Category Archives: Disability

Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

Well, I really didn’t expect to be writing this post so soon after my last, where I spoke about how I’d been recommended for the next stage of the Guide Dogs application process, the Guide Dog assessment after passing my mobility assessment no problem. But I am. On Monday, I got a call from one of Southampton’s GDMIs to say that she and the lady who’d done my mobility assessment would be coming out on Wednesday to conduct my guide dog assessment. Naturally, I was astounded, in the happiest possible way. The GDMI said she’d be bringing a dog with her, a black Labrador retriever called Yogi, who’s 18 months old and has just started his advanced training with her. Apparently, he was a moderate to fast walker, very enthusiastic and eager to please. I was excited even more. The proof that they were going to bring a dog immediately evaporated some of the nerves I usually have surrounding anything involving short handle walks with Guide Dogs staff. They just make me super nervous and in the past that has ruined assessments. The idea that there would be an actual dog to walk with on the assessment made my confidence boost just slightly.

Then, on Tuesday, the mobility instructor who’d done my mobility assessment rang. The GDMI hadn’t had all the details for the assessment so the mobility instructor needed to ring and confirm things. It’s lucky that she did because somehow there had been a mix up of dates. The assessment was scheduled for Thursday (today) at 2pm. As I’d already started arranging things for it to be the following day, I was a little thrown that it now wasn’t going to be then. But really I didn’t care. It was still this week, still not far away, still only a fortnight after I’d had my mobility assessment. For me, things have never moved this fast with Guide Dogs so I had no reason not to be happy and somewhat excited. Obviously, by this morning I was nervous as hell. Previous experience with these assessments showed I was no good at them. In fact, exactly a year ago to the day today I had my last Guide Dog assessment, which went terribly and nearly crushed me. Thankfully, today’s experience was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

The two instructors arrived at 2 as promised, bringing the adorable and very loveable Yogi with them. He’s definitely enthusiastic as the GDMI described. Also full of energy and very loving. He really has a lovely temperament. To start with, we had a conversation in the lounge where the GDMI asked me lots of matching questions. I found this rather exciting as I’ve never been asked all those questions before. Even at my Guide Dog assessment last year, we never got to that part. I got to specify all sorts of things: I’d be happy to have any breed/sex/coat-type dog; I need my dog to like working on busses and on routes ranging from 10-60 minute routes; I’d like a dog that is or could become comfortable on trains and planes; I’d be happy to start training with the smallest amount of notice possible; I’d be happy to train anywhere in the country. I also had to give my weight, height and describe what sort of walking speed I am. This is all matching criteria so that, if I’ve passed this assessment, they can start looking for the right dog to suit my lifestyle. Then, it was time to go out. The GDMI said she wanted to see my bus route into town and do a bit of walking around town, some with my cane and some with Yogi in harness. He was eager to get going!

So I walked from my house up to my nearest bus-stop and we caught the bus into town. The GDMI sat opposite me with Yogi, trying to encourage him to settle, while the mobility instructor sat next to me. Yogi has only recently started practising bus travel and was quite restless for our inbound journey. To be fair to him, the bus rattle like hell and was quite full of noisy passengers. When we got into town, I walked to find the pelican crossing I needed to take me into the precinct and on to West Quay. I struggled a bit with this. It’s been a while since I’ve been in town alone and I’m vowing after the experience today to practice it more. But eventually I got across the pelican crossing, with help from the mobility instructor, and walked into the precinct. There was some very noisy building work going on which was incredibly offputting and didn’t help my nerves much. But eventually we got to West Quay and Lush, the shop I’d chosen as my destination. Then, the fun part started. I was given the handle of Yogi’s harness and, with the GDMI holding onto the lead, off we went, back out of West Quay, back along the shops we’d already passed, around the corner and on into the lower level of West Quay and to a Costa, where Yogi effortlessly found a chair. We didn’t stay, though. We continued back out of West Quay, down the road, across the road and back up the road to the bus-stop, which, when instructed to find the bus-stop, Yogi not only found the bus-stop but found the bench seat in the shelter. After a lot of praise to Yogi, I let go of the harness and moved out into the open a bit more to listen to the bus. They didn’t make me squirm too much and told me when it was the right bus. We sat in the same formation as the outward journey, the difference being that Yogi was much better settled on this bus. He led down for the majority of the journey and didn’t seem bothered at all by the bus. It was a much quieter and less rattly bus.

Whilst on the way home, I asked if I was going to walk with Yogi or my cane once we were off the bus. The mobility instructor asked the GDMI who said I could walk with Yogi if I wanted to. So I jumped at the chance, getting off a few bus-stops early so we had a longer walk. Although I’d enjoyed the walk in town, I loved the walk home. The empty paths and easy road crossings made it a breeze, obviously helped by the fact that Yogi is awesome. He’s going to make a great guide for someone when he’s matched.

When we got home, the GDMI said that everything that’s happened today goes to case review, which is next Wednesday, and then I’ll be told the outcome. Unlike previous assessments, the final chat felt very positive. The GDMI repeated a couple of times that it’d been a good walk and even said that my vocal communication and praise for Yogi had been good. Before they left, I gave Yogi a big fuss goodbye. If he’d been a tricky worker, that would have made today much more difficult. But he was effortless and took to me very quickly, especially as he was a bit confused and hesitant to begin with.

Overall, I’m feeling super positive, which doesn’t happen often, especially when guide dog assessments are concerned. Now, I’ll be waiting and counting down the time until the phone call is due to tell me the outcome. Pass this and I can go on the waiting list for a dog. Fail, after how positive things seemed today, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll recover. Last time, at least I understood and felt it didn’t go very well. This time, the only things I feel I could’ve done better is not get a little bit lost, go with my gut instinct on directions and maybe slightly more talking to Yogi. But I basically talked to him for the entire journey and in a more uplifted and praising voice to my usual one. Ive never felt this way after any assessment with guide dogs and I really hope that’s a sign of the type of outcome I’m going to get next Wednesday. I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed because you just never know until you’ve had the phone call but this time I really feel like Ive given it 100% my best effort. And I’ll say this, whoever gets matched with Yogi is a very lucky guide dog owner indeed.


Mobility Updates: My Guide Sessions 28 & 29 and my Guide Dogs Mobility assessment

Last Thursday, I had a pretty busy day. In the morning, I had another My Guide session with Jenny and in the afternoon, my mobility assessment with Guide Dogs. In addition, yesterday I had a further My Guide session with Jenny. Therefore, I have rather a lot to write about. I’m hoping it won’t turn into too much rambling. I’ll try and keep it as succinct as possible… Knowing me, though, that won’t happen.

So, last Thursday Jenny and I met at our usual time of 9:30 and headed out in the drizzle, our destination being my sister’s school. My thinking behind this was although I really needed to concentrate my efforts on learning the route to my new volunteering role place, actually I wanted to have a bit extra practice of the route, or part of it, that I’d need to do to impress the Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor that afternoon for my assessment. Although I was only planning on going as far as the gym at the furthest with them, considering that is about a 45 minute walk each way, and I know the gym route well, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra supervised practice run of the route to calm any nerves before my assessment. Strangely, I wasn’t feeling nervous, which isn’t like me at all when Guide Dogs are involved. I guess my pass rate with this part of the process being so high helped. Ive passed this assessment twice, only failing once back when I was 14 which really doesn’t count for anything. It’s the later parts of the Guide Dog application process that I’ve fallen short on in the past and have been working so hard to pass this time. But before I even get to prove myself in that area, I have to pass the mobility stage first.

The walk to the school with Jenny went well. It was rather wet thanks to the drizzle, but otherwise a pretty pleasant walk. Both the main roads were quite busy as usual and that can be a little unsettling when big lorries race by but I did ok. Getting to the school was no bother. I recalled the route fine and turned and crossed in mostly all the right places. Jenny seemed quite happy with how it went. Like everything, it just needs more practice. However, as the route went so well, it gave me that little bit of extra confidence for my assessment.

As arranged, the mobility instructor from Guide Dogs arrived around 2pm. Firstly, we talked through everything for ages, mostly my routes and how often I do them. I was quite chuffed that I was able to fill a page and a half’s worth of notes just about my routes. That certainly wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago, and especially not without Jenny’s support. It isn’t lost on me that I wouldn’t be in this position, reapplying again for a Guide Dog, without the help Jenny has given me over the last 10 months. I will be forever grateful for everything she’s done and continues to do to support me in my goal of being eligible and getting a Guide Dog. After we’d talked some more, it was route time. We agreed to go to the local Co-op first, the destination I’ve used for two of my previous mobility assessments with Guide Dogs, but if she felt she needed to see more from me, we’d continue on up the road to the library. I felt the walk went reasonably well. I wasn’t walking in a straight line but then that’s nothing unusual. I didn’t cross in front of moving traffic and I didn’t veer out into the middle of the road. Those are always two positives, although luckily I’m usually pretty good in those areas. I did keep veering inwards, down the side road. I always hit the kerb fine, just sometimes beyond the tarmac and against the grass verge. When I spoke to the instructor about that, she didn’t seem to mind and suggested that it wouldn’t count against me, thankfully. I found the shop entrance despite the fact that the shop has recently had a makeover and I’m only just starting to get used to it, having only explored it a couple of times. I spun around and we headed back the way we’d come, getting to the junction where I turn left for home or right to continue up the road, heading for the library/gym/park/news agents/school. But the instructor said she had seen enough and we could head back. Obviously, you can take that two ways: 1. I’d done a really bad job and she didn’t need to see anything else to know my mobility skills are awful or 2. (The option I’m hoping for) I demonstrated safe independent navigation and she’s satisfied to put me forward on the basis of what she saw and the discussion we had about my route progress.

When we got back to the house, the discussion was rounded up nicely. The instructor explained that unfortunately I had the worst day of the week for my assessment as case reviews happened on wednesdays. Although I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t get an answer sooner, really I was just glad the assessment was over and had seemed to go well. The instructor was lovely and really a breath of fresh air for me, after being assessed by the same person for my last few Guide Dogs assessments. Not that there was anything wrong with that person, because there wasn’t, but after all the upheaval with Guide Dogs it was really nice to see someone new, have a fresh perspective on my case. This lady seemed very open and honest, too, which was nice and seemed to put me more at ease for the assessment. I still felt like a fool out walking demonstrating such a silly little route, but as long as the answer is a positive one I suppose that doesn’t matter.

Then, yesterday, Jenny and I met for another My Guide session, changing our day from our usual Thursday to Tuesday because Jenny is off on holiday and I’ve got a cookery for blind people course thing to attend. Again, although I really should have focused on the volunteering route, I just didn’t feel like it. The weather was nice yesterday and we hadn’t done the route in over a month so I thought it was a good opportunity to revisit the walk into Woolston route. It went really really well. I only hesitated a couple of times and asked Jenny for clarification but where I did, the guess I made was right anyway. Doing a nice long walk and having a chat along the way was certainly a good way to spend a Tuesday morning. When we got into Woolston, I felt pleased at how well the route had gone. We went into say hello to Dad in his shop and not long after we’d arrived, my grandparents and great-nan arrived. It was my Nan’s birthday and the only opportunity I had to see her so it was nice to be able to wish her happy birthday in person. We left for Piggy’s not long after. Jenny had her usual coffee and I chose a peanut butter milkshake and slice of sticky toffee fudge cake. Both were very nice. While I was still eating, all the grandparents came in.

The return walk home went very well too. I feel that, if I was brave and tried hard enough, I could probably walk that route myself into Woolston now. I haven’t been daring enough to try yet, but hopefully at some point I will. I’m definitely really pleased with how my two main routes that I’ve been learning with Jenny, the walk into Woolston and the school route, have gone. Both of them I’ve nearly mastered now and in light of my mobility assessment last week, that really is good. As Jenny is away on holiday, we’re not meeting next week. Instead, we’re meeting the following Tuesday as I’ll still be busy with cookery that Thursday. When we meet up again, it’ll be full concentration back on the volunteering route but it felt really good to revisit the other two routes after quite a while of doing either and do them so well from memory. Although it’s taken me over 6 months to master the Woolston route, I’m still pleased with my progress because it’s the first really long route I’ve attempted and I actually enjoy walking it. As I write this, it’s early on the morning of Wednesday 10 October and somewhere around lunchtime today, I’m expecting a call from Guide Dogs to tell me the outcome of my mobility assessment after their weekly case review. I’m feeling quite confident that I’ve passed but there’s always the niggle in the back of my mind that I haven’t. By the time this is published online, I’ll. have written about the outcome below. Fingers crossed for the next couple of hours that Ive got positive news to record.

The phone call came just before 3pm. The lady who did my assessment last week rang to say that the team have recommended me for the Guide Dog assessment, the next stage in the process towards getting on the waiting list and actually having a dog. She explained that a GDMI, actually a member of the team I haven’t met before, and herself will be coming out to do the assessment and they’ll do it as soon as the two of them are free. I’m hoping it won’t be particularly long until the assessment, but I’m not going to be too impatient. We spoke about how, when I had the conversations with the service delivery manager, I’d explained that for the Guide Dog assessment I’d really prefer to have an actual dog to walk with when we have to practice the commands and things to demonstrate we’d be capable of working a dog. I find the short handle takes really forced and fake and it makes my nerves a thousand times worse than they are anyway. It really was nice, then, that when I started to mention this hope to the mobility instructor that she already knew about it and they’d be planning to bring a dog out with them to do the assessment with. In fact, the GDMI that is coming to do my assessment seems to have been recommended because she currently has dogs in training that I could walk with on the day. So I’m not quite getting a Guide Dog yet, but I’m another step closer to the eventual aim and the goal I’ve been working towards for so long. If I can pass the Guide Dog assessment no problem then I can go straight on the waiting list. I’m really hoping for a really positive assessment so I don’t have to go through the added stress of the further assessment, which I really found particularly horrible last time. The further assessment is the main reason why things got so messy and I really want to avoid that this time. More than anything, I want the instructors to put me on the waiting list because they really feel I am suitable and capable enough for a Guide Dog. I don’t want it to be a battle or a fight. Ive worked so hard to get to this point and I really want to show that, given the opportunity, I’d be a good Guide Dog owner. I’m not saying I’d be perfect because I’m sure I’d be far from it, but I’d give it 100% effort 100% of the time. Ive worked so hard to achieve this dream to then get lazy once its reached. Everyone has off days, sure, but I’d try my absolute hardest to ensure they were few and far between.

So next step Guide Dog assessment. I really hope they do bring a dog in training for me to work with because I really believe that’d improve my confidence massively and also take away some of the insecurity and embarrassment you usually get when doing the short handle walk. Plus, meeting and walking with a trainee guide dog should put me a bit more at ease and get me in a better mood simply because its a living breathing dog and it responds to my commands and vocal changes. Its so different from having a person on the end of that harness and I really feel that could make all the difference for me on assessment day. It’ll help too I think that the lady who’s just done my mobility assessment will be there but that its a new GDMI that I’ve had no contact with before. I think that little bit of familiarity from the mobility instructor but a new pair of eyes and perspective from the GDMI could really have a positive impact. I’m intending to make that the case, anyway. I truly believed that this time it’ll be my turn. Ive worked so hard to prove I can be suitable for a dog and will continue to work on that even years into any future partnership I’m lucky enough to have. Looking forward to extending that proof in my Guide Dog assessment, even though I know I’ll be a bag of nerves leading up to the day. I need everyone to keep their fingers, toes, eyes and even ankles crossed that this time it can be a success because that’s what I’m dreaming of. Ive got this far in the process before, it’s just the next hurdle I’ve always stumbled at. This time, I’m going to fly over it. At least, that’s the plan. Maybe by next time I update with my next My Guide session once Jenny’s home from her holiday I’ll have an assessment date. Here’s hoping…

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 26 and 27

This morning, I had my 27th My Guide session with Jenny. Last week, we did our second attempt at the new route I’m learning which takes me from a bus stop in the city centre to the front door of the place I’m supposed to start volunteering with as soon as I’m competent with the route and have the right equipment. Last week, I didn’t feel the route had gone very well; I got stressed quite easily and wasn’t remembering much of it. Although only the second week of practice, it’s a much shorter and less complicated route than the ones Jenny and I have tried before so I had been hoping I’d pick it up much quicker. Apparently not, according to our attempts last week. As we had the week before, we caught the bus into the city centre and practised the outward and return route twice. But both times I just wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t feel like I was gradually improving. Plus, there are a lot of obstacles, such as parking meters, benches and electrical boxes, to navigate along the shoreline that I follow for the entirety of the route that keeps me away from the road. Either I kept bumping into them or my cane kept snagging on them. It gets quite uncomfortable after a while, especially when your cane keeps snagging on them and jolting your arm. I don’t walk particularly fast, but I’m not slow either, and at the speed I travel on foot its still quite a jolt if you’re stopped mid stride by your cane catching and staying stuck on something. But I just got on with it and tried not to grumble. As always, Jenny was much more optimistic than me, saying on the second attempt of the route she could see slight improvements.

Today, however, things felt much better for me, which reflected in my progress with the route. Last week, it had been quite a windy day, which never helps when I’m trying to be indepdently mobile as the sound messes with my ears and orientation. But this week it was a completely different story; the day was glorious with bright sunshine, a nice temperature and not even a fine breeze. Perfect weather! The route also went well right from the start. I walked less haltingly and at a faster pace because I felt more sure of myself as I went. I still had to ask Jenny plenty of questions, especially for reassurance that I was heading in the right direction, but things just felt much more positive with the route. Again, we practised both ways twice. We joked about how to a passerby me wandering to and from the same location must really make me look crazy and like I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing or where I’m going. We also said that having Jenny following me and not saying much while I’m concentrating must look like I’ve gained a stalker. Either that or the blind person is giving the sighted one directions…

By the time we arrived back at the bus stop the second time, I felt much more confident and hopeful about the route. I seemed to pick it up much better today and am gradually starting to remember things. My Victor Reader Trek wasn’t helpful, though; it kept freezing and shutting down, cutting off my GPS reassurance. Thankfully, both busses had the talking stop announcements on, which is incredibly helpful. I rely on them mostly to tell me where I’m getting off. Sometimes, they aren’t that reliable or even switched on so having the backup of my Victor Reader Trek, when its working properly, really is a bonus.

When we got back to mine, Jenny and I arranged our next few sessions. Next week, we’re meeting on Thursday as usual but the following week we’re meeting on the Tuesday because on the Thursday I’ve got a cookery course for blind people to attend and Jenny’s going away on holiday. Due to Jenny’s holiday, the following week we’re unable to meet. The week following that, we’re meeting on the Tuesday gain because I’ve got the cookery course again. I’m feeling much more positive overall about this volunteering route and am hoping that I’ll soon have it mastered. Just as soon as I do and have found a way to get hold of the equipment I need, I’ll be able to start volunteering.

Next week, I’m currently unsure about which route we’re going to do. This is because on that afternoon I’ll be having my mobility assessment with one of the mobility and orientation team from Southampton Guide Dogs. I’m feeling very optimistic about this as I passed the mobility assessment last time and have improved my routes loads since. But I’m debating whether to do the volunteering route just in case its stressful like last week. I need to be in the best mood possible for the assessment and be brimming with confidence. Also, I’m wondering whether to take the opportunity with Jenny to practice whichever route I choose to show the mobility person. That way, having practiced it that morning with Jenny, I’ll have that little extra seal of confidence about it. But I’ll see how I’m feeling. Obviously, whatever route I demonstrate on my assessment I’ll already know fully anyway so the little extra practice probably won’t make much difference. It might just give me that little bit extra confidence. So next time when I do a mobility update, I’;’ll be writing about the next My Guide session and how my mobility assessment went. Keep your fingers crossed for me…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 25

As the title of this post says, this is my 25th My Guide session update. But before all that, this post is going to talk about the meeting I had with Guide Dogs; at this current moment as I’m writing this, it’s Friday the 7th of September 2018 and almost 20 to 8 in the evening. At 10am this morning, the service delivery manager for my local Guide Dogs mobility team plus a fairly new GDMI and a gorgeous trainee Guide Dog came to my house as I’d contacted the team to ask to meet with the service delivery manager to discuss the process for me reapplying for a Guide Dog. After being deemed unsuitable back in March therefore marking the 3rd time I’d been unsuccessful in applying for a dog, an appeal took place and following the appeal I was given some advice of actions to complete in order to potentially be suitable for a dog in the future. In March, it was decided that I wasn’t suitable due to the way I interacted with the dogs on the further assessment day, took instructions from the GDMIs and put those instructions into action with the dogs. My vocal commands and praise were also criticised for not being in the right tone of voice or spoken in the right way to motivate the dog. And of course I was crushed; but I also agreed with them to a point. Maybe not at that very moment when I got off the phone to the senior practitioner who had given me the news that yet again I’d been unsuccessful. This time it was worse, though. She used the word “unsuitable” and in my head that felt like a full-stop, end of story, never. I’d worked so damn hard to get to that point but it still wasn’t good enough. Despite everything, i still hadn’t done enough to fulfil their necessary expectations for a future guide dog owner. Of course I was gutted. Beyond gutted if you ask anyone who spoke to me about it around that time. I felt like the door had been firmly slammed in my face. But that’s turned out not to be the case. With the input of the service user representative and the service delivery manager for my local team, I’ve had some support and advice to make the right decisions for my future regarding a dog, which is what lead to the meeting today. A lot was said. I was given new criteria which any potential applicant needs to meet in order to be considered for the waiting list. This criteria is used during the assessment process, still the mobility and guide dog assessments which I’ve done before, to ensure applicants are suitable. The service delivery manager promised to send the criteria across to me via email so I could read it myself but went through it there and then with me to give me some insight. Sitting there listening to her list things I’d need to be able to do in order to be suitable for a guide dog and ticking each and every one off in my head as an “i can do that” was the most amazing feeling in the world. The one about interacting with the dog in the right way is the only one I’m worried I could fall short on expectation for, not because I can’t do what they want but because nerves and worry might hold me back on the assessment day from showing my best side. But I’m determined this time, more determined than ever that I’m going to show my best commanding voice and my best happy cheery pleased praising voice at the right times so that I demonstrate I could be a good guide dog handler if only I’m given the chance.

We also discussed my routes and the leaps and bounds of progress I’ve made with Jenny’s intervention and the service delivery manager seemed very pleased with what I told her. One of the criteria is that you must be able to work your dog for 30-40 minutes at least 5 days a week. Nobody will ever understand the pride and relief it gives me to finally be able to say I meet that criteria with an ever expanding range of routes. Never did I think the day would come! Unless somehow during my mobility assessment the instructor finds fault with the length, complexity or variation of routes I have could that potentially be a problem. But I can’t honestly see that happening. I have more than enough 30 minute walks and now several that are much longer than that, one that’s even double. Of course, its not up to me if I meet the required standards and criteria but this time, for the very first time ever, I’m feeling much more positive about things, about my chances and the potential for it to go right this time. Fourth time lucky, perhaps?

However, there’s always a thundercloud trying to ruin my happiness and blooming positivity and today that comes in the form of some unknown person thinking they have the right to talk about me behind my back and stick their 50p worth in where its really not welcome. I mean haven’t I had enough battles over the last 7 years I’ve been fighting for a Guide Dog? No, according to someone, apparently I haven’t. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be writing about this but its my life and my right to be angry. Nearing the end of the meeting, after we’d done a lot of positive talking and I’d had plenty of fusses and cuddles with 14-month-old lab/retriever trainee Ezra, the service delivery manager dropped a bombshell I wasn’t expecting, another hurdle for me to climb, another punch to dodge. An anonymous member of the public has written a letter to guide dogs outlining their reasons why they strongly urge Guide Dogs not to give me a dog. This letter was received last month and portrays me as a terrible person. It is very nasty, hurtful and infuriating. Infuriating because its utter lies. The things the person claims about me are totally untrue and fabricated nonsense. I think my angry responses, however much i tried to remain calm, showed the service delivery manager and GDMI exactly what I thought of the letter. Thankfully, as it is anonymous, it won’t have a huge impact on me when I reapply. As long as i can demonstrate that i meet the relevant criteria set out to me today and show the staff everything they need to see in a potential applicant, that letter doesn’t matter. Just like the person, whoever they are, doesn’t. I have a ton of people supporting me with this, and every other, application and one hateful person isn’t going to stop me. Ive been fighting too long to let one person’s opinion faze me, especially as they didn’t even sign the letter. Whoever you are out there, if you read these blogs, know you aren’t going to stop me. I also want you to know that all those things you accused me of doing to any potential dog I’d never do. No dog would be left for hours on end by itself in my care. No dog would be locked in a cage for punishment. No dog would be given up on because I couldn’t be bothered to persevere. No dog would be over fed treats or given junk food; I’m not that irresponsible. I may be many things but I’m not stupid and would never be cruel to an animal, especially an animal I’ve thought a third of my life to be entitled and suitable for. If and when I get a guide dog, I’m going to be out working that dog every single day, unless I’m poorly or theres a family emergency. Ive worked so hard and for so long to throw an opportunity of having the mobility aid I long for away. I will do whatever it takes to become a guide dog owner and once I’ve achieved that goal, the dog will be looked after to the absolute best of my ability, with the support of the guide dogs team and all my friends and family. Ive got a whole army of people to support me so I know I;ll be fine. Just how I am now writing this. Because look, yay! You achieved your aim. You made me feel angry, hurt, sad, betrayed, low, worried and down. But I’m better than someone who doesn’t sign such a letter. I will be a guide dog owner one day and it’ll be because a guide dog team deem me deserving and suitable, not because I’ve fooled them into believing I’m the sort of person who should have a dog. Ive not got any dodgy motives in wanting a guide dog at all. I desire a guide dog because I’ve seen the improvements having a dog by my side has on my mobility, wellbeing, confidence and determination. Having a guide dog would make me a better person. It’d give me the confidence to go out there and achieve my goals. It’d give me the confidence to be the person I want to be with a furry companion by my side. What other motivation do I need? And why else would Guide Dogs want to give me a dog? They don’t just hand dogs over to anyone. I’d have had thorough tests and checks to ensure I’m going to care for any dog’s welfare appropriately. Why would I sabotage that? Yes maybe my motives as a naive 14-year-old were immature and wrong. But I’m an adult now. I understand responsibility. And i understand what it means to have a guide dog and be a guide dog owner. What more can I say? You aren’t going to hold me back. I’m going to reapply. Send as many letters to guide dogs as you like. After all, its them who decide whether I’m suitable. But don’t worry, they’ve considered your input so thanks for giving them something else to doubt me about. I’ll just fight that extra bit harder to prove you wrong. And I hope, if you’re a genuine person who thinks they’re protecting the welfare of some defenceless dog who might be given to me, that in time you’ll see that actually I’m also a genuine person just trying to live a full and happy life the only way I know how and that all I offer a dog is a full, happy, well loved and looked after life. If not, please take your hate elsewhere. I’ve got enough challenges to deal with without you adding to the pile. But thanks for making the journey even more eventful. I guess it’ll just prove to guide dogs how determined and dedicated I am to being the applicant they’re looking for.

Before they left, the service delivery manager urged me to read through the suitability criteria before applying and make sure I was happy with everything. She said it’d be emailed to me shortly. I wasn’t expecting that shortly to be today! The email was in my inbox by the time I checked after coming home from a lovely afternoon out with my friend Josh, enjoying lunch in Yates and pudding in Sprinkles. Although of course I want to rush ahead and reapply right this second, I’m going to spend the weekend reading and rereading the criteria until I’m totally satisfied with it and even know it by heart perhaps. Then, if I’m feeling like it, on Monday I’ll have a chat with the service user representative who has been brilliant and invaluable this last month. If she agrees, I’ll go ahead and reply to the email with the criteria saying I want to move a step forward and reapply. Then, I guess the process will start over. After chatting a lot with the service delivery manager and GDMI today, and of course cuddling Ezra, I really think this time could be my time, my opportunity to grasp firmly with both hands and not hold back on. Obviously, by the time this post is finished and published online, I’ll have written about my 25th My Guide session and possibly reapplied. I’ll write about that then. I just want to end this bit by saying how lucky I am to have such an amazing My Guide volunteer to be partnered with. Today, Jenny and her husband explored the city centre to work out which route would be best to learn to the new office I’m going to be volunteering at very soon. They worked it out and Jenny text me to say there’s now a plan in place for next Thursday. She really does go above and beyond where my My Guide sessions are concerned and I couldn’t be more grateful that she’s partnered with me.

As I write this now, its 9:15pm on Thursday night a week after my meeting with the service delivery manager and GDMI from Guide Dogs and today Jenny and I practised the route to the place I’m going to be volunteering, hopefully, for the first time. It was much simpler than I expected and after walking it, twice, I’m so much more grateful for Jenny and her husband checking out the route before we attempted it ourselves today. There are only two road crossings and no big corners or anything. The road curves around in places but theres no over-complicated things to remember. However, because its me, I’m still estimating its going to take me ages to learn it. The walk is only 15 minutes each way with a half hour bus ride each way. So in total it’ll take me roughly an hour and a half in total to travel to and from my destination. Really, I’m quite happy with that and although the walking part of the route is quite short, I’m much more comfortable with that than some lengthy complicated route for my first attempt at working in an office environment, even if it is just voluntary. I got a bit frustrated with the big pelican crossing that I have to use because theres push buttons on either sides of both tactiles but irritatingly only one on each side has a spinning cone and none of them have audio cues. If the poles don’t have the spinning cone to announce when its safe to cross then they should have noise. To have neither, even though the opposite side of the crossing has one, isn’t really right. I don’t know if its breaking any rules or laws or anything because on either side of the road one of the poles does have some kind of announcement to show its safe to cross. But shouldn’t all the poles have something? I don’t know, it just annoyed me. Its another thing to remember, which side of each crossing’s pole actually has the thing that’ll help me cross safely.

Jenny and I have agreed to continually practice the volunteering route until I’ve mastered it. The sooner I’ve learnt it, the sooner potentially I can start my voluntary role. We practised the route twice today due to its short length and on the second run recorded the landmarks I can use as pointers on my Victor Reader Trek. Another irritation was that there were considerable road works not far up from the bus stop that I have to use. This meant for a little stretch of the pavement Jenny had to guide me out into the road and safely around the obstruction. Thankfully, she said that the workmen seemed to be getting through the work quite quickly so I’m hopeful it might all be finished by next week when we try the route again. I really hope that I can start retaining directions from this route quickly so that it doesn’t take too long to learn it and we can go back to practising my longer routes. But for a first attempt I think things went really well. Here’s hoping next week is even better.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 24

After a rather long break, today it was time to get back to practising my routes. Since Jenny and I last met for a My Guide session, the whole of august has passed and e’re already racing through September. Soon, I’ll be back to Open University studies with no free time on my hands… but for now at least, I still have lots of free time. Unfortunately, our plans for today’s session had to change as I hadn’t heard back from anyone at the organisation I’ve applied to volunteer for so wasn’t sure if my application had been successful therefore meaning I had a new route to learn. Frustratingly, an email came through late last night replying to my question about my application to say that i have been successful and they do want me to start volunteering for them whenever I’m ready. Instead of contact Jenny last minute and rearrange our plans again, I decided to stick with doing the Woolston route. For one thing, its been a nice sunny day today so perfect for strolling along the shore and for another, I was having serious withdrawals from Piggy’s milkshakes!

So, at 9:30 Jenny arrived at my door and we headed out along the now very familiar route down to and along the shore into Woolston. I only hesitated in a couple of places and really feel I have the route cracked now because in the places I hesitated my instinct was right anyway. Next time we do the route, I’ll get Jenny to shadow me again like last time and try and hold back from checking directions with her even when I’m hesitating and instead go with my gut instinct because if I’d done that today I wouldn’t have asked her for a single direction and probably not gone the wrong way.

We stopped in Woolston to say hi to Dad and for refreshments at Piggy’s. Jenny had a coffee and I had a salted caramel milkshake. I also took a risk on a slice of chocolate fudge cake and soon wished I hadn’t. But it was ok because Jenny enjoyed my leftovers. While we relaxed, we chatted about what we’d both been up to during our break and I updated Jenny on my situation with Guide Dogs. When I came home from visiting Kieran last week, I wanted for a call from the southampton Guide Dogs service user representative for advice on how next to proceed. That conversation took place on Monday and she advised me to send an email to the southamtpn office asking to speak to the service delivery manager about arranging a time to discuss how best to proceed for me reapplying for a dog. I sent that email not long after getting off the phone from her and received a response yesterday to say that the service delivery manager wanted to visit me for a meeting either today or tomorrow. So I responded that either this afternoon or tomorrow morning would work for me as I have plans to meet my friend Josh tomorrow afternoon and of course the My Guide session this morning. This morning I received another email, from the service delivery manager herself, to say she would be visiting me tomorrow morning at 10am and that she’s bringing a GDMI (Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor) and a trainee dog with her. Of course I responded enthusiastically to this. I’m feeling incredibly positive about the whole thing all of a sudden. I feel really encouraged by the rapid response from the Southampton team as a whole and am hoping tomorrow’s meeting will be a positive one. If not that, I at least hope I get a cuddle with the trainee dog they’re bringing along. I’m really looking forward to discussing my next steps with the service delivery manager and I think having the input of a GDMI I’ve never had before could be really beneficial.

The return route home was equally as good. Jenny seems really pleased with my progress and we’re both chuffed at how much of the route I’ve retained even after not practising it for so long. As i said, next time we do the route I’ll ask Jenny to shadow me and refrain from asking for direction hints from her when I’m hesitating. I really think that really soon we’ll be able to put a big tick next to this route and I’ll be able to say I can do it unaided. But due to my upcoming volunteering opportunity, our efforts for the next few sessions are going to be focused on figuring out and learning the best route to the office of the organisation I’m going to be volunteering for. It involves a bus journey and a walk so although it isn’t lengthy walking like Guide Dogs asked for last time I applied, it’ll still be another regular route to add to my list. Plus, if its a bus journey combined with a walk there shouldn’t be a problem. If anything, it should be a bonus because I’m hoping to be doing it at least once weekly.

So all in all things seem very positive at the moment. Things are going really well with my routes and things seem to be looking up with Guide Dogs too. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much but I am feeling very positive this time around. Let’s just hope that feeling remains. After tomorrow I’ll know much more about where things are heading and hopefully my next My Guide post will be full of positive news.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 23

On Thursday the 2nd of august, my My Guide session was a little different to usual. Yes, we were still practising routes but this time they weren’t routes Jenny had taught me. We were consolidating my skills with the routes I already had before I started My Guide, all thanks to the hopefully positive news I wrote about in my last post. The reason this update is so late is because I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. From the 1st of august onwards, Dad was off from work; and from the 6th onwards, Mum joined us. Obviously, its the six weeks’ holiday too so Tamsin is off from school. This meant that days out were planned and we were off out all over the place. Then, from last Thursday (the 9th) onwards, Ive been up here in Newcastle with Kieran and family. Until today, Kieran has been home from work so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write my My Guide update. To be fair, there isn’t a massive amount to write, but here it is anyway.

After discovering that there is now a reopened get for me to reapply with Guide Dogs, I discussed my route situation with Jenny. This time, I want to doubly ensure that I’ve done just about everything I possibly can to please them before I reapply and my routes, or lack of, has always been a sticky point. However, since having Zena, learning routes with the help of family and then the arrival of Jenny, my route options have massively widened compared to what they were before. Once upon a time, I was barely able to get to my closest bus-stop, which is a minor two side roads and 5-minute-if-that walk away from my house. Now I have routes that take me nearly an hour to walk just to get to my destination. And the route possibilities are forever widening. But although Jenny and I agreed that this really is great and a massive improvement when considering what I’d have available to utilise for a Guide Dog workload, we agreed that its equally important for me to be able to effortlessly demonstrate that I know by heart the smaller and older routes I have. As I’m not quite as independent as I’d like to or should be, I don’t practice these routes as often as maybe I need to. So taking the opportunity to prove to Jenny that actually I can accomplish them independently and safely was definitely a good idea. I want Guide Dogs, when they next assess me, to see that my familiar routes are all but flawlessly executed. I want to prove how much my routes have flourished and how dedicated I am to building on the route knowledge I have.

So, after Jenny arrived, we headed out to walk my familiar routes. First, up passed all the bus-stops, across all the little side roads, even the one with the dodgy corner; then, across the road and round the corner to stand in front of the local library front door; back around the corner and across the road and then walking up parallel to the main road, crossing the three side roads and then turning sharply right and walking to the main entrance of the leisure centre/gym. This bit I got a bit wrong. I forgot that at the third curb edge I need to cross before turning sharply right away from the main road and up to the automatic doors. But with Jenny’s help I soon corrected this. After, back out of the leisure centre entrance and turn right to walk parallel along the main road again. I went all the way up the road and over the rather dangerous if you don’t do it right or aren’t paying 100% attention and to the front door of the news agents. To begin with, I headed passed the news agents and on as if I was going to Tamsin’s school. But in the end I decided I was too hot to persevere and turned back, retracing my steps back across the dodgy crossing and down the main road. But I stopped at the tactile markings of a crossing before the gym turning and headed across the road, taking myself into the park that I’ve landmarked as a prime spot for free running should I get a Guide Dog. This park was actually recommended by Seeing Dogs trainer John but had to be scrapped in favour of one I could be driven to with Zena as she was too distracted by its being there when we did the daily route to the gym. However, with a more focused dog and better trained me, I think I could take full advantage of that park’s placement for short frequent free runs during working routes or even as a destination for a working route. Once in the field, I walked down the length of the park, walking parallel to the main road again. Then, when my Victor Reader Trek announced that the third entrance to the park was approaching, I headed onto the tarmac and out of the park to the crossing that got me safely back onto the other side of the road and heading for home along the route I’d already walked.

Due to my own laziness, the routes actually felt somewhat rusty. I’m going to try my best to start getting out more so these easy and familiar routes feel fluid again. I’m also going to take advantage of my sessions with Jenny to practice those routes once every now and again, just so she can monitor my competency with them. She didn’t seem to have any worries with them, so I just need to practice them more. As I’m now up in Newcastle and due to Mum having time off, I’m now not seeing Jenny so having another My Guide session until the beginning of September. It really is crazy where time goes. When we get back to it, though, we’ve got another challenge to master. On the 1st of august, Jenny drove me into southampton town centre with a meeting with a volunteer coordinator that she’d organised for me. We’ve discussed many times my lack of work experience and frustrations with finding work or even voluntary posts that I feel I’d be capable of successfully completing. After finding a slot where an organisation needs a volunteer to speak to its clients and do a questionnaire to ensure the clients are receiving the right support and are getting what they asked for, Jenny thought of and recommended me. After speaking with the volunteer coordinator, I feel that actually this is something I might actually be able to do. They’ve said that I’d be able to complete it on my own personal laptop, meaning I could use my already set up screen reader, and the only other tasks are dialling phone numbers, talking to clients and taking notes answers to the questions to fill in the questionnaire. There are only two snags: 1. I don’t know how to get to the office; 2. I need to invest in a device that allows you to plug a standard phone into a headset through which one side you have the telephone and the other side you have your computer and therefore speech software. Even if I use my BrailleNote Apex to record the clients’ answers, I still need my hands free to type their responses and so this device is essential. The first problem can easily be solved thanks to Jenny’s generosity. We’re going to look into a safe and hassle-free way for me to get to the office and practice it until I’m confident. Kindly, the organisation have said the post will be open long enough for me to learn the route. This is very lucky because if they’d had a tight time frame for the survey needing to be completed the opportunity would have probably passed by the time I knew the route competently. Although there is of course the option of completing my volunteering on a Wednesday and using Dad as a taxi, as I’m using any volunteering I find as a gauge to what proper employed work would be like, having a parent taxi really isn’t part of the package I want. So, my next update could quite possibly be documenting our first trial of routes to my hopefully new voluntary role. My friend Josh helped by looking at the busses and seeing that there’s two potential stops for me to alight to then walk to the office. One is at the Itchen Bridge and the other is at the back of Primark. So at some point Jenny and I are going to go on a bus ride and figure out the best route to the office. Once I’ve successfully learnt the route, our sessions will go back to practising the routes I’ve already learnt. Until I’ve applied to Guide Dogs again and found out where I stand about getting on the waiting list for a dog, I’m not going to learn any more routes but make better use of my time by polishing the ones I have. Many people, including family, friends with Guide Dogs and Jenny, have agreed that the amount and length of routes I have should add up to a more than sufficient workload to at least start with. Plus, I’m continuing to expand on the routes I already have all the time and especially now I’m seriously starting to branch out with voluntary work with the aim of heading into paid employment in the near future, my routes shouldn’t really need to be questioned. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed I can pass in all the areas Guide Dogs assess for suitability. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my break away up in Newcastle and when I get home at the end of the month, I’ll throw myself back head first into learning and polishing routes.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 22 and some positive news, at last!

This post is going to be a little different simply because I have so much to write and I don’t want to go on and on forever… i know, what’s changed now, huh? But if I ramble on and on this probably won’tmake any sense and it’ll take away from how good the good news is…

As I said in my last post, a meeting had taken place arranged by my friend Jemma, who lives across the road from me and has German Shepherd Guide Dog Ollie, with the southampton guide dogs mobility team service user representative. Jemma arranged this after understanding and agreeing with my frustrations with my situation with Guide Dogs. Our hope was that the service user representative could at least shed some light on my situation. On this Monday just gone, another meeting took place in which the service user representative discussed with us her findings on my case. I can’t go into too much detail at the moment with what was discussed, but the investigation by the service user representative has led to their being a possibility that I can reapply for a guide dog soon. I’m not saying that means I’ll be successful in being suitable for a dog or that I’ll immediately be put on the waiting list, but there’s a new opening that means I can at least reapply. I’m also not saying that the service user representative is a miracle worker and can fix all cases that haven’t gone the way the service user wanted, because that’s certainly not her job, but for me she’s enabled my case to be opened up afresh so that I can reapply. If or when I do reapply and go through the assessment process again, I may possibly be able to go into more detail about why things have changed a bit where my situation is concerned but for now, that’s all I can say.

Continuing the run of positivity, this week my My Guide session went really well. Jenny made the suggestion that this week I take the leap and do the route solo, with her only shadowing me. Usually, while we walk our routes we chat. But being shadowed means you pretend there’s no one else with you. For the Woolston route, this was the first time I’d tried this. It made for quite a different route experience too. Usually, Jenny walks beside me, which means I can orientate myself on the path quite easily. With Jenny walking a few paces behind me, I had to focus more on where I was on the path. I seemed to zigzag even more than usual but Jenny said I seemed to orientate myself quite well. The route went really really well. I only spoke to Jenny once before reaching the Woolston high street and that was to check about a crossing at the end of Weston shore. Lucky that I did, too, because I was going to cross at the wrong point otherwise. Obviously, Jenny would have stopped me anyway. It didn’t take long to correct my mistake, though, and other than that I made all the right choices.

Reaching Woolston after only needing Jenny’s input once felt like quite an achievemnt and Jenny’s pleasure at how well I’d managed the route was really gratifying. Obviously, it’d have been even better if I’d done the route without any wobbles whatsoever but for the first shadow of the route I was quite pleased with myself. We celebrated with our usual stop in Piggy’s, me for a caramel milkshake and Jenny for her usual Americano with hot milk on the side. For a moment, she wavered and nearly tried a smoothie but in the end decided to stick with her usual. The caramel milkshake still didn’t beat my favourite, the salted caramel milkshake I had the first time I tried one off their mammoth list. During our drinks, we chatted through the developments with my situation with Guide Dogs and Jenny seemed really pleased for me. We also discussed my routes and how neither of us are particularly happy with the route to my grandparents house. Weaver made the decision to scrap the route simply because Jenny doesn’t feel that its very safe and I don’t feel very comfortable doing it. If we’d walked it a few more times I might have felt better about it but Jenny just doesn’t feel that its a safe enough walk for me to be doing alone. To be honest, I’m not massively disappointed. In total, its about 3 hours worth of walking and that massively exceeds Guide Dogs request for me needing a lengthy varied workload. Plus, there is an alternative in a bus route to their house that would involve a little bit of walking. I think it would have been a really complicated and time consuming route to learn as well. Although I liked it for the amount of FitBit steps it provided, that was literally the only good thing about it.

The return route from Woolston went quite well too. By this point, i was melting a bit. It was nowhere near as hot as walking to Nan and Grandad’s last week but it still warranted a shorts and T-shirt approach. Obviously, I was also wearing my bright pink high-vis vest over the top of my T-shirt to increase my visibility. Jenny seems to agree that it helps, especially when I’m crossing roads at points where car drivers may not immediately see I’m there otherwise. We’ve agreed to meet up next Thursday at our usual time and start consolidating my already learnt routes. We’re going to continue to learn the route to my sister’s school, potentially both ways round, and also practice the other routes I’d already learnt before My Guide with Jenny. At some point, we’re also going to learn how to get to my grandparents by bus, as I still think its a really important route to have even if it doesn’t meet Guide Dogs requirement for lengthy walking. Sometimes routes are just simply for convenience and the one to Nan and Grandad’s would be just that. There’s also the possibility that I might start volunteering for an organisation that one of Jenny’s friends works for. I’m going for a meeting to discuss this with Jenny’s friend on Wednesday and am really hopeful there might be a positive outcome. The post is phoning current clients of the organisation to discuss whether the service they’re being provided meets their needs and is what they’re wanting from the organisation. As there would only be phone and computer tasks within this role, there’s a very good chance it’d actually be something I’d be able to do. This of course has massive positive implications for me. It’d be getting me out of the house; it’d mean I have actual legitimate work experience to add to my CV; I’d be meeting and working with new people in a real work environment; and it’d mean another independent travel journey that isn’t just because I need to get out walking. Jenny says there’s a way to get to the organisation location via bus with some walking so it really sounds perfect for me. Keep your fingers crossed for Wednesday. Obviously, I’m immensely grateful to Jenny for arranging all of this and for thinking of me in the first place. Even if nothing comes of this its another thing to say I’ve attempted; but if something does, it’ll be ticking so many boxes for me.

So, as the title of this post says, there’s so much positivity in this post. Its practically overloaded with positive feelings and that, for anyone who knows me, doesn’t happen often. I’m feeling really good about things, especially as my routes are going so well and there’s a fresh opening with Guide Dogs Southampton for me to reapply and go through the assessment process of getting a dog again. That is definitely the best news I could’ve hoped for. There couldn’t be a better outcome than that. I’m just hoping it leads to the goal I’ve been aiming for for so long. I guess I’ll just have to do better than my best this time and hope it pays off. But for now I’m going to continue practising my routes and perfecting them just as much as I can.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 21

On the day my sister turned into a teenager, it was time for another My Guide session, this time a new challenge for me… last Friday, Jenny and I did a trial run of the shorter route to my grandparents house. Dad, after working out himself how long the route I’d proposed to their house would actually take us, had suggested that actually it’d be best for all parties involved if I considered his shorter route option. So after Jenny had driven around both route options last Thursday after our session, I’d agreed. Jenny had said that the route I proposed would be about 2.4 miles each way and take much longer than an hour and a half whereas Dad’s suggestion was around 1.8 miles each way and would be about an hour and a half if not slightly shorter. Of course, my brain was automatically thinking that the longer route would be better, would impress Guide Dogs more, would make for a better addition to my workload for a guide dog. But obviously I was being silly. A route that’s at least an hour each way is more than enough, and a route over an hour and a half each way is bordering on insane.

As the trial run of the route proved, Dad and Jenny were right; there was no way I needed to even consider the longer route. Also, doing the trial run also showed me what Dad has been trying to tell me for ages: that there’s a much quicker nicer way to get to Tamsin’s school. The trial route of the grandparents route takes me up passed the local co-op, my shortest route, and on over a train bridge. At some point, we end up walking up the road towards Tamsin’s school where, on the route to her school that I’m already learning, we usually walk down that road to the school. So, in effect, its a huge circle. From the school, we even backtrack along some of the route I’m already learning to her school to get to a pedestrian crossing. The road we need to cross is particularly busy and I don’t fancy just crossing it at a slight lull in the traffic and hoping for the best. The pedestrian crossing with spinning cone and beeping noise to alert me when its safe to cross is a much better option. It does lengthen the route a little bit but its worthwhile for the safety it provides.

The worst part of the route is the last main road which, at some point, I turn off to get to Nan and Grandad’s bungalow. It is crazy busy with traffic most of the time and the cars come whizzing passed at silly speeds. To make matters worse, the pavement is quite narrow, meaning that when a big lorry or van comes speeding passed its quite unsettling. On the journey to Nan and Grandad’s, the level of traffic made me seriously consider the possibility that there might not be a point in pursuing this route, however much I wanted to add it to my rapidly growing route options. Walking alongside that noisy busy fast traffic really wasn’t a pleasant feeling and it made me wonder if this route was going to be too difficult or unpleasant for me to persevere with. I didn’t voice this to Jenny at that point, too busy concentrating on where I was going and recording landmarks on my Victor Reader Trek, which was also successfully recording the progress of the new route for me. When eventually we turned off the busy main road, I felt very relieved and quite zapped of all energy. This route was certainly testing my resolve.

But once we turned into Nan and Grandad’s street, finding their bungalow was no problem. There’s one other person’s driveway and then the gated entrance to Nan and Grandad’s house. They provided us with much needed and very welcome refreshments of cold drinks and chocolate biscuits. At this point, I was still feeling very uncertain about the route. Those main roads really weren’t nice to walk alongside and there was a lot for me to learn with this route. But I was still determined to try; maybe the return route would change my mind.

It didn’t completely, but it made me feel a lot more hopeful about the route in general. The main roads didn’t feel quite so daunting on the return journey. Maybe I felt better because I was refreshed, I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t seem as difficult on the way home as it had before. Jenny and I discussed this as we walked. She suggested that it could be because the cars were coming towards us rather than rushing up from behind and racing passed. I suggested that it was because the first test of the route was done, I’d already walked it once. Even though it was only the first time I was walking the return journey, having walked the route the other way round already seemed to help my confidence. That doesn’t mean that the route isn’t still a challenge, because it definitely is. I don’t think its going to be a quick one to learn like the school one seems to be. I think its going to take a good while for it to start sinking into my memory. But I’m going to persevere with it. Having my grandparents house as a reachable destination can only be a good thing. Jenny and I did also talk about getting the bus to my grandparents to cut out some of those horrible main roads. Its an option of something else to learn in the future and would be a good alternative if it was pouring down with rain and I still needed to get to Nan and Grandad’s. having options of how to get there is also good. I already go there twice a week for tea as it is and sometimes there’s other days we visit too. If i was able to get there independently, it means I could visit if parents were unable to transport me there and obviously would make a good excuse to work a guide dog. Even if I didn’t do the return route, getting a lift home with parents, that’s still a good hour and 20 minute working walk for a dog, more than anything guide dogs have said a dog needs daily. If I did that twice a week on the days I visit them now, that takes out two days’ worth of working the dog, and that’s not considering if I had other things to do or places to go on those days as well. Take two days for grandparents an add the Woolston route, gym route, library route, school route and bus route into town and I’m sure that’s more than enough to keep a dog busy. That’s not to mention the little route to the local Co-op and the route to the decent free run on the way to the gym and the same along the shore on the way to Woolston. Additionally, that’s not even thinking about other routes i want to learn for the future, including getting the bus to Nan and Grandad’s and a journey to Southampton central train station that then takes me either on a long distance train to my brother and his little family or Imi or then onto the airport train station, across the road and into the airport itself to catch a plane to Kieran. There’s so many options. Ive of course also got the route from the main Woolston high street up to my doctors. And they’re all things I hope to be able to do independently and don’t take into account things I do at weekends with the family. I think that’s more than enough for a dog to be getting on with. Of course, I don’t have all those routes memorised yet. Woolston, Tamsin’s school and the grandparents’ route are still very much in progress, especially the grandparents’ route. I might be doing really well with the Woolston route, but there are still a lot of little niggles that I need to iron out. But as mine and Jenny’s working time together is unlimited as long as we both say so, we should have plenty of time to perfect them all. That’s my plan, anyway. We’re meeting again this Thursday and I plan to do the Woolston route again, mostly because the summer is still raging and its nice to walk that route while its hot and not so to do the grandparents or school route. Fingers crossed it goes well and those niggles start to reduce.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 20

After a week’s break while Jenny went on holiday, yesterday we were back to our usual time and place for another My Guide session, off to practice the Woolston route yet again. Last time I wrote, I said I was considering the possibility of doing the route solo or at least with Jenny just shadowing me and giving no hints about direction. But yesterday I just wasn’t in the mood. It wasn’t anything in particular that made me feel that way, I just didn’t fancy the added pressure of remembering everything. Plus, as there’s no progress with Guide Dogs, I don’t see any reason in rushing into doing routes solo when there’s really no need right now.

The outward route went well. I remembered things quite well, checking with Jenny at certain parts. There’s still little bits of the route that I need to persevere with practising. For example, walking along one road there’s a point where I need to cross to be on the opposite side of the road and for that I have to count 3 raised cement block things — at least that’s what they feel like with my cane — to know the exact point to cross. Before now, I was trying to rely on my Victor Reader Trek to announce the landmark at the right point instead of needing to count but it never quite gets it right. Similarly, when I’m almost home, on one of the last crossings before I reach my pathway, I walk up a slight hill and have to know the correct place to stop and cross so that I don’t cross and walk into the middle of the road. Although these are only minor things, they’re still things I need to perfect before I can consider doing the route solo. Perhaps next time Jenny and I practice the route I’ll get her to shadow me. We’ll see how I’m feeling.

We stopped to see Dad and popped into Piggy’s for refreshment, where Jenny had her usual Americano with hot milk on the side and I ticked off another milkshake from their list, this time the toffee nut milkshake. It was very nice. I also tried one of their triple chocolate cookies, which wasn’t too bad. On the way out, we popped in to see Dad and spoke to him about routes from my house to Nan and Grandad’s house. Dad had told me a long time ago that the route I’m learning to Tamsin’s school can be extended into a route to my grandparents house, but that the way I’m learning is unnecessarily long. There’s a shorter more convenient route but because I wanted to learn long routes for Guide Dogs, I didn’t initially consider it. But by using Dad’s version of the route, I’m learning a route almost completely separate from what I’m already learning and already know. I’m hoping it won’t be too much of a challenge. There are overlapping points during the route with other routes I have, for example the first part of the route walks up to my local Co-op, which was the first local route I knew. Jenny and I have agreed to meet next Friday morning at 9:30 to walk the route to my grandparents and see how it goes. Yesterday, Jenny drove both routes, the incredibly long one and Dad’s suggestion. The longer one she said was about 2.4 miles each way and Dad’s suggestion only1.8, which is still a rather decent walking amount. She’s predicting even Dad’s suggestion will take over an hour each way, but we’ll just have to see when we walk it for the first time next week. So as of next Friday, Jenny and I will be learning 3 routes simultaneously: the Woolston route, which I’m very close to mastering; the school route which isn’t complicated at all and I just need to practice every few weeks to keep fresh in my mind; the new route to Nan and Grandad’s house, which will hopefully follow dads suggested direction. If Dad’s suggestion of the route doesn’t go well and either Jenny or I aren’t happy with it, we’ll test my original idea for a route to the grandparents. But I really do feel it’d be better if they were 3 almost separate routes. The Woolston route is taking me 50-ish minutes each way, the school route is roughly an hour each way and Jenny predicts that this new route will be at least an hour each way if not more. This, surely, fills Guide Dogs need for me to have more lengthy routes. Even though that isn’t their issue any more, I’m still persevering with it. I’m determined to have a decent enough workload for a dog even if I am unemployed and a student who works from home. I know plenty of other Guide Dog owners who are unemployed and have qualified successfully so I don’t see why that should be a barrier for me. Plus, even with those three routes, there’s still others I want to learn, not to mention the ones I already know and the potential for new others in the future. Really, I feel I’ve got the route thing sussed, just as long as I learn them all…

As for my other issue with Guide Dogs, sadly there’s still no progress, to my ever mounting frustration. However, just yesterday there has been a development that makes me hopeful. My friend Jemma, who has the German Shepherd Guide Dog who I looked after once, is in the process of arranging a phone meeting with the service user representative from Southampton Guide Dogs Mobility Team. Jemma feels, and I’ve come to agree, that I deserve to be assessed by another team completely independent of Southampton and that Southampton aren’t treating me fairly. Ive fought so so hard for the chance to be a Guide Dog owner and I’m just not getting anywhere, being pushed back every time I think I’m getting close. Southampton aren’t prepared to offer any support or help with my challenge to learn how to interact and socialise with dogs and every avenue I’ve ventured down to try and solve this issue myself have been a dead end. Rescue shelters and grooming parlours won’t take me because I’m a health and safety risk or liability or whatever, I don’t personally know many Guide Dog owners locally and I’ve spent time with all the family dogs we have. I’m not alien to dogs. We have had two pet dogs plus Zena in this household alone. Even if I did get some things wrong on further assessment day and gave off some wrong signals, I know how to be around a dog, I know how to look after a dog and I even know some of the specialised commands and actions needed for a guide dog after my own experience with Zena and overhearing friends with their dogs. Its such a pressurised situation that I think I’m always going to be a nervous wreck with Southampton’s team until the day they give me the approval and praise I need to move forward with an application. But I don’t feel like I’ll get that, no matter what I try. Maybe there’s just too much passed history. Maybe my experience with Seeing Dogs is clouding their judgment. Or perhaps I’m just not the kind of applicant they’re looking for. If long waiting lists and being short staffed is secretly affecting my chances then that’s unfair but understandable. Obviously I shouldn’t be penalised if the charity are having issues internally, like full waiting lists and limited staff, but what can I do about it? I want to be on good terms with the Southampton team, I crave to be the candidate they’re looking for, I want them to be the hero’s who grant me a Guide Dog like they have for so many in the region. But every time I’m coming up against brick walls and I’m fighting so hard to overcome the barriers to them I present in being a competent Guide Dog owner. But maybe to them I’m just not fighting hard enough. Or maybe they think I;ll just never be suitable, there’s too many problems. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. I’m hoping the service user rep might have some suggestions for me moving forward, whether that be persevering with Southampton or doing whatever I need to in order to be assessed elsewhere. As I’ve said, I’d like it to be the Southampton team because that’s the way things are meant to be, but i do now feel quite intimidated every time I have anything to do with them. There’s so much emotion involved for me and always the feeling that I’m not doing whatever it is they’re assessing right. Maybe that’s a result of there always being something else I need to get right for them. Maybe I’m not destined to be a Guide Dog owner. But I just can’t see that that’s the answer. With the support of friends and family, I looked after Zena really well. She had everything she ever needed and money wasn’t even questioned when it came to getting whatever she needed. As for our working relationship, I could have done things much better, I know that now. But at the time I tried my absolute hardest and I know I’d do that all again and much more if I was given another chance with a new dog. Plus, having the support of all the Guide Dogs trained staff, the network of Guide Dog friends I have and the online Guide Dogs community, there would always be someone to turn to if I had a problem, a wealth of experience and knowledge for me to take advantage of that just didn’t work with Zena. Obviously, there were still things Guide Dog friends could advise about with Zena and for those I’ll always be grateful. But having the full network of the entire Guide Dogs community at my disposal I know would help a lot.

But its all just dreams still. At the moment, I need to focus on learning these routes to the best of my ability. The Woolston and school routes are both going really well and I hope next week our exploration of the route to my grandparents goes really well too. If it does, it’ll be another one to add to my nicely expanding list of routes. This, of course, means that if I am lucky enough to be assessed by another team or Southampton reconsider in the future, I’ll have many more routes under my belt than I did last time I applied. All I can hope is that all these sessions help towards something and stand for more than just get in exercise, practising my long cane skills and having the opportunity to work with someone as lovely as Jenny. There was always a goal for all these routes and I really hope all my dedication, determination, perseverance and progress eventually leads to me achieving that goal.

Mobility update: My Guide session 19 and reflections, a year since Zena

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.