it rained and we were all absolutely soaked! We came back to the hotel like a bus load of drowned rats. We had an hour and a half to get ready, and my sister was her usual brilliant self at helping with this!

The award ceremony was so enjoyable, with inspiring speeches, amazing food, great company and lots and lots of fun. It was hosted by John Loughton, who was perfect for the job. He’s also very inspiring, and definitely worth listening to if you have a chance to hear his Tedx talk online. Each awardee had a different reason to be nominated, whether it was for business, humanitarian work, or personal accomplishment like mine was. They were all very inspiring,, and whoever is chosen to represent Ireland in Amsterdam will be a worthy choice.

Sibyl behaved like an absolute superstar during the whole event. and so many people were commenting on how good she was. Even I was surprised! Do you ever have one of those times when your guide dog just does it’s job to perfection? They don’t happen often here, but that was one of those days. Even after climbing part of a hill, she was still determined to make me proud!

I was genuinely so surprised to be nominated for an award like this, never mind win an Ireland one. Two friends who I don’t see very often took the time to nominate me, which I really appreciate, even though awards like this terrify me and I was so nervous all week. I just do what I do, and I don’t think it’s anything special or unique. I feel like I got an award for doing nothing! Just being myself. And that’s not hard. But it was really such a special day that I won’t forget in a hurry.

Here’s my unplanned and very nervous speech from Saturday, which was filmed by JCI. The other speeches are on their website too.

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.

Two’s company, and three’s crazy!

OJ has been staying in my house for almost a week, and he’ll be here for another one. It’s great having him, even if the house is a lot more hairy! He’s still his usual silly lively self, maybe more attention seeking towards me than usual. He interrupts me when I’m typing by poking his nose in my side and lifting my arm up so that I have no choice but to pet him and laugh.

Having three dogs in the house is a bit crazy. They don’t go upstairs or into the spare room, so there isn’t exactly lots of space. They work out who sleeps where though, and when I’m here on my own, you’d hardly know they were here.

I’ve worked out a feeding routine in the morning and evening. They all get fed in different places so that they don’t rush their food and go investigating in someone else’s bowl. An ideal morning is when they all do everything they have to do in the run (the fenced off dog toilet) in the yard. It’s easier to have to clean it all up at the same time, rather than remembering who went, and who still has to go later on. I would need a never ending supply of dog poop bags!
After grooming yesterday, I had a bag of hair, leads and brushes in my hands, and accidentally dropped Sibyl’s comb into the wheelybin. It smells in there, so there was no way I was going in to find it!

Dougal is more shy than usual with the two bigger dogs around. I suppose he feels very small, and he can only make himself known by barking. Sibyl has been surprisingly more calm than I thought. OJ, even though he is the oldest, is the one who instigates all the playing, and if I didn’t stop him, I’d have Labradors running around my kitchen at high speed ten times every day. They were particularly hyper the other day, but when I took them to the park with my PA, they just stood looking at each other.

Sometimes I feel like I’m running dog kennels. I think I could do it no bother if I had more money and more space. It’s a bit crazy round here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hunting for Animals

Yesterday was one of those days where I had the chance to go somewhere with a friend, but with the weather being unpredictable, we had no real plan. I’m never bored and always find something to do, so it didn’t really bother me when she started driving. We came up with an idea that might tick off the ninth challenge on my list of 30.

One of the 30 challenges I set myself was to touch an animal that I’ve never felt before. This mightn’t seem hard, but I’ve touched lots! Since I was small, I’ve been very familiar with horses, donkeys and all the animals you might find on a farm. I’ve touched many different pets and types of birds, even an ostrich, and that was actually in Buncrana! I had a friend in school who kept many strange animals as pets, and he always enjoyed shoing them to me when I visited his house. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to some interesting places, where I’ve had the chance to touch lots of amazing animals. I rode on a camel in Lanzarotte when I was eight. I petted a kuala bear and a kangaroo, (and got bitten by a baby one) in a big park in Sydney. I rode on an elephant and held a baby tiger in Thailand, and it was there that I also got to hold my favourite animals ever, (after dogs of course!) The first time we went there was just before Christmas. As we walked down the street on Christmas day to go and get dinner, we met a man coming towards us holding a small monkey. I thought my family were joking when they said I could touch it. I held the monkey and got a photograph, and he was so cute! The next time we were there I met one on the beach and fed it some pineapple. If there was a place you could go and spend a day playing with them, I’d be in heaven!

So after touching all those animals, it was going to be hard to find something different. I have heard of a lady in England who went to a sanctuary where the owner let her touch a wolf! That would be terrifying and amazing, but I had to be realistic and try and keep it as local as possible! So I went to
tropical world
in Letterkenny and held two lizards. I’d never been there before. They have lots of birds, reptiles and animals, including marmosets an lemurs, which I wanted to touch but I wasn’t allowed. One Lemur in particular was very noisy and seemed like lots of fun!

In the reptile area I had the chance to hold a bearded dragon, which is a lizard with spikey skin. If you rub your hand towards it’s head, it feels more spikey than if you do it in the opposite direction. The second one I held was a blue tongue skink, which sounds disgusting, but wasn’t at all. It actually felt like it was made from hard plastic, as it’s skin had little bumps on it. They have no teeth, but the claws are quite sharp, so I had to let it lie on my arm on my coat so that it wouldn’t jag me. Both were very still and calm, and really used to being handled. They weren’t slimy like you might expect lizards to be. The girl showing me them was very friendly and was able to tell us lots about them. I have some photographs and two videos, but the birds beside us were so noisy that you couldn’t hear anything else.

Sibyl came with us and behaved very well, although she was very curious. The animals were curious about her too! We are having a quiet day today, although it is her 3rd birthday. We went for a short walk and met a friend for breakfast. She had a chew and chilled out for the afternoon. She seems happy enough, I think as long as she knows that dogs are still, and always will be my favourite animals!

Birthday Celebrations In Belfast!

I know, you’re thinking when is this birthday thing ever going to end? It’s not every year you turn 30, so you might as well make the most of it.
My five best friends went together and gave me a brilliant thoughtful present that they knew I’d love, and that I’ve been looking forward to since February.

Last Friday Nicky and I took buses from Dublin and Derry and met up in Belfast for a weekend in Benedicts hotel. It’s one of my favourite hotels ever, with helpful friendly staff and a great welcome for guide dogs. I’m always impressed by the bowl and bed for the dog in the room, and this time the receptionist who showed us to our room said that if the dog liked the bed, the manager said I could keep it because they have lots!
We ate dinner in Made in Belfast in the Cathedral Quarter. I absolutely love this place! Again the staff were amazing, particularly the man working at our table who could not have been more helpful. When I thanked him at the end, he said he was only doing his job! The steak was lovely, and I really wanted dessert but I was too full up to even attempt it.

On Saturday morning after a lovely breakfas,t we got a taxi to the Victoria shopping centre so Nicky could go to the apple store. After he bought a charger and we asked about a couple of products, we found a Costa coffee to pass a bit of time. A staff member brought us to a nice seating area and came back to take our order. This was nicer than standing at a busy counter, trying to keep Sibyl away from food and low tables of nice smelling things. When he brought the coffee and muffins, he would only take £2 from me, saying that he wanted to give us our drinks free, and that I could use my money to buy something for the dog instead! People are so nice.

Along with our hotel, my friends booked us tickets to do the Titanic tour in the Titanic
exhibition centre. It’s not something I’ve really thought much about doing, but after living in Belfast for three years and doing nothing cultural at all, it was about time I did something. When we went inside the huge building, the first person we met was Stevie. It turned out that he would spend most of the next two and a half hours with us, doing much more than his job required him too. We had tickets for the longer tour inside the building, as aposed to the shorter discovery tour which takes place outside and is accompanied by a tour guide. At first we thought this might be a better option since we had no guide, but it turned out that the other one that we did was much better and really informative and interesting. We wore headphones which gave us short audio described pieces at different stages of the exhibition. There were also some videos we could listen to as we walked around. Obviously it was very visual, so there were bits we missed out on, but the audio was a great addition. There was a great variety of things to experience, including a short cablecar type ride that you went on to experience the sounds, the heat and the working conditions of the people who worked in Belfast during the building of the Titanic. There were a few seats along the way, and we watched a short film in the cinema towards the end of the tour. It is very well put together, with lots of things to entertain children if you had them with you. The staff are helpful and really know their jobs well.
The fact that we had nobody with us, and there was no tour guide inside made it a bit more difficult to know exactly what direction to follow on each floor. The staff kept an eye out for us, and Stevie was practically there for most of it. He took lots of time talking, explaining and describing things, as well as sneaking lots of pets of Sibyl along the way. She was very patient throughout the afternoon.

When we finished the tour, Stevie brought us to the carpark to wait on our taxi back to the hotel. The only small downside of the weekend happened when it came, and the driver said he didn’t have to take the dog because even though he worked for a particular company, he was driving his own private car. We asked him if he would call us another taxi then. When he did, and told his colleague that he didn’t want to take “a big animal”, they obviously told him who was boss, because he quickly changed his mind and said he’d take us. We didn’t speak on the way back, and I was careful that Sibyl didn’t put her face or head anywhere near him. He was helpful with his directions when we got out of the car, and we weren’t expecting that.
We met a friend for dinner in a lovely Italian restaurant, had a couple of drinks in the hotel bar and all sat chatting in our room for a while before she went home.

We didn’t stay around Belfast long after breakfast on Sunday. It was frustrating not really knowing my way around much, because the weather was great and I’d have like to have walked more with Sibyl. There is a park with grrass close to the hotel, and it took a bit of practice for Sibyl to find the lights, even though it wasn’t too complicated at all. The location of the lights are different in Northern Ireland. They aren’t very consistent which is annoying. Sibyl wasn’t trained to locate the button like O.J was, but I’m teaching her how to do it because it’s very useful. This weekend reminded me that I need to find reasons to go to Derry regularly and practice this with her. Our town just isn’t busy enough.

So there’s just one other birthday celebration to go. That is the Bruce Springsteen ticket I managed to find and by for myself. Because of course you should always buy yourself a present too, right?! The concert is this weekend, and to say I’m excited is an understatement!!

Here Almost a Year!

Tomorrow is guide dog day, a fundraising day for Irish guide dogs, with events taking place all around Ireland. Last year I was in Cork for
guide dog day
training with Sibyl. That means she has been living in Donegal for almost a year. And what a great year it has been.

Retiring a dog and working with another isn’t an easy thing to do. Although you have lots of experience with the first dog, and you know all the basics before you start training again, it can be hard to get used to a totally different dog with a different personality. When I trained with O.J I was so excited, because I’d wanted a guide dog for so long. Although I was delighted to be matched with Sibyl, to be able to retire O.J when he was happy and healthy, and not have to wait in between dogs, I wasn’t very excited about training. I didn’t have the same instant love for Sibyl that I had for O.J, if I’m completely honest. That’s probably because part of me knew that she was continuing the job he had already done so well, and could have done for another while. I felt guilty that I wasn’t still working O.J, and then I felt guilty that I wasn’t crazy about this new dog straight away, because that seemed ungrateful. I had to often remind myself to give her more of a chance during training, and not to compare her to O.J. I had to give her time during the next year to learn and mature and settle down. Sometimes I was probably hard on her, and hard on myself, expecting both of us to do routes and walks without mistakes or so many distractions, but this was unfair. Training with a new dog can be emotionally exhausting!

I’m writing all this as a reminder for myself. It’s interesting to reflect back on this, almost one year after we have qualified. O.J is enjoying the perfect retirement, and I can visit him whenever I like, because I still miss him at times. Sibyl and I have both become so much more confident working together since we left Cork. Sibyl is the perfect successor to O.J. She is so different in some ways, but still has that brilliant personality and dependable nature that he had. She is lively and silly and playful, but in social situations when she needs to be good, she’s chilled out and patient, particularly around children. She loves travelling, and we have lots to do during the next few months to keep her busy.

I feel so lucky to have been matched with Sibyl when I was. Even though
I was shocked at the quick timing when I got the phone call to come and meet her, I’m so grateful that it happened when it did. Sibyl came at the right time. A time when I knew a career change was in order. A time when I was so unsure of what was ahead of me. A time when I want to travel more and do new things. A time when I need a confident dog with lots of energy to keep me busy. Sibyl won’t let me get bored or get stuck in a rutt. She has too much energy and enthusiasm for that, and she has the confidence to try new things, so I think we’re very well matched.
If you have a few euros to spare and you meet anybody collecting this weekend, this is why you might want to think about giving it to guide dogs. Because they really do change lives and provide the best independence, and we need as many people as possible to experience that.

Easter!

I spent Easter in Carlow this year for the first time, and we had a busy enjoyable week.

Sibyl and I travelled to Carlow on Holy Thursday. After dinner she stayed with Nicky while I went out with a group of girls to a table quiz. I didn’t know most of them, but it was good fun. We came second in the quiz, although I wasn’t much use! Apart from the music round, one of the only questions I could answer was how many toes does a dog have!!

On Friday evening Sibyl had her first experience of going to the theatre. She had visited the pet shop and done a lot of walking earlier in the day so she just slept through the show. She was very relaxed, unlike us humans. The play was called ‘the corner boys’, written by John McKenna, and it was not something I would recommend at all. It was based in the 1960’s. I don’t really know what the point of it was to be honest. I’m not easily offended, but the language and sexual references was absolutely disgusting. I’m just glad we were with Nicky’s mother and not mine!

During the next few days we went out for dinner, walked around town and started listening to two different audiobooks and finished neither of them. We drank lots of tea and ate chocolate too of course. On Tuesday we went to Wicklow to spend a couple of nights in the summerhill house hotel, which was Nicky’s birthday present to me. We had to wait for over an hour in Dublin for a bus to Enniskerry, and Sibyl was much more patient than I was. The bus driver drove us as close to it as he could, and asked a helpful girl to walk us the rest of the way. The hotel was in a lovely location, and it is very popular for weddings. We had dinner there, but it was very quiet and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere. Thankfully the next day was better, the staff were friendly and helpful, and there was more life around the place. We even met a small dog who was there for a photoshoot! We had a lovely massage in the spa beside the hotel, and walked down to the small village for lunch. It can be a bit of a challenge just going on people’s directions, with only one dog to guide us, but Sibyl was so confident. She knew her way back better than we did, and brought us a shorter way home. We had to ask for directions twice because we thought she was going wrong, but if we had gone with her both times, we would have been right. She worked well when we returned to Dublin the following afternoon, even though she had no idea where she was going. She worked hard during the last week, and a good free run is long overdue, so hopefully we’ll do that tomorrow.

When we were in Wicklow, I went to Bray for the first time. It’s somewhere I’ve heard lots about, and have always wanted to walk by the sea there because it sounds lovely, but that wasn’t possible. We went for a Chinese there on the Wednesday night, and met a friend on Thursday before getting the Dart back to Dublin. He has a beautiful golden retriever guide dog called York, who just wanted to play with Sibyl when we were having coffee. She also met Clipper the guide dog later in Dublin, and although she loved seeing both of them, she was surprisingly calm and sensible. We had a nice afternoon in Dublin before getting the bus. The journey seemed long, and I’ve honestly never seen a dog so glad to see it’s own bed when we got home.

Before typing this, I listened to the live broadcast of the ‘imagining home’ concert from the National Concert Hall in Dublin, hosted by Glen Hansard as part of the 1916 commemorations. I really wish I’d gone to it. It sounded like a brilliant night, with some really special performances. Hopefully it is online to listen back to on the
RTE Radio 1 website. I would definitely recommend it.

Visiting Poland With a Guide Dog

On the evening of my birthday, after eating a lovely dinner at home with my family, they gave me my present, which I wasn’t expecting. They gave me a three-day trip to Poland with my mother and sister. They put a lot of thought into it, booking a pet friendly hotel in Krakow encase I wanted to bring Sibyl. They even researched music events that I might like. Glen Hansard is playing there this week, but a Wednesday was too mid-week for us to travel. They are so thoughtful though!

We flew out on Thursday 25th, a week after my birthday. I didn’t have much time to plan since we were busy in between, but I did a bit of research about guide dogs in Poland on the Sunday and Monday before we went. I discovered that although they like dogs, their guide dog school is quite new, and when I contacted them, nobody replied to my email. People told me that access shouldn’t be much of a problem, and through Torie’s help, I found a couple of people on a guide dog Facebook group who had traveled there with dogs. Sibyl’s passport was already sorted from our holiday in Spain last year. As we were only spending three nights in Poland, we didn’t need to bring her to a vet there, so this made the decision to bring her much easier.

When we arrived in Belfast international airport, the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. They checked the pet passport thoroughly, and one of the ladies took Sibyl out to the grass before we boarded the plain. They told us that she was the sixth guide dog they’d had through the airport that week. The flight was great, and staff in Krakow airport didn’t seem bothered by the dog when we landed. The hotel staff liked her as well, and made us feel very welcome. The general public were a bit more surprised to see a guide dog, and stared at us a lot. People often walked close to us, or didn’t make an effort to move out of our way. I wouldn’t say they were ignorant, just curious and uneducated about guide dogs.

During the next two days we did lots of walking and sightseeing. We took a bus to visit Auschwitz, which was very interesting. The photographs and objects behind glass made it very visual, but hearing people reading information and the accounts from survivors was fascinating.
We walked around the streets, had lovely food, coffee and hot chocolate, and went into some shops. We had dinner in three very nice restaurants. The food was so cheap, and they all offered Sibyl water when we came in. On Saturday we took a tour of the old town where we were staying. Our tour guide had great English, and he drove us around in a buggy type thing. Sibyl enjoyed looking out, and especially liked watching the horses and carriages. The place was full of them! We stopped at a church which took sixty years to build. The tour guide told us to go in and have a look because it was beautiful, but that he would watch Sibyl because dogs aren’t allowed in any churches in Poland. Pity we didn’t know this before, because it would explain why a security man in St. Mary’s bascilica nearly lost his life when we went in on Thursday evening. He said we could stay for one minute only, but he would only let us walk so far. I’d love to know more about the reasoning behind this. I wouldn’t have thought Catholics would turn animals away, especially dogs that help people. I doubt God would agree!

Sibyl was brilliant with all the traveling, all the walking around, and being out of her usual routine. She is very nosey, and had more than enough distractions in the city. I took sighted guide a lot because it was difficult to follow at times. It was probably more difficult for my mum and sister having her there. Apart from giving me more independence, and initiating conversations with people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have had, it confirmed something that I already thought, how adaptable Sibyl is, and that I can bring her to new places very easily. I wouldn’t visit Poland without a sighted person. There are lots of flat kerbs, and not many obvious crossings. I didn’t hear any audible ones. The people are a bit reserved until they get to know you. I know that’s a big generalisation, but it would make getting around as a blind person more difficult. I’m glad I took Sibyl, and the trip made me want to travel more with her. I’d like to learn more about guide dog organisations in other countries, and find out what access is like. Apart from the church, and the constant staring, (which obviously I didn’t notice), Poland was quite good. I’m sure the more people who visit cities like Krakow with guide dogs, the better it will become.

I completed two of my 30 challenges while I was in Poland. I visited a city that I’ve never been to before, and I tasted dumplings, a traditional food which I hadn’t eaten. Only 28 more things to do!

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!