Category Archives: Disability

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.

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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.

Mobility update: My Guide Session 18

A week later than it should have been, last Thursday I had my 18th My Guide session. As always, Jenny arrived at my front door at 9:30 and we headed out, this week along the route that takes me to my sister’s school. Before we left, I set the Victor Reader Trek to record the route, hoping that maybe it had fixed itself and would work properly. On the way to the school, there were a number of obstacles on the pavement, including parked cars. Campaigning to make it a fining offence to park on the pavement really is for the best. Some of the paths are really narrow and if there’s a car parked on it, it can be almost impossible to pass safely, even though I’m just one person and a cane. In contrast to the Woolston route, this one is quite hectic and there’s much more thinking involved. There’s plenty of roads to cross and lots of traffic. First, I walk up my own road, which isn’t particularly busy but which has busses and cars driving passed regularly. Then, when I’m off the estate, I’m walking alongside Weston’s main road. Nearer the school, i walk over a foot bridge which is very narrow and goes parallel to a very busy road. The traffic sound sometimes makes it impossible for Jenny and I to continue our conversation and i often have to turn up the volume quite high on my Victor Reader Trek to be able to hear the prompts and instructions.

Amazingly, I remembered the route really well, which is surprising as Jenny and I have only done it twice before. But I had practised it a couple of times with Dad before Jenny and I started doing it. It is quite a simple route, though. Even though there are quite a lot of road crossings, I follow one path all the way there. There are some corners and curves but I always stay on the same side of the road and just keep walking straight to get there. Just before tamsin’s school, you turn 90 degrees right on a corner and then walk for about a minute down the road and then you’re opposite the gates to her school, a perfect place to stand and wait for her to come out and to still be far enough away to avoid getting submerged in the crush of happy teenagers free from the restraints of school. Even with the route being this simplistic, I’m still surprised how easy I found it. I’m useless at learning routes — always have been, always will be — but this route felt fine. I’m not sure I’d have the confidence to walk it alone yet — that traffic is quite daunting and its quite a distance to go on my own — but I’m certainly going to work on it. Since I got my GoPro camera and finished uni for the year, I’ve been trying to get out more. It hasn’t been as successful as i should have made it but i still feel chuffed that I’m trying and starting to succeed. Twice, I’ve gone to the bus stop to get the bus to Woolston to meet my grandparents for a coffee and a wander around. Once, I’ve caught the bus to meet my friend Josh for lunch. And twice I’ve walked to the corner of Bacon close to meet my employment officer for our fortnightly meeting. I haven’t pushed myself as much as perhaps i should have but for me i still feel that’s progress. Today, when I walked to and back from the bus stop I didn’t get that nervous panicky feeling i mostly always get when I’m out on my own with my cane so that has to be progress. I’m trying even whilst feeling so hopeless about the situation with Guide Dogs. It takes a lot for me to feel motivated about going out with my cane, especially now that’s not even the barrier Guide Dogs have for me being eligible. But I want to show them I’m still persevering, I’m still determined. Because i am; Guide Dog mobility is still the mobility that made me feel safe, free and confident, whatever setbacks Zena and I may have suffered. This morning, my facebook memories showed me that a year ago today I announced online that Zena was being withdrawn. Its already nearly been a whole year since I had a guide dog and I’ve had so many setbacks since then despite my determination and effort. Because I really have tried hard to improve my independence and mobility since I had Zena. I feel like I’ve made progress, I just hope one day someone who has the power to grant me the mobility aid I desire recognises that.

This week, Jenny and I are meeting on Thursday at 9:30 as usual to do the route into Woolston. Our Coffee Mac’s is still closed so I don’t know where we’ll end up. On the return route last Thursday we discussed extending the school route already. It is so simple getting to the school that I think we are already ready to start figuring out how to get to my grandparents house. Dad has told me that its a slight alteration and extension to the school route I’m learning so I’m estimating that it shouldn’t be that hard to learn how to get to Nan and Grandad’s too. Hopefully, we can work out a way to learn both routes in tandem and kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. In the meantime, we’ll continue to practice the Woolston route, mostly because its just such a tranquil route to walk and the more I do the more its embedded in my memory. Hopefully, if adapting the school route into grandparents route goes well, we could start considering adapting the Woolston route into park route, which technically we already learnt when we were walking the old Woolston route. But we’ll have to see. I feel my new routes are going so well that I don’t want to ruin it by introducing too many new routes. I’m retaining the Woolston and school routes much better than I expected to and there’s a chance that I could get all muddled up if I start trying to learn loads more. For now, we’ll continue to rotate the routes I know, as well as introducing the walk to the grandparents. I couldn’t be happier with how the route learning is going, I just wish that it was for the cause i want it to be. At the end of learning all these routes, Guide Dogs aren’t going to say “oh yeah, you’ve learnt all those routes now you’ve got a workload for a dog and are eligible” because they’re not saying my mobility is the issue any more. That’s more frustrating than anything else. But there’s nothing i can do about it but continue to work on my routes and look for ways to spend time interacting with more dogs. Hopefully I’ll get there eventually and this will have all been worthwhile for the goal i meant it to be.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 17

After the biggest break we’ve ever had, today Jenny and I met up for our 17th session. Since we last saw each other, Jenny has had an operation and recovered and I’ve celebrated my 21st birthday, more about that in my next blog post. But today, it was time for more route learning out in the summer weather… well, summer-ish. Yesterday, it was beautifully warm, almost hot, and I was surprised everyone wasn’t in their shorts immediately, as that’s usually what happens when the temperature rises by the slightest in degrees. Even I had mine on last week! Sadly, today wasn’t so glorious. In fact, I was slightly worried around an hour before Jenny arrived that for the first time since we’ve started to work together, that the session might be rained off. Around 8am this morning the rain was absolutely hammering down and I was a bit uncertain about our chances. But as Jenny correctly predicted from the weather forecast, the rain had stopped and the weather much improved by the time she knocked on my door at 9:30.

Since the last time I wrote a mobility update, my Victor Reader Trek has been returned to me from HumanWare. This time, they didn’t’t do anything to it to try and fix it. The technical staff tried to replicate the problem I was facing with the routes but claimed they coudln’t see that issue themselves. When the unit came back to me, it had routes recorded on it that I hadn’t created but I’ve since done a test recording to see if the problem is still occurring and for me nothing has changed. Unless I’m continuously using it the wrong way, I can’t understand why the problem didn’t happen for the technical staff. They did advise that there is a software update hopefully being released soon. They suggested that I should make sure it gets installed when it’s available and said that hopefully that would fix the issue. If it doesn’t, they’re happy to have the unit back and do more testing. To be honest, I’m quite frustrated with the whole thing. The Trek was over £500 and although the book reading function with the added Bluetooth connection feature is great, the only thing that’s new on that side of the machine is the Bluetooth. As for the Trek side, I still feel that the Trekker Breeze I had, which was the updated version with fully working GPS and up-to-date maps, was much better. The quality of recordings for landmarks on the Trek are much clearer but no more accurate, at least I feel anyway. I’ll keep the unit but simply because I’ve sold my trusty Trekker Breeze and Victor Reader Stream (the book reading predecessor of the reading side of the Trek) in order to be able to afford the Trek. Also, I do really like the Bluetooth functionality of the Trek, even if that is a bit temperamental sometimes. If I get a chance, I’ll write more in depth about the Victor Reader Trek in a separate post; I’m not very technically minded and product reviews are more Kieran’s (my fella) sort of thing but I will give it a go. Anyway, for the purpose of this post, my Victor Reader Trek was back and unfixed. Also, I had new Aftershokz headphones to try with it. Before now, I’ve had both the Blues2 and the Blues2S made by Aftershokz but after visiting a friend and seeing his very nice new Aftershokz, i decided I’d sell both pairs of mine to fund a new pair like his. His were, I think, the Aftershokz Treks air. They’re very lightweight, don’t press at all on your cheekbones and have smaller pads that rest on your cheeks, making them much more comfortable. I bought the Aftershokz Treks Titanium, thinking that they could be the same. I’m only guessing that my friend’s are the Treks Air simply because the Treks Titanium, which arrived yesterday on one day delivery thanks to Amazon Prime, are different to the ones I saw. They were £50 cheaper than the Air asking price and already quite pricy in themselves. Forking out the additional money to buy the other pair didn’t seem worthwhile considering the price of the Titanium. I wouldn’t have been able to afford that extra money anyway; the Treks Titanium are much nicer than the Blues2 and Blues2S though so I’ve got an upgrade either way. The headband is more flexible and fits nicer when being worn and they are much lighter so more comfortable. I can see, though, why people might stretch that extra for the Treks Air…

Anyway, enough of new gadgets for now; on to route learning! The walk into Wollstonecraft, which was where I’d decided to go to today, went really well. After having 5 weeks away from route practice, I’d been really worried that things wouldn’t fall back into place with the progress I’d made where we left them. I thought practising this route might be a bit sluggish and frustrating today, but it was anything besides. We had a great walk, only having to check things with Jenny a few times. Even when I checked, my guesses of what to do next were always right. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have hoped for the route to go so well. Jenny seemed really pleased, too, and it was nice to have her confidence in me as support. It was really nice weather to walk in, too. Not too warm but not too cold with none of the wet stuff and little breeze. It was perfect weather for walking along the shore.

When we reached Woolston, Jenny exclaimed that Coffee Mac’s, our usual stop for refreshments, was closed. So we went across the road to Dad’s shop and asked him about it. Sadly, the friendly and helpful man who usually serves us in there has been poorly for a while and so the shop has been closed. Instead, we decided to go to Piggy’s Coffee Shop & Restaurant. It was quite cramped in there, with the tables grouped quite closely together, an we were sat in front of a few quite loud men for a while. However, the refreshments we enjoyed in Piggy’s made up for the crowded environment. Jenny read the menu to me first and then we ordered, she an Americano with hot milk on the side and a fresh fruit scone and me a salted caramel milkshake and a savoury croissant with honey roast ham and cheese. Ive never had a savoury croissant before but it was absolutely delicious and as for the milkshake, well, it was mouthwatering. Jenny commented that her scone and coffee were lovely too. I love milkshakes and as it is just a coffee shop I thought they might be branded milkshakes. But it was freshly made and in a lovely glass. Jenny said it looked like pottery. The price was of course higher than I usually spend when we go to Coffee Mac’s but the croissant was a bigger meal than a slice of banana cake. I do hope that Coffee Mac’s is open again soon, though, because their banana cake is the best banana cake I’ve ever had in a coffee shop. However, Piggy’s milkshakes are definitely a firm rivalry for banana cake. I think Piggy’s will definitely have to be reserved for special occasions or celebrations otherwise I’ll be spending far too much money and consuming far too many calories!

After our rather tasty break, we headed back out, stopping briefly to tell Dad how successful our gamble on Piggy’s had been, before heading back the way we’d come earlier. Again, on the way home, whenever I checked with Jenny about a direction or next move in the route, I guessed right. I felt I made quite good decisions when choosing when to cross roads. There were several awkward cars during the walk but Jenny said that some of them were legitimately parked in bays but hanging over the pavement. There were others that were blatantly parked on the pavement, though, and I really do hope that pavement parking fines come in soon so that people are charged for being an inconvenience and then discouraged from becoming a repeat offender by the price it’ll cost them if they do.

I was really pleased with how well the route went today. I really hadn’t expected things to be so positive after such a long time since our last practice. But it almost feels like the route is becoming instinctive, that’s how much I’m remembering it. When a route becomes instinctive, I truly know I’ve learnt it. Obviously, I always need to keep going over routes to keep them that well memorised but I always feel like its an achievement when a new route starts becoming instinctive for the first time. If it’s still feeling that way after a few more attempts, I might even consider trying to complete the route solo, without Jenny’s supervision. Right now, I think that’s me being over-optimistic after such a good day because Ive found that whenever I try to be independent with my mobility these days I get too nervous. This is a real shame as when I had Zena, dog permitting, I could go out whenever I felt like it without feeling nervous. Of course, with Zena there was always uncertainty about how she was going to perform in harness but I always felt confident in my own problem solving skills and my own independence. I miss that so much. But I’m going to try and make it better with a long cane. The more I think about doing it, the more nervous I get about it and if I overthink things, when I’m out by myself with my cane I get panicky and that’s when mistakes happen, even on the most well-known routes I have. I don’t know where the fear has come from and I know it’s irrational but when I’m out on my own I can’t get rid of it. Now I’ve finished uni for the year (more about that in a future post soon too) I’m hoping to spend a bit more time on my independence. When we got back to my front gate, I spoke to Jenny about more sessions, just saying that if she has any extra available slots during the week and fancies doing extra walks I’d be more than up for it with all this free time I’ve got now. I also spoke to her about the possibility of filming some of our walks for evidence for when I reapply to Guide Dogs to prove that I really have made leaps of progress and would have a fit workload for a dog. Ive recently bought a GoPro hero 2018 camera — its the company’s budget hero camera with as many functions as their top price ones — and I’d like to make good use of it. It came with a whole bundle of accessories, including a chest mount and a belt clip mount, both of which I thought might be good for filming my My Guide sessions. Ive also considered the possibility that having the camera strapped to me might decrease my fear when being mobile independently as I’d have that security of knowing if something happened, I’d have it recorded. it’s an avenue I want to try anyway. i also bought the GoPro becuase my friend Jemma, with the Guide Dog German Shepherd called Ollie, asked me to look after her dog a couple of weeks ago. it went really really well and I’m hoping to replicate the event again soon, possibly for a longer amount of time too. If Jemma was happy for me to, I’d like to record myself looking after and interacting with Ollie so that when I reapply to Guide Dogs in the future I have proof to show them I’ve been trying to improve in the areas they’ve criticised/commented on as my weaknesses. Jemma has also suggested that I might be able to practice some obedience work with Ollie and join them on free runs and I’m hoping to have all of this as recorded evidence for Guide Dogs. I want to prove that I’m doing all I can to be worthy of their approval and suitable to go on their eating list. My employment officer, and also Imi, are going to try and help me find suitable volunteering opportunities with dogs to start work on while I have so much free time. With the good progress I’m clearly making with my routes, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to make more progress in the other areas Guide Dogs need. I don’t want to rush things, but at the same time I don’t want to take forever to be ready to reapply again. I want a Guide Dog. That fact has never and will never change. But clearly I haven’t suitably proved that to my local guide dogs team yet. Hopefully, with all this effort I’m putting in, my dedication to being a guide dog owner will show. Plus, any volunteering I get to do is good for my CV and I enjoy Jemma’s company so it’s all positive. Jenny and I have arranged our next session for the same time next week where we’re going to practice the school route. I’m going to try and use the Trek to record the route again but I’m not holding out much hope for it. Perhaps, the software update will be out by then and might have fixed the problem I’m having. If that happens, I will truly enjoy having a Victor Reader Trek. But until then…

PS: if there are typing errors in this post, for which I’m sure there must be many, it’ll be because of my other new gadget investment. Ive upgraded my iPad Pro to one with more memory but the main reason I bought it was because the person who sold it to me was selling it with the Smart Keyboard case made by apple, which I’ve wanted to buy for a long while. Ive had a Logitech Smart Keyboard case, bought for me by Kieran, for my old iPad Pro and like it a lot. But I’ve always wanted to try out the apple version so here I am, typing on it. It’s really nice to use and I like it a lot. It slims down the iPad a lot too, which makes it feel much nicer. However, I think I made much less typing errors with the Logitech one. I still intend to use it too so may use it for longer blogs where I need more accuracy.

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 15 and 16

With everything that’s been going on recently, last week I just completely forgot to write about my My Guide session with Jenny. So in this post I’ll write about last week’s My Guide session as well as the one I had on Thursday.

Last week, when Thursday rolled around, the weather was gorgeous. We were predicted temperatures as high as 27 degrees and everyone was a bit more cheerful for it. Technically, it was the week we were supposed to do the route to my sister’s school but due to the lovely weather, I text Jenny that morning and asked if it’d be ok if we swapped routes and practiced the leisurely walk along the shore instead. Her response, definitely, proved my own thoughts about changing route.

It has to be said, walking along the shore and into Woolston in that kind of weather is exactly what that route is made for. It was wonderful. Jenny described all the scenery and greenery and we just strolled along the seafront talking about anything and everything we could think of. Although, as it was so warm, it was a bit of a relief to get to Coffee Mac’s for something refreshing. I had a glass of milk and a slice of banana loaf — at last, they had it! — and Jenny had her usual americano with hot milk on the side. It was nice to cool off in the shop but it would have been even nicer if they’d had air conditioning!

The walk back was equally nice. Just being out in the sunshine made me feel good. It was nice to have the chance to enjoy the good weather and of course it meant I daydreamed about doing the same with a four-legged furry companion at my side.

This Thursday, we did what we should have been doing the week before and headed to my sister’s school. One perk of waiting a week was that I had my replacement Victor Reader Trek up and running and ready to record the new route. The route itself is quite simple and I don’t think it’ll take long to memorise. There’s a few lampposts and electrical boxes and opportunities for cars parked on the pavement but they’re all things I’ll learn to avoid in time. Also, there’s a few crossings that I’m going to have to take carefully to begin with as, if I wasn’t paying enough attention, there’s potential for me to take the crossing from the wrong direction and end up in the middle of busy roads. But these are all things I’ll learn with time. The route is at least an hour each way and involves many crossings. It’s definitely more of a necessity walk than a pleasure walk like the Woolston route. But I think it could become nice with time. Plus, if I master this route, I’ll be able to master getting to my grandparents house to visit them as it’s mostly the same route with a different bit at the end. Jenny and I have already discussed learning this after we’ve completed the routes I’m currently practising. Learning how to get to my grandparents would be very beneficial as, as a family, we visit them at least once weekly and knowing the route independently would mean I could just pop round and see them if I fancied.

Unfortunately, during the route I discovered my replacement Victor Reader Trek had problems too. It was doing the same thing as my previous unit and becoming unresponsive whilst recording a route. Unlike my first Trek, this one only seems to do it when I ask it to perform another action during route recording. There may seem a simple solution to this: don’t ask it to do anything else? That would work if it didn’t become unresponsive after I press the button to end the recording of the route. The worst part about this is that, when I do press the button to end recording, the unit becomes unresponsive and all current recording is lost. This happened to me on both the outward and return trips of the school route, meaning I still don’t have the route recorded. Of course, this meant another call to HumanWare when I got home. They’ve been dealing with me a lot lately as not only have I had problems with my trek but I managed to knock a whole pint of black currant squash over my BrailleNote Apex last week. Luckily, a very nice blind man who happens to work for HumanWare saw my plea for a replacement unit advertised on the selling products email list for blind people and managed to get me a loan unit from HumanWare while they repaired my unit. To begin with, it looked as if the liquid hadn’t done much damage. At first, the Braille Display looked a bit knackered but by the morning it all seemed to be working well. I was dubious though and was advised to send it in to be looked at anyway as it probably wouldn’t be reliable. As I have my final assignments for both modules and then their exams coming in the next six weeks, I didn’t want to risk hanging on to an unreliable machine and something happening to it during my exam so I couldn’t complete the exam or my work was lost. So I sent it into HumanWare, who very kindly loaned me another unit free of charge, but unfortunately was phoned to be told that there was much more damage than the Braille display as I’d thought. The whole right-hand side of mykeyboard had stopped working. So the whole board that powers the Apex needed to be replacing. The short version of the story is that it has cost me around £700 and will be returned to me Tuesday. To be fair, I can’t fault the prompt service and if it means I’ll have my machine back to me, fully working and all cleaned up by the time I need it for my exam, I can’t complain. My bank account of course wishes the cost had been a lot lower but I suppose it’ll teach me to be more careful, even if it was a total accident. Perks of being a blind person, I suppose.

As for my Trek dilemma, HumanWare are sending another courier out to collect the replacement unit on Tuesday and they’re going to check it over again. If it’s fixable, they’ll sort it and send it back to me. If not, they’ll send me another new unit after checking the issue I’m having isn’t present in that one too. This is again all free of charge so I can’t complain. I just hope that the problem is either fixed or the new unit really doesn’t have any problems. I paid over £500 for the device and sadly there’s been problems since the beginning. The worst part is it’s a device I love having and having the support of the GPS orientation has been great in boosting my confidence in times when I’m uncertain about exactly where I am on a route. Having the GPS as backup is so reassuring and I wouldn’t want to be without it since getting used to it from Trekker Breeze. Fingers crossed the issue gets solved.

Sadly, I’m not able to have another My Guide session for a while. Poor Jenny has to go in for an operation next week and although its routine, it comes with a long recovery time. I’m just hopeful the operation doesn’t cause Jenny too much pain and she’s back to normal as soon as possible. As for me and My Guide, well that’ll wait as long as it takes. Health is infinitely more important than me learning some quite frankly unnecessary routes. Hopefully, we’ll be back to it in a month to six weeks’ time, whenever Jenny feels she’s ready. I’m in no hurry at all. I’m really chuffed with the progress ive made so far with the routes we’re currently learning. The school route is definitely a work in progress but I don’t think it’ll be long until ive fully mastered the Woolston route. A month or so off will be a very good test of my memory. I’m very grateful to Jenny for all the time, effort and dedication she’s put into helping me with these routes, especially now the aim for learning for them isn’t going to be achieved for the foreseeable. I wish I could say different on that front. Today, I received my response from Southampton’s service delivery manager after sending her my letter of decision and explanation after our appeal meeting on 9th April. I told her most of my ideas of how to improve on my interaction and dog handling, including my friend Jemma’s offer of me becoming a border for her guide dog Ollie and also taking Ollie out during my My Guide sessions to get used to lead walking a dog. I also asked if there was a way the Southampton team could help me gain some experience of dog handling and interaction with working dogs but the letter said they’re unable to offer anything like this, or any work experience or volunteering opportunities within the centre. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gutted. They’ve also advised that I shouldn’t be taking Ollie out during my My Guide sessions as it’s not in the agreement and not something they’d expect their volunteers to have to do. I feel a little frustrated by this response. I put in all the ideas ive had about trying to improve on the areas they’ve brought up as reasons why they can’t accept me for a dog but the tone of the letter is that many of my ideas aren’t feasible and even if I did do all these things and improve on those areas, it still might not be enough. Of course, that’s just me being pessimistic I suppose. But I can’t help how I think and feel. Sometimes it really does feel like a closed door, like I’m not good enough and never will be. Someone told me it isn’t personal but it sure feels like it. Obviously, that doens’t mean I’m giving up. I’m still going to do everything I can to one day, hopefully one day in the near future instead of years and years away, become a guide dog owner. I can say something now: if ever I get the chance to be a guide dog parent again, I won’t let that four-pawed furry thing go no matter what. Although it still feels like the right decision and the fact that she’s now living as a pet proves the decision was right, sometimes I do wish I’d have hung onto Zena, could have done something to make things better, fought for the support I deserved with my first partnership. I didn’t think I did anymore, but god how I miss that furry little menace. She caused me more headaches and heartache than happiness but god I miss her. It’s nearly a year on — in fact tomorrow is 10 months since Zena was taken away — but I still think about her every single day, still wonder how she’s doing and still give the cuddly pyjama-wearing build a bear namesake dog Kieran bought me after I let her go an extra tight hug every single night before I go to sleep. I miss the free runs, the walks and even the standing in the pouring rain until she did her business. Even though I’m fully aware that’s not how a paternship should have been, I’m a liar if I said I wouldn’t take that back now if I could. Because I would, without hesitating. It wasn’t good for me and it’s partly why I’m in the mess with Guide Dogs that I am, but at least I went out almost daily with the mobility aid I want. At least there was some pleasure, even if not much, in the independent walks I had. But that’s hindsight and wishing and something that can never happen. I need to focus on the future, on doing absolutely everything I can to ensure one day I have a new furry companion, hopefully one who spends when I ask and doesn’t walk me into quite so many lampposts… but hey, if not, no worries… so that’s the plan: once again, I’m going to work on everything I, and those who are supporting me, can think of to make my chances of being a guide dog owner more likely.

Mobility Update: The outcome of my Guide Dogs Further Assessment, and My Guide session 14

Originally, I was just going to write my usual My Guide update, describing how things went with the walk and talking about banana cake as usual. But I’ve finally decided that now is the right time to blog about my Further Assessment with Guide Dogs, the outcome and what had happened since as before now I only said that things didn’t quite go as I’d have hoped. The usual My Guide update will be below.

The assessment day itself was as I expected in the way that we did all the things I expected to and I felt nervous and wobbly the whole way through. It started with an informal greeting and explanation of how the day was going to pan out. Each member of staff introduced themselves and then we went around our little circle and introduced ourselves. The first thing I noticed was that another applicant had bought a family member with them when I’d been advised I shouldn’t really bring anyone. But I wasn’t bothered. I hoped it maybe made me look a bit independent not having my parents sat either side of me like I was 5 years old… Even if I did have to get my dad to take the day off work and drive me there. After the introductions were over, we were split up to do things individually. The first thing I got to do was obedience, having the dog on my left-hand side and trying to get it to walk nicely to heel, praising it every time it put a paw right by treating it with the kibble in the treat bag I’d been provided with and had strapped around my waist. When I had Zena I loved all the accessories that came with being a dog owner and if I ever have another dog I’ll definitely be getting one of the dog treat bags I borrowed during the Further Assessment. When I had Zena, the treat bags I tried out were quite fiddly, all with drawstring closures, but this one had a magnetic closure to the treat compartment which meant every time — and there were loads of times! — I needed to grab a treat quickly and give it to the dog as a reward for whatever good behaviour it had presented, I was able to grab it easily and fuss-free.

I felt a bit wobbly during the obedience section of the day. I’d felt nervous since the moment I’d been told I’d been put forward for Further Assessment but actually being there with the instructors and the dogs was a whole other story. The fear of getting a no, being told I was unsuitable, being told I’d never have a Guide Dog was so high it was unbelievable. But I tried my best. I tried following their instructions, commanding and rewarding the dogs in the way they told me too. It just didn’t feel like I was getting anything right.

After I finished the obedience section, I went out with the instructors to do a long cane walk. To begin with, I’d been terrified at this prospect as it was out walking with my cane in an area that was totally brand new to me. I thought maybe they’d expect me to start picking up some of the block route and I knew that just wouldn’t happen. But that part went quite well; they directed me where to go and I just walked. I was asked to cross a road safely which I did no worries. After that the real nerves came in; it was short handle walk with the instructor time. It just so happens that this is my least favourite thing to do with Guide Dogs to do. It just feels so forced and fake and definitely like they’re judging your every move. I know that’s a daft thing to say as the whole day is an assessment day but that section of it particularly feels like a test. And it wasn’t a test I passed, that’s for sure, and I knew that there and then. During the harness walk, one of the instructors started asking questions about Zena. This made me more nervous. It felt as if I was expected to know things I didn’t, be confident when working a dog in a harness and I wasn’t, mainly because the way Seeing Dogs did things and the way Guide Dogs do things are polar opposites. Perhaps back in the olden days were similar. I’m sure Seeing Dogs’ trainer does things how he remembers from when he trained with Guide Dogs in the 80s but their methods have changed a lot lately, especially with the positive reinforcement training coming into play fully. Literally every time a dog does something right it’s the most enthusiastic praise you can muster and a treat at the ready. The biggest fuss has to be made out of the smallest good behaviour on the dog’s part just to reinforce its training. After I hurriedly tried to explain the differences Seeing Dogs has that I know of from Guide Dogs, I tried to focus on making my commands and vocal tone the best I could during the remainder of the short handle walk. But it just didn’t feel good. I felt like I was expected to get everything right. Whether this was a pressure they put on you to get the best out of you or something that was totally in my head I don’t know. But of course I should’ve been at my best. This getting a dog has been a goal of mine for years and years. But I just couldn’t get the right tone and pitch of voice they wanted. I tried and tried and I thought it improved a bit. But after the short handle walk, I just felt like I’d completely screwed my chances up. Add to that the bad feelings during the obedience session and I really thought my chances were up.

Then, it was lunchtime. Nobody really talked to anyone. The applicants were dotted around the room and the instructors were all together. I didn’t really mind. I wasn’t feeling confident about things right then and thought if anyone tried to chat to me I’d probably melt into a blubbering wreck for no apparent reason. Lunch didn’t last long though and we were soon back to the necessary tasks. My next thing to do was a proper working dog walk, the bit I’d been looking forward to ever since deciding to never put Zena in harness again. First, I walked with the dog I’d done obedience with. She was a tiny and very energetic little black Labrador and I thought our walk together went well. Not perfect, far from it, but much improved from the short handle walk earlier. I didn’t get the vocal bits right most of the time, I knew that, but I tried to keep improving on it during the walk and every now and then one of the instructors would praise me for a good bit of vocal praising. After that, I went out with a different dog, this one a big Labrador/retriever cross who I was told had just had his matching visit and would be on class very soon. This walk was a lot harder. This dog needed much more encouragement even to move let alone do the right things. The instructors explained that was his nervousness around new handlers. To be fair, mix that with my nervousness and it probably wasn’t destined to be the perfect walk. But it went ok for some parts. I kept trying to improve on my vocal praise and kept trying to take what the instructors were saying on board about my handling of the dog.

Once the harness walks were done, it was my turn to have a go at grooming and play time. This time, I worked with another little black Labrador, actually the cousin of the one I’d done obedience and my first harness walk with. I groomed her with a bristle brush, a comb and a zoom groom, something I was very happy to see as it had been a piece of equipment I’d used with Zena. I thought grooming time went quite well. I checked that I was doing the right things with the instructor that was with me and I seemed to be doing things right and the dog seemed quite happy with my grooming. Afterwards, we had a little playtime but she didn’t seem all that interested. Because it looked quite nice outside, the instructor suggested we all go out and sit on the benches. We did a bit more obedience whilst outside, practising the “wait” command with the dogs. Mine seemed a master at it and didn’t move once. She was very interested in the other person and dog that were out there with us though.

When we went back inside, that was the end of the day. The dogs were taken away to be put in the vans, we were thanked for coming and told we’d probably hear the outcome by the end of the following week as case reviews took a little while to be put in place. Dad turned up ten minutes later to take me away and I was glad the day was over, although feeling quite a bit more optimistic than I had in the morning. Although things hadn’t been perfect, I thought I’d done a good job and tried really hard to show that I could definitely make progress in the future should they decide I was ready to be put on the waiting list. I updated all my family and friends with positive news, telling them I hadn’t been perfect but I thought it might just have been enough.

Of course, I now know it was far from it. A day later, on Wednesday the 14th, I got a call in the afternoon from one of the staff members who had been at the assessment day to tell me that actually the case reviews had been completed that morning and much quicker than they’d expected and that she had my outcome for me. That being that the team had decided I was completely unsuitable for a Guide Dog due to the fact that my vocal praise and interaction with the dogs had been very poor and that actually my work in harness hadn’t been that great either. My problem solving abilities whilst working the dogs just hadn’t been good enough. To say I was crushed was an understatement. At first, I just couldn’t speak. I asked the instructor if there was no way they could reconsider, if there was anything I could do and if this was their final decision. No, no, yes, came the response. I was told that I did have the right to appeal if I was unhappy with the decision but that that was the only decision left available to me. When I hung up the phone, my dad, who hadn’t been with me during the call but who had answered the phone when it rang, was hovering hopefully in the background to hear the verdict; and couldnt believe his ears when I told him what they’d said.

The prospect of explaining the situation to everyone I know that has been following my progress with Guide Dogs over the years seemed daunting. How did I tell them I wasn’t good enough? How did I tell them how I felt about this? How did I explain that my mind was absolutely scrambled with the whole situation? My first call was to my Mum, who had been pre-warned by my dad that the news wasn’t good but who was absolutely dumbfounded when I explained things fully. My next messages were almost simultaneously to my two Guide Dog gurus, the two people I go to with every Guide Dog query or thought or feeling: Imi and Tiny. Both responded swiftly. Tiny by ringing me even though he was at work and Imi by picking up on the first ring. Both were shocked and didn’t seem to quite believe what I was telling them. Both apologised endlessly. Both tried to reassure me. Both tried to suggest how we could move forward from this point. But nothing was sinking in for me. I was just listening to their voices knowing they’d be my voices of reason throughout everything to come. They always are. All I knew was that I couldn’t let go of this yet. I had to fight it until I had no fight left, got the answer I wanted or an alternative to work on. Being unsuitable for a Guide Dog just wasn’t sitting well with me. If I was on assessment day, surely there was something I could do to rectify that? Surely this couldn’t be my only answer?

By the end of the day, I was certain I was going to appeal. I’d wobbled a bit, worrying maybe Guide Dogs were right, maybe the Seeing Dogs trainer had been right too. Maybe I was kidding myself. But Imi and Tiny didn’t think so. Without saying so they seemed to be silently agreeing with my mind that I should appeal the decision.

So appeal it I did. Over the next couple of weeks, with Imi and Tiny editing my original copy, we composed a letter that everyone seemed mostly happy with. In the end, the draft I sent to the Guide Dogs complaints team in Reading was the draft I was happy with. Just to be safe, I sent a copy via email and by post to the addresses provided. But I didn’t even need to send the printed copy in the end. To add to this, both Imi and my friend Jemma wrote supporting letters to assist mine in getting my point across fully. I really appreciated these and the words both wrote meant a lot to me. I felt that they both supported my letter well and got across the points I was trying to say from other perspectives. I sent the letters on the Tuesday evening before I caught the train up to see my brother and his family and got an almost immediate automatic response. A day later, I got an email telling me the complaint was being passed on to the southampton team and I could hope to hear from them soon. The necessary time they had to respond in before I could make any further comments was 15 working days. I didn’t expect them to take that long as I thought it would be quite unprofessional but I didn’t expect the response quite as swiftly as I got it. Only a day later, on the Thursday, I came down from having a shower to discover I had a voicemail from the Southampton Mobility Team’s service delivery manager asking if a meeting at my house with herself and their senior practitioner, actually the member of staff who had rang me to tell me the decision, on Monday 9th April at 2:30 would be ok? They wanted to come and discuss the decision they’d made and the response I’d made to it in my letter. I didn’t reply immediately. It was about to be the bank holiday and I was up visiting my brother. I wanted that time to be hassle free time not worrying about Guide Dogs or uni or anything else. So when I got home from his, I rang Guide Dogs and told them that her offer of a meeting suited me just fine. As soon as I’d got the call, I’d spoken to both Imi and Tiny, of course, and asked Tiny if he could do me the massive favour of being in attendance for the meeting. I didn’t fancy doing it on my own and didn’t think my parents were the right people to be there, not because they don’t have my best interests in mind, they do, but just because I think for them they are too emotionally attached and can’t see beyond the fact that Guide Dogs aren’t giving me what I desire. It wouldn’t matter to them if Guide Dogs’ reasons for not giving me a dog were totally justified; to them no reason is good enough and I appreciate their loyalty. But I knew Tiny would see things clearly. He’d fight my battles with me unless he thought I was wrong and then, subtly, he’d let me know I was fighting a losing battle. Amazingly, Tiny agreed; he checked with his wife and then confirmed not long after I asked him that they’d be there. His only advice was that I gave Guide Dogs fair warning that he was going to be in attendance so that they didn’t get defensive about it on arrival. I just emailed the team an amendment to my phone call to let them know and the response that arrived the same day was positive.

The appeal first stage meeting took place last Monday as scheduled. In my appeal process leaflet that I got with my assessment outcome letter, it explained all about the process of the appeal and what to expect. The first stage is, once the notification of appeal has been received, your local team will be informed and contact you to arrange an informal meeting to try and resolve the situation. This has to be with the service delivery manager of your team so that, if you don’t feel things have been resolved, the second stage can come into play. This is asking your team to have the case reviewed by a service delivery manager of another team. If that team don’t give you the outcome you want and you still feel you have grounds to continue, you can progress to the third stage of the appeal. The leaflet doesn’t describe what happens in the third stage but warns that the decision here is final. Tiny and his wife arrived three quarters of an hour before the southampton team so that we could discuss how we were going to angle the meeting. I just asked Tiny that he speak up if I don’t seem to be finding my voice or any time he felt he needed to. So that’s what he did. I recorded the whole meeting for my own listening afterwards and instead of taking notes. I did this at my mobility assessment in July and found it very helpful. The meeting was very intense. There were lots of questions asked, points made and helpful interjections from Tiny. I think, had he not been there, I would have completely fallen apart without Tiny’s input. He was great and I cannot stress how much I appreciated him coming and voicing his own opinions and thoughts to support me.

However, Guide Dogs are unmoving with their decision. To them, I’m still not suitable and my interaction with the dogs and the way I handle them in harness just isn’t what they’re looking for in a prospective Guide Dog owner. I didn’t expect them to change their mind. But it was good, in hindsight, to hear them explain fully where I’d gone wrong and why they’d made their decision. One thing that did change, however, was the finality of the decision. From the letter I received and the way the appeal process leaflet is worded, it made it seem that if they said no now and my appeal wasn’t successful, that meant I’d never be suitable for a dog, that this decision really was final. That’s not the case. Apparently, I can reapply in the future and I would be completely reassessed and my suitably be reconsidered for a dog. That, if nothing else, was reassuring to hear on Monday. After the meeting, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about much. To be fair, I wasn’t feeling anything much at all, just absolute gratitude to Tiny and his wife for coming and relief that the meeting was over. But I was soon thinking things through, possibly not quite with a clear head at first but at least starting to make sense of things. During the meeting, it was made quite clear that I have two main areas I need to improve on before they would reconsider me for a dog: the way I interact with the dogs in all aspects of having one and the way I handle a dog in harness. The staff implied, though, that if I mastered the way I interact with the dogs, the way I handle them would probably improve on its own. Interaction is key, and the way I do it even more so. The only suggestions the staff gave me of ways to improve how I interact with dogs was to volunteer at a rescue centre. I am going to attempt to do this. Ive emailed my employment adviser to ask if she could help me find positions working with dogs. I’m also hoping to spend as much time as I can with friends and their Guide Dogs so that I can take note of how they are with their dogs and maybe even join in with things like grooming, free runs and play time. If anyone reading this has any other suggestions on how I can improve the way I interact with dogs please please let me know. Although Southampton think I’m unsuitable at the moment, I want to change their minds. I know I’m not going to change their minds overnight and it’s going to take a lot of work on my part to get to the point where my interaction with dogs is what they’re looking for but I’m willing to try. It doesn’t matter how many times they tell me not now for whatever reason, that won’t dampen my intense want for a Guide Dog. I’m still certain it would be the right mobility aid for me. I just need to make myself the right kind of applicant for a dog. I didn’t expect it to be this difficult but I’m not giving up. However long it takes to get that yes, it’ll be worth it. I’m not expecting it to be easy or any time soon. But I am intending it to happen sometime. Perhaps I need to be volunteering for someone or in actual work before I apply again. Maybe that will help, having a real routine of leaving the house in place. Perhaps having all my routes completed with My Guide will also help. All I know is that I’m at a point in my mindset where I’m at peace with their decision. I have Imi to thank for much of that for listening to my ramblings and guiding me in the right direction with my thoughts. I’m not totally happy with the decision. A bit of me still feels maybe a lot of the things they’re commenting on would be things I could progress with during training should I be matched with a dog. But perhaps I’m wrong. I’m sure when I eventually get to a point of being accepted and matched I’ll fully understand what they’re trying to tell me. From the Further Assessment day, most of me understands why they’ve said what they have about the handling and interaction. I was very uncertain with my commands and the way I used the lead and harness and I knew on the day that my vocal interaction wasn’t great. Maybe the improvements were true. They just weren’t quite improved enough for the team.

So there’s my plan. Continue trying my best to be the right kind of applicant. Carry on working on my routes with Jenny until I’m at a point where I know them fully. I want to have all my routes under my belt before I consider reapplying. In the meantime, I will find a way to spend as much time with as many dogs as I possibly can to work on my interaction skills. Also, I will persevere trying to find volunteering and employment positions in hope that these will open up more opportunities for needing a Guide Dog. I intend to email the southampton team at the end of next week when I have an appropriate draft written outlining my plans, asking for any help they can offer and telling them that I’m still as determined as I’ve ever been that one day I will be a Guide Dog owner. Their service delivery manager seemed like a very reasonable person and I feel that with her in charge there’s a possibility that the team are viewing me differently to how I presumed. I thought that they’d taken on board the negative comments given to them by Seeing Dogs’ trainer and this was probably counting against me. But they’ve reassured me that that wasn’t the case and the service delivery manager gave Tiny her word that any future dealings with me wouldn’t have any mention of Seeing Dogs in them. So I’m hopeful. Secretly terrified nothing I do will ever be enough to be suitable, but a little hopeful that if I really work my socks off with my routes, finding some kind of out-of-the-house routine and working on my interaction skills I’ll one day have done enough to be the kind of applicant they’re looking for. I can only try my best like I have been all this time and hopefully one day it will pay off the way I thought learning my routes and putting so much effort into that would. I’m determined that next time I apply, when Ive done everything I think I need to and am at a point where I think they’ll say yes, they really will say yes and I’ll be successful. But for now it’s just working on getting to that point. So without further ramble, here’s the account of Thursday’s My Guide session.

After a little break, on Thursday I was back to route learning, back to walking the pretty much hour-long walk into Woolston with Jenny. We’ve missed two weeks of My Guide because we’ve both been busy. The first Thursday we missed was because I was up in Stoke-On-Trent visiting my brother and his lovely little family and meeting my new niece for the very first time. Then, Jenny was away visiting her family the following Thursday so it was agreed that we’d just miss those weeks out. But yesterday we were back to it and, as a little added bonus, the weather had perked up for us too.

The outward journey into Woolston went quite well. I’d been a bit worried that I wouldn’t remember much of the route after having such a big break but my memory proved me wrong. Just after my last My Guide post, my Victor Reader Trek was returned to me with a new battery free of charge as according to HumanWare that had been the reason for its malfunction. However, not long into the journey yesterday — literally just after I’d walked out of my front door and powered on the unit — I discovered that HumanWare had been mistaken as not only was it not fixed, it was worse! I sent it away because when in orientation mode, the unit would suddenly and without warning stop working and become unresponsive to any button press, even the hard reset that’s supposed to revive it. But yesterday not only was it doing that, it was also telling me I didn’t have any maps installed and so it couldn’t access my location or any route instructions. It could still use my landmarks and some of these were still quite accurate for the 20 minutes that the Trek worked. Safe to say it’s definitely not fixed. Once I realised it wasn’t helping, I decided to do the route unaided. The Trek was annoying rather than helping me so I thought it was best that I just ignore it altogether. This is a good mind testing opportunity for me, seeing if I can remember where to go without the prompts from the Trek or assistance from Jenny. Mostly, I seemed to do quite well, especially considering I haven’t practised that route in a while.

As usual, we stopped in Coffee Mac’s for a little break. I decided I didn’t fancy apple juice so instead had a glass of milk. They didn’t have my favourite banana cake again so I decided to go for a slice of their homemade coffee and walnut cake. It was very different to my banana cake with butter icing filling and topping. Jenny had her usual Americano with hot milk on the side and treated herself to a toasted tea cake. I think we both agreed it was a very nice snack.

The walk home was just as successful, I felt, even if the weather wasn’t quite as nice. I seemed to remember which direction to go in and where crossings were. The only thing I’m not very good at without the Trek’s prompting is which street I’m on, have just left or am approaching. But I think this will come with more practice.

When we arrived back at my house, I was feeling quite tired. I thought this was probably due to the fact that we’d had a couple of weeks off and I hadn’t done that route for a while as even before our little break the last session was spent testing out the route to my sister’s school. That’s our plan for next week; now Jenny knows exactly where the school is and as long as my Trek is back in time, we should be able to record the new route and I should start retaining some of it, especially as Dad and I have walked it a few times.

Once we’d scheduled in our next two sessions and Jenny left, i went upstairs and phoned HumanWare. I wanted the malfunctioning Trek situation sorted asap, especially as it’s only recently supposed to have been fixed and I still haven’t really had it all that long. The person I spoke to on the phone was more than helpful and seemed quite surprised I was still having problems with the unit. His reaction seemed similar to mine and he agreed almost immediately that HumanWare would send a courier for the unit. I expected him to tell me they’d look at it and fix the issue but he said as the unit had already been in for repair once before not that long ago, they’d just issue me a brand new unit. To be honest, I think this is the best course of action as even if the missing maps are an easy issue to solve, the fact that they’ve already tried to fix the other orientation problems and failed suggests that the unit itself is faulty. They collected the unit yesterday and I’m hoping to have a replacement before my next My Guide session next Thursday. Although, there would be nothing wrong with trying to do the route unassisted by technology. But we’ll just have to wait and see. All I know is that I’m going to work hard on learning these routes and so having Jenny’s support and help is still vital for me.

PS: I just want to add a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me in any way during my Guide Dog journey, from when I was 14 right through having Zena last year, letting her go and then reapplying to Guide Dogs last year. Your support has been priceless to me and I can’t say thank you enough. From anyone who has read these rambling posts to those who have listened to me blabber on and on about having a Guide Dog, I appreciate you all. Special thanks to Imi and Tiny, of course. Without you both, I wouldn’t be anywhere with this situation. Tiny, your support always humbles me and I always appreciate any advice or opinion you have, even if I don’t agree immediately. Also, you coming to my meeting and offering your never ending support means the world to me, even more so as it was your wife’s birthday. I will appreciate it indefinitely and hope I’ll forever have your support with my Guide Dog journey and anything else I trouble you with. Imi, will what do I say? You’re my twin, my sister, my saving grace, usually my voice of reason. My world wouldn’t be the same without you and I’m so thankful we met almost 5 years ago. I hope I’ll always have you to advise me on any decisions I’m making. I hope you’ll always be able to make me see when I’m going wrong. I hope you’ll continue to put up with my incessant running commentary of my brain’s digest, mostly about Guide Dogs haha. I don’t know where I’d be if you didn’t. But you are always more than welcome to tell me to shut up; I won’t blame you. Thank you for everything you do for me, you truly are my soul sister for life and I’m here for you always, no matter what.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 13

This time, I haven’t got much to write about for my My Guide update. Yesterday, I woke up feeling pretty lousy; I hadn’t slept well so I felt sluggish and I could feel a headache blooming. But it was Thursday, My Guide day, and the weather report suggested it was going to be pretty decent weather to be walking outdoors for two hours. As usual, Jenny arrived at my door at 9:30 and we headed out. I didn’t have my Victor Reader Trek as its currently back with HumanWare being checked out and fixed. It did feel strange going out to walk with my long cane and not having my bone conduction headphones on my head. I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about the day, though. I haven’t been sleeping the best in a while and have a lot of pressure on at the moment with uni deadlines for both my modules. We’re slowly creeping towards exam time and that makes me nervous. But my summer break is slowly looming closer, too, and that can only be a good thing.

The walk to the school was pretty draining. There was lots to concentrate on, several vehicles parked obstructing the pavement and a couple of patches of roadworks that meant I had to take Jenny’s arm and let her lead me out into the road and safely around the obstruction. But, an hour and 15 minutes after we’d left my front gate, we reached the school. Due to the obstructions and neither of us being 100% certain about the route, it took us a little longer than it should have to find ourselves stood opposite the school gates. My mood hadn’t improved much. In fact, I was feeling pretty grumpy, just generally but a bit because the thought that doing these routes might be pointless anyway was swirling around in my tired brain. But I continued on; I need to learn the route and it was a fairly nice day outside. Jenny had given me the option of turning around and heading home if I felt too tired on the way to the school but I just didn’t see the point in giving up then, no matter how grumpy I felt.

The return route felt better. I don’t know if it was because I was heading home or if it just felt a bit better. But whatever it was, I was a little more cheerful, which was probably much nicer company for Jenny. We reached my gate about an hour later and it was safe to say that if I thought I was tired beforehand, it was nothing to what I felt after that two-hour walk. Jenny and I aren’t able to meet next week as I’m off to see my brother and his little family, and meet my brand new niece for the first time, on Wednesday. Jenny did offer to meet Tuesday but I’ve already got other plans and couldn’t rearrange to fit My Guide in. So we’ve arranged for two weeks’ time, when we’ll be doing the Woolston route again. I feel rotating the routes is going to work well. We both agreed that despite its length, the school route isn’t complicated at all. There are just a few side road crossings and one corner to turn. Other than that, its just walking straight along one very long pavement, as long as there’s no vehicle obstructions or roadworks like there was today. So I am hopeful that it won’t be hard or take long to learn. I’m hoping that the three-week break from doing the Woolston route might just prove how much I’m retaining of it now. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. If nothing else, it’ll mean a bit more exercise than I’d usually be getting and than the chance to undo all the good calorie burning work I’d done during the walk by eating one of Coffee Mac’s nice slices of banana and walnut cake. I’m very grateful to Jenny for putting up with me, especially when I’m tired and grumpy like I was yesterday. Jenny, I’ll try my best to be in better spirits for the next week. And lets hope, seeing as we’ll be in April by then, we’ll have even nicer weather.