Yesterday, a gloriously sunny but far too sticky Thursday, I had my next My Guide session. Today we walked the route into Woolston which I’m definitely now remembering really well. When I ask Jenny if I’m turning the right way or going in the right direction, her answers are always yes. I’m starting to consider the real possibility that someday soon I might actually be able to walk this route by myself. Next time we practice the route, Jenny is just going to shadow me rather than interacting with me to see how much I manage without her. Currently, I’m not too sure how that will go. I know I won’t get the nervous feeling I do whenever I’m out independently with my cane because I’m aware that Jenny is with me. I’m hoping that will enable me to keep a clear head and recall the route enough to not have to check with Jenny. Of course, the original plan for these routes was for me to learn them as thoroughly as I can for Guide Dogs to then inspect and declare me suitable and ready for a dog. Obviously, that’s now not the case sadly. But I checked with the head of My Guide today and Jenny and I don’t have a time restriction on our partnership. As long is our work is still benefiting my independence and confidence and Jenny is still happy to work with me, we’re allowed to continue. This was a big relief for me because I had a courtesy call to check how things are going from the My Guide team earlier in the week and the implication I got was that there was a limited amount of time that Jenny and I got together before they match her to someone else needing a volunteer. Knowing that we have as long as Jenny is happy to work with me or as long as I need her is so reassuring. Of course, if Jenny no longer wanted to work with me or had other commitments that meant we could no longer continue our sessions, I’d totally understand and respect that decision. But until working with Jenny, I never knew how much I’d gain from learning new routes. I still feel that the best way for me to do that is with the assistance of an open-minded sighted person who knows what they’re doing; but my perception of route learning has changed a lot since Jenny and I started practising the Woolston route back in December last year… I’m still utterly useless at learning routes quickly and I think I always will be but learning long routes isn’t as complicated as I first predicted. Perhaps its because the routes I’m learning aren’t particularly complex, I don’t know. But they are lengthy routes — much longer than anything I’ve attempted with my cane before — and yet I’m learning them, retaining them and being able to walk them the following week, asking Jenny for less prompts each time we attempt them. For me, that’s an achievement. Never did I think I’d be able to say that I’m currently learning two separate routes which are both take an hour there and an hour back roughly. I’m learning those routes simultaneously and we’re about to branch out even further… whilst enjoying our rest in Piggy’s Coffee Shop & Restaurant in Woolston, Jenny and I discussed expanding our routes to start walking to Nan and Grandad’s, which was the next route to be learnt on my list. I couldn’t describe quite how you get to their house from the point of Tamsin’s school that we’ve covered so far and so we agreed to ask Dad after we finished our drinks, Jenny’s an Americano with hot milk on the side and mine a raspberry milkshake. I’m determined to try all the flavours on their list. So far, I’ve tried salted caramel, butterscotch, white chocolate and raspberry; 4 down, 22 to go!
When we popped into Dad’s shop, he explained to Jenny how you get to Nan and Grandad’s from the point we’ve learnt up to and she said she’d check it out on a map later on and work out if it was doable. I really hoped it would be. Being able to walk or even get to Nan and Grandad’s independently would be great. It’s a proper destination with an actual purpose rather than just somewhere I know how to get to. Currently, we go to their house twice a week for dinner so it would be a great opportunity to work a dog. Getting back to me later, Jenny has discovered that just to get to Nan and Grandad’s it’ll potentially take an hour and a half and be about 2.2 miles walking. For my FitBit steps and mileage this is great news but I’d have been more than understanding if Jenny said she wasn’t prepared to undertake something like that or didn’t feel I’d be capable of conquering a route like that. On the contrary, we now have a date on our calendars for our first attempt to Nan and Grandad’s, planned for two weeks today. I’m excited about the prospect of a new route and really hope that my good fortune with the first two routes we’ve tried to learn will continue with the third. It would be such an achievement to say that I can walk to Nan and Grandad’s house and, like I’ve already said, such a useful opportunity to have.
The Woolston route went really well both ways and Jenny and I enjoyed very much our drink stop at Piggy’s, mostly because the temperature was rising and we needed a break. By the time I reached my front gate on the return trip, I needed more than a break… I was sweating buckets and knackered! But it felt like an achievement. In this sweltering heat I’d kept calm and carried on, as the saying goes, and persevered with the route even though I was boiling; to top it off, I’d done a good job!
While I was walking that route yesterday, I did a lot of reflecting. A year ago today, John, Seeing Dogs’ trainer, came in the early morning and collected Zena. For the previous 5 months, I’d been battling to maintain a healthy working relationship with the dog as well as bonding with her. This was made quite difficult by the fact that she didn’t engage with playtime and didn’t enjoy being groomed, even though she would stand there and let me do it. Looking back now, a whole year on since she left, I’m seeing things differently to how I did then and how I have done since. I don’t know if I’m looking at things naively now or I was then, but I can’t help how I think and feel, especially as my utter desperation for guide dog mobility and companionship mounts. Back then, I was gutted, lashing out and blaming whoever I could. Mostly, that meant the man I felt was responsible. Whether he was aware or not, all my anger at the failings of mine and Z’s partnership was aimed at him. I felt he hadn’t given us enough support, correction, direction and answers. As a first-time dog owner, this was valid and as a first-time assistance dog owner even more so. However, now I look at it differently. Our partnership wasn’t meant to be, that’s guaranteed. But was that totally his fault? I’m still unsure. Perhaps I’m clutching at straws in hope of a second chance. Perhaps I’m being too kind. Perhaps I’m placing the blame at my own door because I’ve realised, rightly or not, that I could’ve done so much more and better. I know a lot now that I didn’t then. I was stupid, thinking I knew all the ways of making the perfect dog, thinking I knew all the important guide dog rules to follow. I was an idiot. I’m not saying I got it all wrong because I don’t feel I did. But there was a lot that I did. My patience, for one thing, was definitely way under what it should have been. I expected things to be better than they realistically should have been for the stage of the partnership I was at. Maybe it shouldn’t have been the hellish 5 months I felt it was. But then every guide dog owner I’ve ever spoken to tells me it takes at least a year for you and your dog to form the right relationship, balance and trust. I thought things would have been easier and they weren’t. I thought I’d get more help from the charity who provided my guide and I didn’t. I thought the relationship I had with the dog would’ve formed better and it never did. But I should’ve been prepared. Thousands of guide dog partnerships with the best owners, trainers and dogs don’t work out. Why was I under the illusion that a dog from a tiny charity trying to do its best and I, with my non-existent personal experience, would work out? Maybe it would have if there had been more support or if the match had been better. Who knows? All I know is that sadly Zena and I didn’t work and even when she was matched and worked for a new owner, her work worsened and she was withdrawn from the partnership, being able to hang up her harness for good and move into the role of pet for new owners. Maybe it was the fault of the dog. She didn’t enjoy working and the breed wasn’t cut out for that kind of job anyway. Maybe it was the trainer and charity’s fault. Perhaps the wrong type of dog was trained. Maybe we were matched wrong. Maybe they didn’t put enough effort in where training and aftercare was concerned. Maybe the options for improving things weren’t good enough. Or maybe, just maybe, it was my fault: I didn’t persevere long enough; I didn’t give the dog long enough to try; my patience was too short with the whole thing; I wasn’t proactive enough and didn’t try to solve problems myself; I relied to heavily on the idea of getting 24 hour support and answers from the charity; my route knowledge was too limited and therefore the dog was bored in her work, it became sloppy and unmanageable and she grew to hate the harness; I rushed things and expected them to be better to soon. Looking back now, I can wholeheartedly say that if I had my time with Zena again, I’d try 100 times harder, I wouldn’t have let her go so quickly and if the same end had come for our partnership, I’d have accepted John’s offer of being replaced on the waiting list and waiting for another potential match to come along and trying again. At the time, I was so angry with how things played out and so determined that it was everyone else’s fault but mine that I thought the idea of considering another dog from the charity ridiculous. I thought I’d just be setting myself up to fail and receive more inevitable heartbreak. Looking back now, I wish I’d taken that offer. If not for anything else but to train and work with another John-trained dog and experience for myself whether the problems with Zena were recurring. If that had happened twice, I could’ve then gone on to Guide Dogs with a potentially more credible story of the charity’s faults for them to believe. Who knows? I made my choices a year ago and I’m still living with them. But the fact that I’ve now asked to be placed back on the Seeing Dogs waiting list tells me that I feel I need to give them a second chance. To be honest, I’m starting to feel it’s an option again simply because I’m getting nowhere with Guide Dogs despite my perseverance and dedication to try and meet their requirements. Really, I didn’t want Seeing Dogs to become an option in my mind and when I told Kieran, Imi and my parents they were all horrified, saying I was ridiculous and acting like a desperate irrational person. Maybe I am both. This whole situation is starting to make me feel kind of mad. Im second guessing every decision I’ve ever made about my mobility in any sense, either with Zena or with a cane. But the glaring fact that I preferred dog mobility even on the worst days with Zena is still obvious to me and guides me in the knowledge that guide dog mobility works for me if only I could make myself work for it. By that I mean having a big enough workload and the right attitude to tackle another partnership, especially if it had bad days like mine and Zena’s. I’m so determined to have a guide dog again, I can’t even put into words how much. I will continue to learn routes until I can walk every local street and will persevere with trying to find dogs to interact with in the hope that one day Southampton’s mobility team feel I’ve tried hard enough, shown enough proactive attitude and find me suitable. If John tells me he’s got a match before then then I’ll tentatively explore it. I’ll meet with the dog, walk with the dog and even train with it if I feel things go well enough. But there will be conditions and hesitancy if that ever happens. Obviously I’d struggle to refuse any dog anyone presented me with but I’d be cautious with John. Not necessarily because of him but because of my experience. I wouldn’t want to repeat my same mistakes twice. With Zena, I threw myself into the partnership, into her, before I even considered the possibility that she wasn’t the right dog, that things weren’t going to work out despite the glaringly obvious flaws in the partnership right from the very beginning. On the walk that turned out to be my matching walk, I remarked that I enjoyed the feel and motion of the dog by my side but that I though I’d need a slightly slower dog. Then, I’d been dubious about the breed when John said he thought she was a suitable match. Further, when she arrived with me, she had a pre-existing health problem, which John offered to stall the partnership due to. I was looking at the situation through rose-tinted specks, thinking that at least someone was giving me the chance, that any dog would do. But here were the first taletell signs that things weren’t right, that I should be cautious and careful before investing my emotions and money in this dog. But of course I didn’t. I threw my mind, body and soul into our partnership when it was never meant to be. Maybe no Seeing Dogs partnership and I aren’t meant to be. But as I shot down John’s offer of retraining, I don’t honestly know. My mind and my heart and my gut are in constant conflict with each other about the whole thing. It’s such a mess, and all of my own creation. Who’s to say that accepting a second Seeing Dog wouldn’t double that mess? On the other hand, who’s to say that I might spend forever truing to gain Southampton’s approval when giving John and Seeing Dogs a second chance might provide the thing I’m desperate for? The fact that I thought that before being matched with Zena makes most people think I’m nuts to even consider Seeing Dogs again. But I can’t explain the turmoil in my mind about it all. Some days, I think I’ve come to a reasonable conclusion and others my mind is spinning with ideas and questions and possibilities. Who knows what the right choice or answer is? Im sure plenty of people could give me their opinion and of course I always welcome and consider everyone’s thoughts. But I don’t think that anything anyone could say would resolve the turmoil in my mind about it all permanently. For a while, I might see that person’s point of view and agree with them. But then another perspective would float into my mind and cloud things. I don’t think there’s a right answer. I will continue to persevere with my routes and somehow try to find more opportunities to socialise, observe and interact with dogs. I will try to keep my aim focused on Guide Dogs; they will always be my first and preferred choice, just for the amount of support guide dog owners get and the reassurance that if things go wrong, there’s a whole community waiting to advise and support me. Plus, Guide Dogs are a huge, well-renowned and highly successful organisation and they are the main, and for some sole, provider of Guide Dog mobility in the UK. I want to be a part of that community. I want to be able to proudly introduce my Guide Dog. I don’t want to always have to explain about the little charity I got my mobility aid from and why I don’t have one from the main source like most blind people. But I feel like I’m forever fighting with Southampton. I think for some reason they are reluctant to accept me and hesitant to support me. I don’t know why. Maybe I just don’t meet their requirements and I’m not the right kind of candidate. I so wish I could be everything they’re looking for. I wish they didn’t have a single doubt about placing me on their waiting list, finding me a suitable match and me having a successful partnership with one of their dogs. I wish I could do something to prove to them that I’m 100% committed to being a guide dog owner and would give 110% go any partnership I’m placed in. I wish there was a way of making myself their ideal applicant. I’ve tried. I’ve tried so so hard. I’ve persevered with my routes and I’ve tried to find opportunities for me to interact with dogs so that my interacting and handling skills are what they’re looking for in a prospective guide dog owner. But finding those opportunities is so so difficult. Also, understanding in what way I need to improve those skills and knowing in what ways I need to act to be what they’re looking for is almost impossible. Yet they seem to be saying that they’ve given me all the direction they can, that I’ve got to be proactive and the rest is up to me. I’m just so baffled by it all. In February this year, I thought I was doing so well with my routes and on my way to Guide Dogs seeing that I have the determination and dedication to be a guide dog owner. Then, everything was blown apart in March when they gave yet more reasons why I’m unsuitable. Sometimes, I feel my brain must resemble scrambled eggs when I’m thinking this all through and I hope this post reflects that. To anyone who does think I’m mad reconsidering Seeing Dogs, they way I look at it is that it’s a much better choice than some of the ideas I’ve considered, such as buying my own pet to have in the house to take away my longing for a dog or buying a puppy to train up as a guide myself. Buying a pet would be pointless, however much the idea plagues me, and there’s no way I’d ever be capable of training my own guide dog, especially with the limited experience I currently possess. But these thoughts show just how muddled I am about the whole situation.
A year ago today, Zena wandered out of my life, walked away on lead by her trainer who seemed more than confident that she’d soon be matched with a new owner and doing a great job. A year ago today, I crumpled on the floor of the room in which all of her stuff was kept, after locking the front door shakily, and sobbed. A year ago today, I scrubbed out a food bin, folded up a crate and packed all my doggy essentials into boxes with a heavy heart, feeling 99% certain I’d made the right decision. A year ago, I was already considering phoning guide dogs, had already asked Imi how long I should leave it before making the call so not to appear insensitive or desperate. I thought I’d made the right choice and that better mobility lay ahead in the form I wanted. How wrong was I? Whether my decision about Zena was right or wrong, I know that I was fair in thinking that a year later I’d be in a better position to have another guide dog. How wrong I was yet again. I may be learning great routes that will be essential in keeping a young partnership healthy and interesting but that isn’t even relevant to my application for a dog, which is firmly closed for other reasons whichI don’t feel I can improve or erase. I knew how to get over the routes barrier and although I was stupidly stubborn to do it, now I see how simple it was. But the handling and interaction… I just have no idea. All the ideas I had seem to have fallen flat. But there’s no way of me being reconsidered without improving. And not knowing how to means I can’t. I thought I was an ok dog owner. Yes, I got plenty wrong but who doesn’t with their first dog? But I tried so hard. I’m not going to say I tried my best because in hindsight I really didn’t. But at the time I felt I did.
A year ago today, a dog who had complicated yet enlightened me in so many ways walked out of my life, because I wanted her too. She was taken away according to my wishes, nobody else’s. and now, I wish she hadn’t been. Until I have a new fulfilling partnership with a canine and can view this all differently, that’s how I’ll continue to feel about it, that I made a mistake, or few. Like I said, who knows what the right decisions were and what the right choices are now? All I know is that I’m scrambled, that I want dog mobility and that I’ll do anything to get that however I can. I’m sorry to anyone who has trawled through this mammoth amount of rambling, but that, inevitably, was what I created this blog for. It wasn’t for detailed accounts of my progress in life or times spent with my best friends, it was for long complicated ramblings that really should be banished to a secret hard drive somewhere but that, for some reason, I feel like publishing on my WordPress blog all about my ramblings. Jesuisfoole turned 3 on the 18th of June. When I wrote those first few really rubbish blog posts back in 2015, I didn’t expect to still be typing stuff 3 years on. But here I am! And weirdly, people actually read this stuff. Hopefully, one day I won’t be rambling on about how much I need and want a guide dog. Hopefully I’ll be writing soppy posts about how much the dog has enhanced and changed my world. I can keep dreaming. But for now, more mobility updates of me walking old and new routes. I will persevere. One day, surely all that perseverance and effort will lead to the end goal I’ve always had. Surely?
Zena is a crazy, hairy, energetic, bouncy, noisy 3 year old Hungarian wirehaired vizsla. Last time I saw her, she was 2 and hated a harness. Now, I’ve heard she’s loving life as a withdrawn Seeing Dog, living as a family pet. For her, I definitely stick by my words a year ago in knowing that I made the right decision. For me, as this post has probably shown, I’ll never be certain. I loved all 25kg of that funny girl and I miss her every single day. I miss her big basket, of which she only ever used a third, being at the end of my bed. I miss the rough nose sniffing in my ear. I miss the excitement at breakfast, dinner or treat time. I miss her love and enthusiasm for the only toys she was interested in, soft fluffy ones. I miss the pattering clatter of her paws on our laminate flooring. I miss the bark every time there was a strange noise, a knock at the door, a person walking by at night. And I miss the bad things: spending hours waiting for her to toilet; cajoling her into letting me administer ear drops; persuading her to let me groom her; being frustrated when walks went wrong; the pools of water trails her beard would cause all over the floor; the insistence to bark however much I tried to teach her not to. Mostly, I just miss having her here and everything that meant. I miss ordering dog food, going out even when I didn’t want or need to, buying countless accessories just because I could, giving her treats, having her follow me like a shadow, feeding time, bed time, grooming, rare playtimes, photo opportunities, feeling free. Zena gave me things I’m yet to experience again. She gave me the feeling of freedom and confidence my cane will never manage. Contrastingly, she made me feel more hopeless and down about a situation than I ever had before or have since. It was quite a rollercoaster of emotions and has continued to be since. Where it’ll end, I don’t know. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the partnership I crave.