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.

guide dogs

Getting Started With The Guide Dogs

Happy Friday bookish people! I hope you’re all having a good day today. Okay, so I know I usually post bookish related posts on Fridays, but I thought it might be interesting for other people, especially people who are visually impaired and who might be thinking about getting started with guide dogs to know what has happened so far in my process.

For today I am going to talk about what happened when I first got in touch with the guide dogs team.

So, I began this process back in November 2021. It had been on my mind a lot for the past year or so and I’d often had family members and friends say to me ‘why haven’t you applied yet?’ especially as my sight started to get worse and I lost the sight in my left eye. For me it was one of those things where I hadn’t accepted it, I didn’t want to accept that this was how I was always going to be now. I’d never had good sight but each time I lost a bit more it was like everything had to change and it got pointed out more often how much help I needed. I often felt like I was just another job on everyone’s list because it wasn’t just I’m going out to see my friends anymore, it was always I’m going out but I have to be with at least one person and they have to look after me and it was talked about all the time like ‘look how much I have to do to look after you’, that’s the way it always felt with people. So I didn’t want to accept it, I’m not happy about it accepting it now but it came to a point where I just said to myself, look at yourself and admit that you need to see what other types of help could be out there for you. That’s when I got in touch with Guide Dogs.

The way I did it was through an online form on http://www.guidedogs.org.uk on the getting support page. From there I had to wait for someone to get back in touch with me by email. I have to admit, I forgot a little bit that I had put in the form until the email came, even though it was only a few days. When I did get the email is when all my anxiety started to kick in, I had to book in a telephone conversation – the first of two official telephone conversations as it turned out – and I absolutely hate talking on the phone. I can’t hear properly and I get really flustered so I didn’t really want to do it. But deep down I knew that I had to.

The day of the first phone call I was very nervous and it ended up taking about 50 minutes. There were questions about my medical history, what my eyesight is like and also what I was actually looking for from this service. I originally didn’t know that there were other services they would offer other than the guide dog but I wanted to go into the whole process with a completely open mind and that’s what I told them, I only wanted to go through with the whole process if it was definitely the right thing for me.

So, the first phone call happened and it felt good to discuss why I was starting the process with someone who had no bias on the outcome. The next step was having the second phone call which was with a member of the closest team to me which happened to be Exeter. This phone call was pretty much the same questions but more in depth if that makes sense. The phone calls were basically making sure they had all the information about me they needed to be sure that I had a visual impairment and that they would have services that could help me.

After the second phone call came the first in person meeting, which I will be posting about next Friday!