Belfast part 1: meeting friends

I never write posts in two parts like this, but since so much happened, it might make this easier to read.

I just got home a couple of hours ago, from a busy two days in Belfast. It was one of those things that was difficult to organise, because I wanted to do so much, meet certain people, and fit in with everyones schedule.
My PA Dierdre and I left my house at nine yesterday morning. My parents were also going away for a few days, so we left Dougal in
kennels
on the way to get the bus to Belfast. He’d never stayed there before, but they looked after our pet labrador often when I was small and always did a good job. We made it just in time for the ten bus, and it turned out to be an interesting journey. We sat in the seats at the back row because there was more room for O.J. There was somebody sitting at each window, and a seat free between me and one of them, a man who turned out to be absolutely terrified of dogs. We only discovered this half way through the journey. He told us how he had a dog of his own, and loved them until he was bitten by a golden labrador for no reason. I felt terrible for sitting there, and wished he’d said something earlier, but he was very nice about it and assured me that he was ok. To make me feel even worse, he was going to Belfast for a hospital appointment, which was no doubt stressful enough without being trapped beside an animal that you are terrified of for almost two hours!
O.J wasn’t offended though, because he had a teenager (who had mild special needs) keeping him company and hugging him lots. We also had an elderly woman in front of us, who at one stage removed a tissue from her top, blew her nose and then put it back again, all before putting on her glasses with only one lens. Sometimes being with sighted people who tell you absolutely everything that’s going on around them isn’t such a good idea!

I went to the RNIB to buy some things for my new house, including talking scales, a timer and sock locks (to avoid putting on odd socks, or that awful sock thief in the washing machine!) Then we went to Ruby’s Diner to meet
Torie and her guide dog Ushi.
I first met Torie in December 2007, through a project I was doing when I worked in Derry. We’ve talked online lots since, but only managed to organise to meet yesterday. I’d heard lots about Ushi, and she’s a lovely dog. She’s much smaller than O.J, though not tiny. She’s a great personality and seems like a good worker. Its clear that Torie absolutely adores her! The dogs were a bit excited to meet at first but soon lay quietly while we ate lunch outside. Then we walked them to Botanic Avenue for a free run in the park, which they loved. They played well together but did their own thing as well, and were both equally reluctant to come back sometimes when we called them. Those bushes must have been really interesting!
Torie’s dad and sister came back to meet us and we chatted for a while before they went home and we went to our hotel. We stayed in
Benedicts.
I always enjoy staying there as its a lovely hotel, but I had never stayed with O.J before. The staff were very helpful and friendly, and put a blanket in the room for him to sleep on, even though I didn’t even ask for one. Deirdre went to buy her son a birthday present while O.J and I chilled in our room. I made coffee and fed him, before getting ready to go out. I met a college friend for dinner, and another friend met us after for drinks in the hotel bar. We sat in a corner where nobody could walk past us or bother O.J. It was very busy with a hen party there, and the music got gradually louder. If we’d walked in first and it was that loud, I wouldn’t have went in, but O.J wasn’t bothered by it at all and stayed very relaxed for the few hours we were there. I think he is often more relaxed in situations than I think he is going to be. He handles things much better than I expect, and surprises me with his behaviour. This happened again earlier today, and I’ll write about that soon.

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Do you remember what you did this day three years ago?

Strange question, but I do.
On August 10th 2007, I officially qualified with O.J and became a guide dog owner!

It was a Friday afternoon, and I’d just spent two intensive weeks in Cork training at the guide dog centre. It was hard work but the people were amazing and I loved every minute. The four people in my class, along with our dogs and trainers went for a walk in the city. The client services manager at the time (who was also a guide dog trainer) came to observe us individually. Three of us sat and had coffee while one person went for a walk in the city. The aim was to see how we would handle busy environments, with people, animals, shops, busy traffic and as many distractions as possible. The trainer walked behind giving me verbal directions and describing what was ahead, but it was up to me to work the dog correctly based on where I was told to go. Apart from bringing me into a random shop and trying to go up some random steps, O.J worked brilliantly.

When we returned to the training centre, we waited in the dining-room to be called to sign or lease agreement form and be given our qualification packs. I was called first. I was asked about my training experience, if I had any problems and if there was anything I think should be changed. I was happy with everything so the meeting didn’t take long. I signed the forms and officially became a guide dog handler.

We got some photos taken of our guide dog class when everyone had qualified. There were still a few walks left to complete as people didn’t go home until Monday or Tuesday, but it was a relief to know that everything was official. Unlike other guide dog training schools, you qualify in Cork before you complete your home training. It doesn’t make sense really but I suppose they want to do all the official paperwork at the centre. You don’t really feel like a guide dog owner though until you go for that first walk on your own, when the trainer has gone home and you are left with the dog and the harness.

The reason I am writing this apart from randomly discovering that it was this day three years ago, is that
Torie
is starting training with a dog called Ushi in Belfast in a couple of weeks. She has all this to look forward to. I hope she enjoys it just as much as I did 🙂