guide dogs

Guide Dogs, meeting my first dog

Happy Friday bookish people! I hope you are all having a good day today.

Today I am talking about the next step in the Guide Dog process where I finally got to walk with an actual dog.

It might sound silly, especially when I am talking about waiting for a guide dog, but I never particularly wanted a dog. I love animals of course but usually just to look at, dogs can be very quick and loud and unpredictable and having limited sight makes it a really difficult experience to be around dogs. So, honestly I was pretty worried about having to interact with an actual dog.

My first meeting was with a yellow Labrador called Jojo and she was a beautiful dog. She bounded into my house as soon as the door was open. It was an interesting experience because I wasn’t sure how I would react around the dog and her being in my house to start with, as this meeting also included answering questions although these were more like how do you think you will work with the dog and are there any barriers to you being able to look after the dog. While we were having our chat, Jojo was entertaining herself and sniffing around everywhere, giving my hands and legs a good lick where she could.

The next thing that happened was Jojo was put back in the car while the woman from Guide Dogs and I practiced a walk with her holding the harness to see if – relying only on what I could feel – I could follow the movement in the harness. So, she was holding the harness at the level that a dog would be at and while doing this she was teaching me the positions I would be using for my feet, hand gestures and the words I would say to the dog when we were walking. This actually didn’t feel as ridiculous as I thought it would, you become so focused on learning what they are teaching you, you forget that there’s no dog in the harness yet.

Then when we got back to my house it was time for me to walk with Jojo. I’ve had a cane for a couple of years now, long enough I don’t remember when I first got one, and it was strange to be going out without it. It’s almost like leaving my comfort behind. There’s really a lot to learn all at once, like how you have to hold the harness, feet positions, looking up but knowing to look out for signals from the dog as well. It was a lot. But what surprised me the most was the feeling that came over me during the walk. It was honestly like I had found something I had been missing for years. Like if they took the dog from me then in that moment I wouldn’t know how to go back to the cane again, it would be too uncomfortable. It was a really emotional experience to realize that this was exactly what I needed and there was no way for me to explain that to someone else unless they were going through the same experience I was, and I don’t know any other visually impaired people at the moment. It shocked me and after the dog had left for the day I missed it, I missed the feeling of protection and freedom it gave me. It felt right for me.

This decision went to panel the week after. It was terrifying waiting for those unknown people to again be deciding my future, especially because this time I knew what it felt like to have that help even if it was only for a short walk. Thankfully, they decided in my favour and I was officially put on the guide dog waiting list.

guide dogs

Guide Dogs: First meeting in person

Happy Friday bookish people! I hope you are all having a good day today. I am back talking about what happened next in the process of getting a guide dog.

Last week I talked about how after first getting in touch with guide dogs I went through two telephone conversations to discuss if this would be the right thing for my needs. Then came the fist meeting. I had a woman from the Guide Dog team visit me at home to see how I moved around in my local area. I felt a bit like a dog myself, going out for walks with someone watching everything I did. It also felt like a test which put me on edge, I guess it is like a test actually because they are seeing if you have the need for a dog, well whether one would actually benefit you and it is a process that needs a lot of boxes to be ticked. You have to be able to walk at least 40 minutes a day to prove you could work the dog because it would still need to be walked and it would still need to play and go on free runs and things like that.

When the woman arrived we went straight into the walking portion of the meeting where I had to walk a route that I would often walk and show how I would use my cane and how I would avoid obstacles. It felt really intense but that’s just because I don’t like being watched or bringing any attention to the things I’m not able to do so it was a difficult meeting for me, but the woman was really lovely and it is very clear that they only want what is best for you.

After the walking there were more questions to answer and there was this questionnaire where you had to give yourself marks for how much you struggle with different activities and that was probably the worst part for me, it feels like you’re reminding yourself of how hard your life is when on average you spend most days ignoring it because that is your life, you don’t usually break it down into categories, you just get on with it because you don’t have a choice.

Something I learned from this first meeting was not to force yourself to try and see the obstacles, you just have to be completely honest about what you can and can’t do because they need to know what areas you need the help in. One of the biggest areas for me was confidence, and being independent.

After this meeting it was decided that I had enough of a need for the services and my case went to it’s first panel. I got a phone call the afternoon of the panel day where they let me know that it was decided I should continue in the process and I would receive a phone call anytime within the next month to book in a date to have a meeting and a walk with an actual dog. It was a strange experience to let an unknown panel of people decide if I really needed the help I was looking for, it’s like putting your whole future in the hands of these people. I don’t think I would have been upset exactly if they had said I shouldn’t continue but it would have been a bit awkward.

In next Friday’s post I will be talking about what happened in my first meeting with a guide dog.