Tag Archives: guide dog

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.

Advertisements

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 12

Today Jenny and i had our 12th session together and it was a really good one. the biggest probleam I faced today was my Victor Reader Trek. Sadly, it seems to have some kind of technical glitch that means that orientation mode is behaving weirdly and the machine is powering off after a while and then not responding at all. this started yesterday when Dad and I did the route to Tamsin’s school. I was recording the route to the school, because the Trek doesn’t yet have it programmed in, and it just stopped working. I tried powering it on again, disconnecting the Bluetooth headphones and waiting a while to see if anything could resolve the issue. But it just wasn’t responding. So we continued with the route without its support. On the return journey, I managed to get it working again and for a while it was fine. But then again it did the same thing and I couldn’t get any response from it. When I got home, i plugged it into mains, wondering if the battery had somehow died. It had been at least 50% charged when I’d left home 2 hours previous, I’d checked. When it finally came back to life, I double-checked the battery situation and it definitely would have had charge before it stopped responding. Then today whilst out with Jenny, it did the same thing without warning. The only thing that made me realise it had happened was the fact that the Bluetooth headphones I had paired with it made the beep they do when things dissconnect. Today, the battery percentage definitely couldn’t have been the fault because it was 100% charged when I left the house. I noticed that the unit had become quite hot, too. Not dangerously so, but more so than it does even when it’s charging. So when I got home from the walk, I rang HumanWare. Thankfully, they’re sending me a courier sometime tomorrow to collect the unit, take it back to their main offices and get someone to fix whatever the fault is. It’s going to be strange without the backup of the device, especially if I need to use the bus. I relied on my Breeze on the busses as they’ve for some reason stopped using the talking announcements technology even though they have it available. Hopefully, my Trek will be fixed and back to me soon.

Anyway, back to My Guide. After yesterday’s progress with the route to Tamsin’s school, part of me was feeling optimistic about the Woolston route. I’ve been learning it a lot longer than the school route and although, as I mentioned in the last post, progress seems to have slowed with it, every week I do seem to be getting that little bit better with it. Well this week I really thought the route went excellently. Like the best I’ve done on this version of the route so far! As my Trek died quite early on, I was relying on my recall of the route to guide me. And it did really well. Nearly every turn/direction/crossing I correctly estimated. Every time I checked, Jenny seemed to be telling me that “yes, that’s right” and that made me feel really good. For a little while now I’ve been concerned that progress with the route wasn’t as much as I hoped it would be and today I proved myself wrong, thanks to a tech malfunction. Weather-wise it was quite nice too; a little breezy with sunshine. Jenny said there were even blue skies coming in even though some forcasts had predicted rain. Despite this, the whole walk was dry.

This week we did stop at Coffee Mac’s for a rest. Jenny had her coffee and I had a bottle of apple juice and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. I’d asked for banana cake as usual but they didn’t have any in. Excusin the pun, I really felt that was the icing on the cake to the week I’ve had. However, the drizzle cake was nice and the apple juice was refreshing.

Afterwards, we popped across the road to say hi to Dad. His shop was pretty cluttered with carpets and vinyl but things seem to be going well for Centenary Flooring and that’s great. who knew a little carpet shop could benefit so much from social media adverts?! But business is reportedly great thanks to the Facebook posts and I don’t think Dad and his boss could have hoped for more really.

The return journey was just as good with just as nice weather. I felt it went great and my memory served me well again. It really does take me ages to memorise routes so when I start to instinctively know where I’m going I take that as quite a victory…

While we were in Coffee Mac’s, I spoke to Jenny about a suggestion Imi put to me last week when I mentioned how I didn’t feel the progress of the route was doing as well as i’d anticipated; she suggested that, instead of doing the Woolston route every single week, I alternate between that and the school route as long as Jenny was happy to. Jenny seemed more than happy to do that so next week were off to my sister’s school and back. After doing the route yesterday with Dad, I’m actually estimating that if I did the route independently it would take an hour each way due to the need for me to wait longer at crossings to ensure I was doing everything safely. So it’s definitely a good length of route. It’s quite an easy route, too, mainly one straight road with a few side streets off it and a couple of turnings. I’m hopeful it won’t take me too long to memorise it. I’m hoping that rotating the routes might enable me to retain them both quicker. The gap between practising the Woolston one will test my memory properly and definitely being able to practice the school one once a fortnight will mean I’ll start learning it more. Although Dad will do my routes with me, he’s usually quite reluctant to as it has to be on his only day off each week and there’s other things he’d rather be doing most of the time. I think the fact that it takes two hours out of the day and it’s the same repetition every time we do it doesn’t really appeal to him either. So doing the school route with Jenny lets Dad off the hook. Every now and then I might try and convince him to come out with me to practice it and I’m sure every now and then he’ll agree.

So where routes are concerned things are looking very positive. I’m starting to really crack the Woolston route, which takes a worry off my mind because I didn’t think I was, and Jenny and I are going to start practising the school route every other week which means I’ll be really learning it, not once every now and again when Dad feels like it. I don’t blame him really because it isn’t much fun; but I do need consistency with my route learning.

Lastly, if you’ve been reading my posts about my mobility updates before now, you’ll know I went for an assessment with Guide Dogs on Tuesday to assess whether they felt I was suitable for a guide dog. I’m not going to talk in depth about the assessment here (publicly) because I don’t really feel it would be the right thing to do and I’ve been advised against it. All I will say is that it didn’t go the way I hoped and the outcome really wasn’t what I was expecting. If you do want to know more, I’m happy to talk about it over private message but I won’t be discussing it here. Safe to say I’ve been shocked but i’m bouncing back, just about. I’m going to cintinue with my routes regardless of the assessment because I’ve already started them and don’t want to give up now after all the effort I’ve put into them. Plus, I enjoy very much getting out of the house and walking for a few hours each week. Moreover, I couldn’t ask for a kinder better volunteer than Jenny to work with and know i can’t lose this opportunity to progress further.

So today’s My Guide session was very positive and a lot of good things can be taken from the session. HumanWare are going to collect my Trek for repairs tomorrow and I just feel relieved that I wasn’t using it and it died whilst on board a bus going somewhere because I could have really got stranded then. While it’s away, I might try out Microsoft’s new app, Soundscape, which seems to do similar things to the orientation part of the Trek. Of course, it was just my luck that Soundscape was released a few weeks after I’d ordered and received Trek. Even if I do enjoy using the app, though, and find it useful, I still like my GPS on a separate device to my phone, for battery’s sakes if nothing else. It’s just my personal preference. But it’ll give me a good chance to see what another service is like and how I cope without Trek altogether, having had Trekker Breeze since last June and the cross-over from Breeze to Trek smoothly only a month ago. Another thing to test my brain… Jenny and I have agreed to meet again next Thursday at 9:30 to head to the school. I’m really hopeful that learning the route with Jenny will mean I’ll soon mean I’ll have both the shcool and Woolston routes memorised and can move onto learning how to get to my grandparents’ house, which is next on my list. But who knows? I’ll just have to take it week by week and see how things go. PS: if there are any typos in this post, which I suspect there may be many, it’s because for some reason the autocorrect function wasn’t working on my Pages app on my Ipad.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 10

After a lovely fortnight up north visiting Kieran and family, which I’ll write about separately in my next post, I was eager to get back to my My Guide routine, especially with all the positive news I’ve had lately… In fact, things couldn’t be more positive right now and anyone who knows me well will know it takes a lot for me to have that outlook!

Firstly, I finally have my Victor Reader Trek! HumanWare rang me on the Monday of mine and Kieran’s holiday to let me know that the units were finally in stock so did I want to complete my purchase so they could ship mine out to me? What a silly question! Ive only been waiting months… But anyway, the purchase was made and the man on the phone said the package would be shipped out the following day using DPD. A little bit of me was sad it was arriving when it was considering I still had a whole week left up north. But that was quickly forgotten whilst enjoying our holiday. Today being my first My Guide session provided a perfect opportunity to see what the Trek was like. While I was with Kieran, he painstakingly copied all the routes and landmarks I had stored on my Breeze onto my computer so that I could copy them onto the Trek’s SD card as soon as I got home and them import them onto the Trek to be used while out and about. More about the Trek later.

The other excellent news I received came in the form of a phone call from the GDMI who assessed me in october following the scheduled case review where my progress was discussed. The southampton Guide Dogs team have decided I’m ready for further assessment! I couldn’t be a fraction happier about this if I tried, unless it replaced the nervousness and worry I have about the whole thing. The GDMI seemed full of praise and more than happy to answer my multiple questions. The whole thing felt incredibly positive, not at all like that assessment in october. In fact, it felt like I was talking to a completely different woman to the one who assessed me. I had to keep reminding myself that she was actually the same person. She seemed very pleased with the progress I’ve been making with routes, explaining that ideally a Guide Dog would have one at least 45-minute working period and another shorter, 20-minute-ish working walk throughout the day. I brought up the point that surely all Guide Dogs partnerships are different and not every single day can every single Guide Dog owner get their dog out for this recommended period of work. She didn’t seem to mind at all that I was questioning or debating with her; in fact, she seemed quite keen to have the conversation. We also discussed my worry of the routes to free run areas being pointless if I’m matched with a dog who I can’t free run by myself. The way I’m looking at it is I can always work the dog to the free run area and have someone meet me there to supervise the free run itself. The only definite issue would be if I had a dog who refused to continue on with a route that included the free run area without going to the free run space. Obviously this would be problematic because you wouldn’t be able to use that route and get to your desired destination without allowing your dog some off-lead time. This really wouldn’t be practical if you were in a rush or had a deadline to be somewhere and the only option was to use a route that contained a free run area. The conversation definitely gave me a lot to think about. The GDMI said that the purpose of the further assessment is for the team and I to decide whether a Guide Dog is definitely the best mobility aid for me. At this point, I gently cut in and assured her that I’m not going to change my mind. I wouldn’t have persevered this long or tried learning all these new routes if I wasn’t 100% certain I wanted a Guide Dog and that it would be an enhancement to my life. It really, really would. The GDMI explained that the further assessment would be a day at a centre actually working with guide dogs in all capacities. I’m assuming this means on harness as well as some of the more domestic things like grooming and play time. It sounds a lot like the assessment I went for in December 2011, when I was told that then wasn’t the right time for me to have a dog considering I only left the house to go to school and with my parents and was planning to go to residential college in the next 18 months. My aim this time is to not be so nervous and do everything they instruct me to with 110% enthusiasm. Talking in that singsong voice makes me embarrassed and self-conscious but I’m going to do my best to put that out of my mind for the assessment. I’m going to have to do my best with tone and pitch of voice if I want to be a guide dog owner so might as well give it my best shot at the assessment even if I do feel ridiculous. Yesterday, a letter arrived in the post containing the details for the assessment. It’s on Tuesday 13th March from 10am to 3pm in a part of southampton I’ve never been to. Dad’s agreed to take the day off to transport me there and then pick me up again when its over. Receiving the letter made me even more nervous than I already was about the prospect of attending the assessment. 13 March really doesn’t seem far away and I’m terrified I still won’t have done enough or be chirpy enough in my singsong voice or do something wrong that makes them think a guide dog wouldn’t be right for me. All I can do is my absolute best and that’s what I’ll give so if that isn’t enough there won’t have been anything else I could have done. As far as I’m aware, the two outcomes of this assessment are “yes, we think a guide dog is for you and think you’re ready to go on the list” or “no, we don’t think a guide dog is for you’. I’m hoping if it isn’t the first answer I might get “we think a dog is right for you but not quite yet so keep working on your routes and we’ll reassess you when you know them all independently”. I’m really hoping that my progress so far and the promise that I’ll continue learning routes if they put me on the list and while I wait will be enough for them. If I get a flat out “no we don’t think it’s right for you”, I’m told I can appeal if I feel I have grounds to appeal on. My Guide Dogs gurus, who I go to for all guide dog related advice, have said I would have grounds to appeal on if it was a direct no. This is reassuring because I don’t intend to take no for an answer.

Now for today’s session. As usual, Jenny arrived at 9:30 for our walk. With the Trek all ready to go, we set off. To begin with, I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job at recalling the route. But as we got into it, things seemed to improve. The Trek wasn’t doing a great job at following the route I’d recorded on my Breeze so I cancelled it and walked without it, with Jenny assisting wherever necessary. We completed the slight adjustment we’d made to the route, crossing a road instead of walking along the path that has a huge drop to the left. It felt a lot better not even having to be wary of the drop and the crossing isn’t a difficult one at all. The rest of the route went relatively well. I noticed that the landmarks that had been copied from the Breeze to the Trek weren’t particularly useful. They weren’t being announced in the correct positions. Eventually, I decided I would just re-record the route and all the landmarks fresh so that it was more useful.

We stopped at Coffee Mac’s for our usual break. Jenny had her coffee and i had apple juice with a slice of banana cake. It wasn’t really a reward for anything – I just fancied a slice after how delicious it had been last time. Plus, I figured why not. If I have to say it was a treat, it was a treat for the good news about the further assessment. Again, the cake was lovely and I enjoyed the apple juice much more than I would have a hot chocolate. Afterwards, we popped into say hello to Dad. Then, we headed home, starting to re-record the reverse route from Coffee Mac’s. I noticed that some of the old landmarks were appearing but not consistently. I felt much more comfortable re-recording them and decided I’d start deleting some of the old landmarks later on. I felt that the reverse route went quite well and i was remembering much more of it. Jenny seemed pretty positive about how things were progressing, too, which was nice because its always good to have her support and know how things are looking from another perspective.

We’ve agreed to meet next Friday for our next session. I’m hoping that once we’ve re-recorded the route on the Trek, I’ll really be getting the hang of the route and maybe be getting to a point where I can do it without any input from Jenny, therefore independently. I’m also hoping that Dad and I will be able to go out next Wednesday and continue learning the route to my sister’s school. I’m hoping to pick it up quickly and then merge it into learning the route to my grandparents house. I think both will be amazingly useful routes, not only for their length but for the fact that I already go to my grandparents once a week on Wednesdays for tea, opening up an excellent opportunity to walk there independently. As for my sister, well shes only in her second year at that school so I still have plenty of time to use that route legitimately. To be fair, though, its just a good place to be able to walk to, especially as it extends to my grandparents house.

Overall, I think our 10th session went pretty well considering I’ve been away for two weeks and the new addition of the Trek and the little complications that brought. I think next week will be even better and I have a lot to look forward to with the upcoming further assessment with Guide Dogs. All I have to do is try not to get too nervous and worried by the day because I know what I’m like… I’ll be imagining all the worst outcomes and then on the day just constantly be thinking that its going to be a bad outcome when there’s a good chance it’ll be a good one. Keeping everything crossed that I’ll get my dream answer of being put on the waiting list. All I can do to get that answer is try my best. Try, I will.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 8

Since writing only 2 days ago, I’ve had some exciting news! As I said last time, Jenny contacted the leader of Southampton’s My Guide service to inquire whether the route we’re currently doing and the ones I plan to learn in the future would make me eligible for a guide dog. Ever since I very first applied for a guide dog all those years ago in 2011, their response has been that I don’t have enough routes and don’t go out enough independently to make up a workload for a dog. When I was a naive 14 year old, I thought this was ridiculous! I went to school every day, didn’t I? I could walk to the bus-stop and corner shop, too, if I wanted. And I’d even learnt how to get to my Nan and Grandad’s, then living in Woolston themselves, via a bus journey and some walking. Why on earth would they say I didn’t have enough routes or a big enough workload? I’d spent my whole six-week school summer holiday working with a mobility officer from Southampton’s sensory services, aided by a member of the Guide Dogs team. How could they say these things? In comparison, now I can see I was the ridiculous one. Yes, I did try really hard that summer and honestly, at the time, that was massive progress for me, a kid who didn’t leave the house unless I was attached to a parent. But it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m still yet to learn what is, but I’m much better prepared now, much closer to that target than I’ve ever been before. Anyway, the exciting news… so the leader of My Guide replied to Jenny’s request properly yesterday, to both of us. When a text message came through from her, I thought maybe it was just a little checkup on how Jenny and I are getting on. But she doesn’t need to check up. Jenny has given her full details on how we’re doing, my progress and my ambitions. She passed Jenny’s message onto several members of staff at Southampton’s Guide Dogs team, including the GDMI who assessed and crushed my world in October. They’ve agreed to take my case to the case review sometime next week to see if they can take my application for a guide dog forward. I couldn’t have hoped for anything anywhere near this good so soon into my work with the My Guide service. I predicted that perhaps I’d ask the leader of My Guide for some kind of review around my birthday or something. Not get one 8 weeks after I started working with Jenny. The case review meeting will take place sometime next week according to the leader of My Guide’s text. That’s really exciting! There could be plenty of outcomes of the review, but the main two options I think are either they’ll say I’m doing well but not yet far enough for them to be able to reconsider my application for a dog, or, they’ll say yes, I’ve done really well and they can reconsider my application now. If they reconsider my application and plan to move it forward, I’m guessing that means that they’ll consider putting me on the waiting list for a dog. But I could be wrong. Both my guide dog know-alls, Imi and Tiny, have both seemed quite positive about the text messages and the possible outcomes I could get. Imi, in fact, said she hopes I’m being positive now. I am. As soon as the My Guide leader text, i was imagining having a Guide Dog, being put on the list, having the yes answer… but perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. I guess I’ll find out next week.

As for today, Jenny had our 8th My Guide session, doing the new route for the third time, the second time me trying to learn it. I felt, considering everything, that it went really well. I feel like I’m picking it up really well to say its only the second proper time I’ve walked it myself. Jenny and I agreed that she’d have as little input as possible, just let me get on with it and only telling me if I’d gone the wrong way. Mostly I did well. Jenny only had to correct me a couple of times. It took about an hour to get there. As always, we stopped off in Coffee Mac’s for our little break, me having my apple juice and Jenny her coffee. She’s started asking me to see if I can locate a table once we’re in the shop and its quite easy to find the one we always sit at. As long as every time I go in there its free ‘ll be ok… we popped into see Dad quickly afterward. That entails me crossing the road and walking along to Dad’s shop. He was ok and we didn’t stay long.

The return journey went just as well, with Jenny correcting me whenever necessary. It felt longer walking on the way home but according to Jenny’s watch it was actually shorter. I know I felt more tired when I reached my front door than I did on arriving at Coffee Mac’s. it shows just how lucky I am to have been matched with such a good volunteer that Jenny offered to meet me next Tuesday to do our ninth session. I’m flying up to Kieran’s next Wednesday so will be away for our usual Thursday session. I really didn’t expect Jenny to say she could meet me on an alternative day but feel really grateful that she is. Hopefully, we can continue the good run we’re on with learning this route. Also, hopefully next week I’ll have news from Guide Dogs. But whatever the outcome, I’m just going to carry on. Of course, if they do say i haven’t done enough yet and need to carry on learning, I’ll be a bit disappointed that it isn’t a straight away yes answer. But my plan was to learn routes until at least May so if they ask me to carry on I haven’t lost anything. If its a yes answer, I’m so much more lucky than I thought I was. Maybe by the next time I write my next My Guide update, I’ll have the outcome.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 5

My fifth My Guide session took place last Thursday. As always, Jenny and I set out on the route optimistically because things had gone so well previously. But this session was different. I don’t know if I wasn’t in the right mindset or if other things were on my mind too much but things just felt different. And they went from bad to worse with cars parking on pavements, my cane getting caught in bushes/behind poles and posts. I even misjudged a couple of crossings and slipped off the curb. I quickly corrected myself but that wasn’t the point; I don’t do these things. Even though I’m still having mobility sessions, they’re primarily so I can learn routes. By almost everyone who has ever assessed my mobility, I’ve always been complimented on having good long cane skills. It was always the lack of wanting to use them that was frowned upon. So these little niggles annoyed me. They’re nothing massive and its no big deal in the grand scheme really but its irritating to be making these mistakes when I feel so close to achieving what I’ve been working towards for so long.

The outbound walk was the worst. My cane just got caught behind and on so much. It was frustrating beyond belief. Add to that the cars parked on pavements and it made the whole thing pretty unpleasant. I admire Jenny’s patience and calmness. I’d have got fed up with me if I was someone trying to help. I was fed up of me being me! The cars parked on the pavements weren’t major ones. They didn’t block the whole path, they just made an inconvenience along my journey I could have done without. If there’s an obstacle on the pavement, be it bin, parked car or uncovered man hole or whatever it is, it makes you have to slow down and reassess everything. You have to work out which angles to carry on, whether the gap is actually safe enough for you to pass through and then how to manoeuvre yourself through the situation. Usually, there’s more than enough room but if not, you’ve then got to work out if its safe for you to venture out into the road, carefully skirt closely around the car and then get back onto the path. And if this is a main road then this can become horrendous and extremely dangerous. Thankfully, there was none of the worst case scenario situations for me on Thursday. That would have really topped off my bad mood nicely.

By the time we reached our little coffee shop in Woolston, I was thoroughly frustrated with the whole event. I just wanted to be indoors somewhere not having to think about routes or possibilities or progress. Because it felt like, even though I’d remembered a lot of the crossings, landmarks and turnings on the route correctly, we’d actually taken two steps backward in terms of progress. In hindsight, perhaps that feeling was over-exaggerated at the time. I feel better about the whole thing now we’re nearly a week on from it than I did at the time. It made me question everything, especially when the fact that Guide Dogs still hold all the power of my dream came to mind. Although I’m putting all this effort in and wholeheartedly intend to continue to do so, when I approach Guide Dogs again and tell them I feel I’m ready to continue with my application, that I’d like to be reconsidered as now ready and enough for one of their dogs they could so easily say no, I’m not ready yet, I still don’t have enough routes, the workload isn’t big enough, am I sure this is what I want? It’s crushing. The thought that I could make all this massive progress – because, for me, it really is huge in comparison to what I’m used to – and they could still say no… Most of the time I really have to put that thought out of my mind otherwise it gets me really down. The idea that it could be years until I get accepted for a dog hurts and makes all this seem pointless.

Jenny tried to boost my spirits by saying how good things were looking with the route. I just wasn’t feeling it. It was nice to still have someone else having faith in me, though, and the feeling that even if it felt rubbish to me, it still looked like progress to Jenny was good news. This is all thought of in hindsight, mind. By the time I reached the sanctuary of my bedroom on Thursday afternoon, I was wholeheartedly deflated and down about the whole situation. The return trip was better. Although, not long into it the wired Aftershokz headphones I have to use with my Trekker Breeze died completely. I never carry the extra external little clip on speaker with me because the headphones never fully lose charge. So I was caught out. I tried clipping the Breeze’s belt clip onto the collar of my coat and positioning the in-built speaker next to my ear. But it just made everything clumsy and awkward and I couldn’t hear the announcements the Breeze was speaking even then. Reluctantly admitting defeat, I switched it off and put it in my pocket, cursing myself for not charging the headphones. Unfortunately, with them there’s no way of knowing when their battery is low so its always risky taking them out. But their battery lasts such a long time that I always forget it must need charging at some point. Strangely, from then onward the route seemed to go quite well. I remembered crossings, landmarks and turnings well and Jenny seemed quite impressed, drawing on how I must be retaining most of the route well now as I wasn’t asking her for too many hints and the Breeze was unavailable to give me reminders. It felt quite good doing some of the route without my Breeze. But I wouldn’t want to be out often without it. The reassurance it gives is so comforting and having it there as backup should anything disastrous happen is such a support. Maybe I should be able to do it without the Breeze. But I don’t see why having that extra safety net should be an issue. I always make sure the Breeze has enough charge and only on stupid occasions like this do things like the headphones battery dying happen. The GPS signal is always clear enough for the Breeze to get an accurate enough reading and that’s enough for me. I don’t rely on it. I intend to have this route fully memorised before I even consider approaching Guide Dogs again. But having it as support and guidance if I need it is nice and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I wish I’d discovered Trekker Breeze sooner. Maybe then I’d have been further in this journey than I am currently. Maybe it’d have given me the confidence to learn routes and get out of the house years ago like I should have. Who knows? It didn’t happen.

Now looking back on the day in hindsight I can see it wasn’t as bad as I felt at the time. It is pretty disheartening though when things go wrong. Coincidentally, the night before it happened, I was talking to my ex cricket captain and constant adviser Tiny about my plans of making progress with this whole thing and he mentioned that I shouldn’t get too down if a bad session came along. I’m so glad he said that before it happened because it helped me get the resolve of “oh well, next session will be better and this isn’t the end of everything”. On Thursday night, I messaged Tiny, and Imi too, voicing my fears about Guide Dogs still saying no even after I put all this effort in and the feeling of knowing it might all be nothing despite my progress. Tiny’s response was the best. Although I struggled to agree with him on Thursday night I understand what he meant. He said that basically I needed to see the smaller goals and achievements in the whole thing as well as aiming toward my end goal of a guide dog. He had a point even if I couldn’t see it at the time through my disappointment at the way the day had gone. It made me think though. If I hadn’t been out learning a new route, what would I have been doing? Sat at home at my desk studying, most likely, just how I do every weekday. I wouldn’t have been in the company of a nice person, inhaling all the fresh air, being outside or having a drink in a nice little coffee shop with friendly staff. Those are the small blessings in this situation. But on Thursday it was hard to see how those things mattered in the grand scheme of things. And that point is still valid. The only reason I’m doing all this is so that Guide Dogs finally accept me as adequate and eligible for one of their dogs. It’s so I can have the independence I got a glimpse of when I had zena and none of the other positives matter. In the long run, if Guide Dogs were to decline my application again, I wouldn’t be looking back thinking “wow how lucky was I to be spending all that time outside learning a new really long route”. I’d be thinking “what a waste of time!”. I’ll forever be grateful that Jenny agreed to be my volunteer, that shes spending so much of her own personal time each week helping me towards my goal. But if that goal is never achieved, I won’t be glad I spent all this time trying to reach it. I’ll be gutted. Mainly because I spent so much time working so damn hard doing what they told me I needed to do for it then to be said not to be enough. How they could do that, I don’t know. But anything is possible and the fact I’ve not had a yes yet makes me cynical. Hopefully that cynicism will be wiped away after all this hard work and they’ll say yes straight away, acknowledging the effort I’ve put in which clearly shows how much I want a dog, how dedicated I will be to the partnership if only they give me a chance. I was dedicated to Zena. I was, just not many other people seem to see that. I tried 1000% my best with her. The whole thing just fell apart. The fact shes now living as a pet is testament to the fact I definitely made the right decision for both of us. She was miserable, I wasn’t safe in her care and eventually we’re both going to have our rightful places, she as a pet and I with a new dog who loves guiding and keeps me safe always. I just have to be positive, I guess. That’s always been one of my big problems. Always too miserable and cynical. Why shouldn’t Guide Dogs accept me onto the waiting list after this long route is accomplished? I’ll have done everything they asked of me. That’s how I need to think. A quiet confidence that this time, after all this work, it’ll all pay off.

Jenny and I have another session on Friday. I’m glad I waited until today to write this so I was in a better frame of mind to put things into words. It would have been a very angry post if I’d written it on Thursday afternoon like I’d planned. Luckily, other things have been going well. Last Wednesday, Dad and I walked the route up to the news agents he’s been teaching me. I didn’t need any prompting or guidance. So that route is done. On the way back, we walked via Mayfield Park, the spot I’d predicted would be great for a free run. I wasn’t wrong. It was perfect. I think, once the dog and I had a solid partnership, I’d even be able to take it for a run by myself. The park is enclosed and I’d be able to walk in a straight line along the perimeter of the park while the dog was off lead and get to the exit safely. Ive tried it with dad. So I’m really happy with that route and its been completed a lot quicker than I expected. In addition to that, today Dad and I tried a new route. It was to my sister’s secondary school. We’ve already tried one way, that takes you up and over a train bridge. But, although this way was longer, it was so much easier. It’s an extension of the gym/news agents route, which is great, and the new additional part isn’t complicated at all. After a few tries, I’m positive I’ll have it figured out and memorised. It means that, if I wanted to, I could meet my sister from school. More than that, its another at least 45 minute each way route that I know. This one even has a decent destination. Its a win win all round. While doing that route, I realised, as an extension of that, I’d be able to learn how to walk from my house to my grandparents’ house. I was planning to learn the bus route there with Jenny after we’ve finished the Woolston route but Dad says he can show me the route on foot. If I can memorise that, I think I’d learn the bus route as a backup. More and more possibilities of routes seem to be opening up and its such a nice feeling, especially as the more routes i have the happier Guide Dogs should be about my eligibility and commitment for a dog. It’ll all take time, I know, but progress is more than steady even with the blips in my fifth My Guide session. There’s the chance that my sixth could be the best yet. I guess I’ll find out Friday. For now, though, I’m going to stay positive. After the progress I have been making with the Woolston route and the leaps and bounds Dad and I are making with our routes, I can’t be disappointed. In fact, things are going better than I hoped. Fingers crossed everything stays positive.

PS: I’ve fixed the glove issue. Ive discovered that I can wear the fingerless gloves I have with the flap pulled over making them into mittens and its still almost as safe using my cane. I don’t lose much sensitivity at all and, best of all, my hands keep toasty. See, silver lining in every rain cloud…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 2

After the success of my first My Guide session, I was feeling positive about my second meeting with Jenny. At 9:30am on Thursday she arrived at my door ready to set out on our long walk into Woolston. I had my Trekker Breeze and wired Aftershokz in place ready so we headed out. It was chilly but not raining and not as windy as the week before. This week, I’d decided to try the route with my cane with Jenny following and instructing whenever necessary.

As I’d anticipated, I didn’t remember much of the route from last week. Then, Jenny had guided me and I’d been concentrating on recording all the necessary landmarks into my Trekker Breeze. But Jenny didn’t seem to mind at all.

We took the outward route at quite a slow pace so that hopefully I’d start absorbing some information about the route. My Trekker Breeze did quite well at alerting me when we needed to cross roads. But Jenny and I did notice that it missed a few of the landmarks we’d recorded last time. To fix this, we recorded more landmarks whenever it seemed necessary.

The coldest and most difficult part of the route was walking along the shore. It was quite hard for me to hear Jenny talking or my Trekker’s prompts. Thankfully, as soon as we turned away from the shore, the wind lessened.

On the way, I didn’t feel like I was retaining much of the route. Hardly anything was coming back to me from the week before. My hands were absolutely freezing holding my cane and there were times when I considered stopping and letting Jenny guide me, just until I could bend my fingers properly again. But I kept going. There were little bits and pieces that came back to me from the week before as we walked, landmarks that jogged my memory or little sections of pavement that reminded me where I was.

But I was thrilled when we got onto the Main Street of Woolston. Jenny and I agreed to go for a coffee to warm up and Jenny took me into a little coffee shop she recommended. Even though I go to Woolston often, I didn’t even realise it existed. Jenny had a coffee and I had a luxury hot chocolate with marshmallows but without the cream. It was lovely, but huge, and I burnt my tongue. Jenny said her coffee was nice too. I though the prices were quite reasonable too; my luxury hot chocolate was £2.30 and it was a good size. I told Jenny how I thought this shop would be quite handy on cold winter days if I walked into Woolston. I told her how I could imagine walking down into Woolston with my furry pal and popping into the coffee shop to have a hot chocolate and thaw out from the icy weather. There was plenty of space ideal for a Guide Dog under the table we sat at too.

When we were finished, we headed back out to do the reverse route. This time, I felt it went much better. I felt I remembered quite a bit more than the outward journey and Jenny seemed quite pleased too. It was still chilly though. Not as freezing as it had been but chilly.the walk along the shore was blustery again and I found it difficult to hear Jenny and my Trekker Breeze. Although we recorded the whole route and then the reverse route, the Trekker didn’t follow all of the route correctly. I don’t know if it thought we’d gone a different way or if there was an easier way to go according to its maps but there were parts when it told me to turn around and that I’d gone off route. Jenny assured me we were going the same and right way.

I was pleased to reach my front gate simply because my hand felt like it had frozen in place on my cane. Ive never used a cane for that length of time solidly before. It felt like a good accomplishment, though, and definitely a step in the right direction. Jenny seemed please with how the session had gone and definitely the route on the way back. I was pleased that I’d retained even some of the route. I hadn’t expected even that.

Jenny and I agreed to meet for our third session the following Thursday at the same time of 9:30am. I’m hoping that my third session and second session doing the route with my cane will be even more positive than the first was. I’m hopeful that I’ll have retained even more of the route and that the new landmarks we programmed into the Trekker will be more accurate and useful. Maybe Jenny and I can even have another hot drink in the nice little coffee shop. Anyway, its all very positive currently and I’m more than happy with how things are going. Although there hasn’t been much so far, I’m happy with the little progress I have made.

Mobility Update 27 July: Guide Dogs mobility assessment

Last week, I received a call back from one of Guide Dogs’ mobility officers to ask when I was available for my Guide Dogs mobility assessment. We agreed on this Tuesday, July 25th, at 10am. I was nervous even on the phone. The instructor who was coming out to see me was the lady who had dealt with my case before I contacted Seeing Dogs and who, at that time, said she felt then wasn’t the right time for me to have a dog and that I needed a lot of route training before I’d be ready. Then, we agreed on a My Guide partnership, whereby they’d match a volunteer to me to help out with whatever I needed, which in my case was route training. Unfortunately, before I was suitably matched to a My Guide volunteer, John from Seeing Dogs had told me that Zena was a successful match. Of course, as someone who has always desperately longed for a guide dog, I was hardly going to take the opportunity of more cane training over the offer of a dog. However, as I soon discovered on Tuesday, I was wrong to be worried about seeing this particular instructor again.
I knew I’d have to show her one of my routes and I hoped, even though she’s seen it once before, she’d be happy with the simple route to my local Co-op. Luckily, a lot of discussing was done before we set out for the actual mobility part of the assessment. Mostly, she wanted to know what routes I currently have and use, whether they’d improved since we last met and what had happened with Seeing Dogs. Before Tuesday, I’d had advice from everyone about what I needed to say in order to prove that I have enough of a workload now to need a dog and that having a dog for me works so much better than a long cane. I explained all about Zena and what had happened regarding Seeing Dogs. I told her that I felt there needed to be more support and that for me Zena was totally the wrong match. I tried not to linger over all this for too long, instead emphasising how often I used to take Zena out and all the places I could go to with her. I made it quite clear how much more confident I felt with a dog in place of a long cane and how I felt able to get out of the house whenever I wanted to. She knew, from interviewing me last time I applied for a guide dog, that this was all a massive improvement on where I was 18 months ago.
Even before we went out for the long cane demonstration, she told me that she would be putting me forward for a guide dog assessment. This is the next step towards actually getting a dog. An assessor comes out to your house and discusses everything to do with owning a guide dog as well as making you walk with the handle of a harness, to judge your reactions and posture I think. This is when you can specify whether you’d prefer a particular breed, colour or gender of dog. As I commented when she was explaining all this, I’m not going to be disclosing any preferences. As long as the dog is matched appropriately and correctly, I’m not bothered if its female or male, Labrador or Shepherd, or golden or black. As long as our partnership is based on professional judgement, it doesn’t matter what kind of dog I get.
I was really surprised to discover that the long cane part of the assessment went really well. The instructor said that all aspects of my mobility had improved massively and when we arrived back at mine, she said that this was what they needed, that she hoped I understood now why they had to say no last time. If she’d said no tis time too, I don’t think I’d ever had agreed with her. But I do; I get it completely. I needed more routes. I needed more confidence. And it’s John and Zena I have to thank for that. I don’t think I’d ever have accomplished it so well with a cane. The assurance I have that a Guide Dog is the right mobility aid for me has made me determined to have one; and I’d never have known that for sure without the 5 months I spent with Zena.
So the next step from here is the Guide Dog assessment. The instructor told me to wait 8 weeks to hear from someone. If time stretched on longer than 8 weeks, I am to contact them immediately to hurry them up. If I am successful at the Guide Dog assessment, I’ll be put on the waiting list for a dog. As a side thought, I asked if I’ll be able to have further help to learn routes while I’m on the waiting list and the instructor reassured me by saying I could. Although I’m happy with how much progress I’ve made with routes in the last year, I’d still like to add more to my growing list. The more routes I have, the more I have to keep a dog busy. It has to be said, though, that I couldn’t have hoped for more from this assessment. I was absolutely terrified about it before it happened and afterwards I couldn’t have been happier but more shocked about the outcome. There isn’t a better option than what i’ve come out of it with.
My homework, while I wait for my Guide Dog assessment, is to do the routes to the leisure centre and the library independently with my cane. I’ve never done this before so it’s quite a challenge to be presented with. I’ll do it, though, at some point. I’ve asked my dad to do the leisure centre route with me so that i can log it onto the Trekker Breeze before approaching it alone. It’s not that I don’t think I can do it, it’s just that having the Breeze as backup is a big reassurance. Anyway, as I have two months to get it done, I think it’s ok to take an extra precaution with it.
So I’m on my way towards getting my very own Guide Dog. One more assessment, which everyone seems quite confident I’ll pass, then hopefully a match, then training and then hopefully freedom, even better freedom than what I had with Zena. I’ve been warned that the Southampton waiting list for a dog is currently 18 months so it could be quite sometime before i get that freedom. It’ll be worth it when I do though. Next stop guide dog assessment.
I just want to thank everyone who supported me in the lead up to Tuesday and who greeted my amazement at the outcome with enthusiasm and positivity. I wouldn’t be in this position I am,having the confidence and determination to continue with the guide dogs application process if it wasn’t for your support. Lets hope that I can get through the Guide Dog assessment successfully and be put on the waiting list. I don’t think I’ll believe it’s true if I’m that lucky. But I’m hopeful, really hopeful that this time everything is going to work out in my favour. I mean, if Tuesday is anything to go by, I really am going to be very lucky.

Mobility Update  13 July 

Since Zena left, I have been struggling to get back into a normal routine, adjusting to life without a guide dog. as I spent all my time with Zena — she even slept in my room — I’ve found it quite difficult to keep busy without her. the main thing I’ve struggled with is adapting to using a cane as my primary mobility aid. as I relied on Zena as my guide for five months, it is very strange to transition back to using a cane. the first thing I noticed was all the things I hadn’t had to think about when Zena was guiding me. Swinging a cane and finding every little detail along a route is a lot different than walking in the direction you know your route follows with a dog avoiding all the unnecessary details. The one thing Zena has taught me is that a guide dog is definitely my preferred mobility aid. Using a cane feels tedious and long-winded. Some people say that a long cane feels like an extension of their arm when it comes to being mobile. I feel that way about a dog. Some people have said that I criticised Seeing Dogs, their training and Zena herself. I have not. I quite clearly recognised how vital Zena has been in my journey to being independent. I will forever be grateful to John and the charity for giving me the chance of being Zena’s partner and for Zena for showing me that a guide dog is definitely what I want. However, when I signed my Seeing Dogs Ownership Agreement, I did so with the knowledge that Zena was going to be my guide and that if ever I felt she wasn’t fulfilling that purpose, I’d be able to contact Seeing Dogs and something would be arranged that was in the interest of both Zena and I. I felt that I tried every option available to me to make sure mine and Zena’s partnership worked and when I ran out of options, I did the last thing available to me. Some may feel that I wasted the charity’s time, effort and money. A lot of money, resources and time is put into every partnership they produce. But I feel that Seeing Dogs give people the chance of matching with their dogs with the full understanding that maybe the match won’t be successful, that some matches do fail. Therefore, I don’t feel that handing Zena back was a waste of the charity’s money. They gave me the opportunity that nobody else ever has, to learn that a guide dog is exactly the mobility aid I need. Having Zena taught me many valuable lessons, including how to look after a dog and how to function with a guide dog. Those things are invaluable. Anyway, even if the charity’s money was wasted on me, Zena was well looked after, loved a lot and will hopefully be matched to someone who she can help more than she could me. Moving on, this post wasn’t supposed to be a rewrite of my last post where I explained my decision to have Zena withdrawn. This post was to explain the plans I’m putting in place for future independence.
Last Thursday, I reapplied to Guide Dogs for the Blind. I wrote an email in which I explained that I’d like to apply for a Guide Dog again and also use the My Guide service to its full potential. The My Guide service is where a volunteer is matched to a blind person to help them get out and about more. As my way to learn routes is with a sighted person helping out, the My Guide service could certainly help me. I have been rejected from being put on the Guide Dogs waiting list for a dog twice before because it was felt that I didn’t have enough routes to form a good enough workload for a dog. Before I had Zena, I didn’t go out anywhere on my own. The only time I used my cane independently was while I was learning new routes and that was always with a sighted person following behind. Now that I’ve had Zena and she is gone, I will go out by myself with just my cane. Having the additional aid of the Trekker Breeze has so far been invaluable. It makes me feel safer in the knowledge that I can rely on it to tell me what street i’m on if I feel lost. Unfortunately, the overlap of Trekker and Zena wasn’t big and I wasn’t able to log all of the routes and locations I went to with Zena on to it before she went. I did manage to go to the local Co-op with Zena and Trekker, recording the route as i walked. The local Co-op is literally a couple of side road crossings and a corner turn away. It only takes me about 10 minutes to walk there with a cane. But that Co-op is incredibly useful and a very valuable little route to have in the bank. I’ve been lucky in that Guide Dogs have responded fairly quickly. I received a phone call from the Southampton office on Tuesday and went through the Guide Dog application form there and then. The lady on the phone said she’d send out the medical forms they need and forward my email to the mobility officers so that they could arrange a mobility assessment for me. Usually the first step is to attend one of their information mornings in branch but the lady on the phone suggested that was probably unnecessary for me as I’ve been to one before and been through the application process twice before. I agreed to this suggestion as I didn’t really see the need to attend another information session, especially as I’ve had Zena and now know what it is to look after a guide dog. Guide Dogs themselves have the added benefit that they cover food and medical costs. So in a way I’ve already had a bigger responsibility than I’d have if I was matched with a Guide Dogs dog; I wouldn’t have to add cost as a contributing factor to whether a guide dog is right for me. THe next step is to fill out the medical forms that came in the post today and get them posted off to Guide Dogs. I’m hoping i’ll hear back from them relatively quickly regarding a mobility assessment , My hope from there is that they will see that I have a need for a dog, offer me more help to learn routes with My Guide and find me a match., This time, I don’t intend to take no for an answer. I need a guide dog to be comfortably mobile and all i need to do is prove that to them.
I think I’ve dealt with Zena’s absence quite well mobility wise. I haven’t just sat at home every day feeling sorry for myself because my partnership failed. I’ve gone into Woolston twice to meet grandparents for lunch and taken myself into town on the bus to meet friends three times. I’ve also wandered up to the local Co-op by myself twice. The first time was just to get me out of the house but the second time Mum had given me the electric key and some money to put on it. It was good to have a reason to go out again. But that’s definitely the scariest walk I’ve done alone without Zena. I’m not really sure why it was so terrifying because if anything the Co-op route is the one I know the best. But it was horrible. I was sweating loads when I got home even though I was only wearing three-quarter length trousers and a t-shirt and it wasn’t even hot. I just felt so nervous. That’s where walking with a cane is so different for me. At times I felt nervous walking with Zena but those nerves don’t even compare to what I feel with a cane. That’s another thing that makes me know a guide dog is the right thing for me. The confidence I had with Zena despite our flaws as a partnership were incredible so the confidence I should have if I’m fortunate enough to be matched with a Guide Dogs dog who meets the requirements I have should make the confidence I had with Zena pale in comparison. I’ll be flying, I know it.
And that is exactly why I have to convince Guide Dogs. I and others around me saw the massive impact Zena had on my life so we can only imagine the changes a well-matche dog could have on my life. I don’t mean in the fairytale way of everything will be perfect and I’ll be able to go wherever I desire. I’m not that clueless. Zena has taught me that its hard work to have a guide dog and maintain a partnership. But if the dog and I were to work well together in a way Zena and I never managed, I know I would benefit hugely. Of course, if I’m exceedingly lucky and am offered both Guide Dog waiting list and My Guide opportunities, I’ll be able to build up my knowledge of routes while I wait for a dog, making the likelihood of a stronger more successsful partnership more promising. Obviously, I’m just dreaming there; I very much doubt that I’ll be offered both. If anything, I’ll be told I still don’t have enough routes, even though I’ll have proved to the best of my ability, and given a My Guide volunteer to help me learn more routes. But I’m trying to be positive. A lot has changed since they last told me to learn more routes. I’ve had an assistance dog, I’ve learnt new routes and it had massive benefits on my life. I’ve discovered truthfully that a guide dog is the right mobility aid for me and I have plenty of experience to use for a future partnership. I’m going to be stubborn about this. I know for certain it’s what I need and I know I can make a success of it if I’m given a chance. I just need that chance.
While I wait hopefully and impatiently, I’m going to do all I can to get as many solid routes under my belt as I can. I still have all the routes I could use with Zena and there’s always potential for more, especially as Southampton has the talking bus service. I’ve been logging all the routes I’ve been doing on to my Trekker Breeze and adding landmarks to its memory every time I go somewhere. All these little things will be helpful and build up to the bigger end picture that I’m hoping for. In thes next blogs focused on mobility, i’m going to write about every little detail of my journey with Guide Dogs, whether that be being lucky and being put on the waiting list for a dog or progressing with new routes with a My Guide volunteer. I want it all written down, i want to be able to look back in a few years and know I made good decisions regarding my independence. I feel like currently I’m making all the right decisions and doing my best to make myself independent. Zena and Seeing Dogs have been a great catalyst for my desperation to be independent again. I was desperate when I applied to Seeing Dogs but now I’m desperate in a whole new way; I’m desperate for something that I know exists, for something I know I can have given the opportunity. Somehow, I’m going to make this work.

The hardest, most thought through, heartbreaking decision I’ve ever had to make

So this time I have sad things to write about. Since January this year, I’ve had the pleasure of a four-legged maniac in my life. Her name is Zena and she’s been my guide dog. Until last weekend, I thought she’d be mine until she retired. But things haven’t been going well for Zena and I as a partnership for quite some time and so I made the decision to have her withdrawn. It is not a decision I made lightly or easily and only most of me believes it is the right decision to have made. All of me knows it was but there’s still a lot of me that wants her here with me, where I believed she was meant to be. But last Thursday, John came to collect her and she has gone home with him to be trained and matched with someone else; someone better, I hope. There are many reasons why I felt our partnership wouldn’t work in the long-term:

First, she always seemed to be racing ahead of me. No matter how much I’ve picked up my walking speed since the beginning of training at the end of January, I could never seem to match her pace. No amount of correcting and stopping to slow her down made the difference. John taught me how to flick the handle and say `steady` in the slow kind of sing-song tone to slow her down. He taught me how to stop abruptly and give her a firm correction with the lead repeating that `steady`. Nothing happened for it. For a little while, I thought Zena had improved with her speed. But it just became erratic. Sometimes she’d react to the corrections and the tone of my voice. Other times, she’d continue to speed along towards whatever it was that had caught her eye or to the destination in sight. I’m not saying I need a slow dog, but a dog who is happy to wander along at my side sticking to a steady pace would definitely be preferable. If I’m running along trying to keep up with a dog, I’m putting more energy to staying with them than I am to where we’re going and what’s happening around us, two vital things I need to be constantly taking note of.

Second, there was the crossing issue. Even on the most repeated routes we did, Zena was constantly over-shooting crossings (flying over them and into the road). John taught me the methods to correct this problem and I was forever using them but usually with no result. Sometimes, she’d pay attention and the route would improve for a while. But then the next day we’d be back to over-shooting. I don’t think I really need to explain why getting crossings right is crucial. As a rule, Guide Dogs teach their dogs to sit or wait at the crossing no matter where you are or the situation you are in. Zena needed several prompts before she’d sit and not often would she sit facing the direction we needed to go in. My sister pointed this out to me during our stay in York and I hadn’t really realised the severity of what Zena was doing until she explained how guide dogs generally work. From then on, I noticed it all the time; I had been thinking it wasn’t right beforehand, as it took me some time to get Zena sat at the crossing, but I hadn’t realised just how bad it was until afterwards. When I spoke to John about this, he gave me some further advice to improve the situation, reminded me to use what I’d learnt during training. But nothing worked. I corrected, rewarded, corrected again. No change. No matter how many some we went back over the same crossing, it had very little effect. Sometimes the rest of the route would go well because that correction had happened. But other times she’d just continue to be unreliable at every crossing.

Furthermore, she couldn’t guide in unfamiliar areas or if a member of the family or close friend was around. If I tried to get Zena to guide in unfamiliar settings, she’d just about do the job and I wouldn’t say particularly safely do that job. She wasn’t very good at weaving around people, rather preferring to say hello to everyone she passed therefore usually barging me into them. No amount of correcting changed that, either. With family and friends about, she’d race ahead, making it impossible for me to hold conversations or hear them if they decided to go in a different direction to the one Zena was pursuing. Also, if someone she knew well was around, they distracted her from actually guiding. So for both of these situations, I’d ask a family member to guide me. This in itself presented a problem. Zena walks a lot faster than anyone in my family does. So I was forever pulling her back, checking her lead to slow her down. In the end, the Halti head collar was agreed to by John and I started using that. It made quite a bit of difference whenever I just had her on the lead. But she still pulled. Even with the restraint of the half-check collar plus the Halti, she still attempted to get ahead. Again in unfamiliar settings, we had the crossing problem. She wouldn’t immediately sit at the crossing so I wouldn’t always know if it was a crossing or if she’d just stopped to have a sniff or seen something that had taken her concentration away from her work. Of course, I’m taught to encourage her on, to tell her to get back to her job, which I did; that then either meant she would eventually show me that it was a crossing or would continue forward into a potentially dangerous situation. I don’t know where this behaviour appeared from as during training, when John was present, she never hesitated. Especially when we learnt the new route of going to the gym, she was almost spot on. At that time, I was learning too so if we both made mistakes then that was fine. But even with the gym route, whenever she over-shot a curb, I’d immediately give her a lead correction, bring her back and do it again. No amount of this repetition seemed to make her understand. Sometimes, it would encourage a good response from her and the rest of our route would be smoother, more comfortable with no over-shot crossings and quicker reactions to sit at the upcoming curb. But then the next day we were back to square one again. And here I’m talking about our regular routes such as the gym and local shop. Those, which we did several times a week, were the ones she should have known off-by-heart. We did them so often it was impossible for her not to have known what she was supposed to have been doing.

However, this is where distractions came into play. As lovely a dog as Zena was in the house and off-lead greeting people and being generally loving, this should have ended when her harness was put on. On free runs, she loved to stalk birds; it’s in the Vizsla breed to hunt and a free run was the perfect opportunity for her to exercise this talent. Not on lead. No matter where we were or how much control I had over her, whether that be on harness or just by the lead, Zena was always distracted. It could be a crisp packet, bird, another dog, cat, small child, cyclist or group of people. Whatever was around took her interest straight away. Of course, I hurried her on, using corrections and encouragements whenever needed, and tried to continue with our route. But soon enough another distraction would come in the shape of something else. I understand that there’s no way she can concentrate constantly. It’s a lot to ask of a high-energy dog such as Zena. But I needed more concentration than she was giving. I needed her by my side, not at my side with er focus elsewhere. Perhaps I sound too critical of her but when you’re using an animal as your eyes, it really is true to say that you need the bond, trust and relationship to be perfect. Again, John was quick to suggest things I could put in place to minimise these distraction opportunities. Take the lead in my right hand and keep her going with encouraging words whenever I thought a distraction was looming. Reward her with praise and a small treat whenever she calmly passed something that was potentially distracting. No doing. Whether it be because I couldn’t hear whatever it was that she was seeing or because there was just too much to distract her, these actions to keep her focus weren’t always possible to implement. And believe me when I say I tried. I tried to be patient, kind and forgiving. She is only a dog after all; a dog who’s had hours and hours and mounds of money put into training her to be someone’s eyes. A dog who I’m supposed to rely on to get me to and from places safely, with my guidance and encouragements, all of the time.

Then, there’s the toilet problem. Ever since Zena first came to stay — and I’ve written about it before many times — she never seemed to get the hang of going to toilet once in the morning and once at night before bedtime. John told me that this was the necessary amount of times she needed to go to ensure that she didn’t spend on route. Fine, I thought, no problem at all. The last thing I wanted was for her to be going to toilet on route. That would just be another excuse for her not to pay attention. So I persevered. Every night about ten pm and every morning around eight, I’d take Zena out into the back garden and to her handmade spending pen. I’d shut the gate and stand on the other side, saying `busy busy` in as cheerful voice as I could manage. She’d do her circles and, if I was lucky, she’d speed them up to the point when she’d actually go to the toilet. At that point of knowing she was speeding up, I’d praise her, telling her she was a good girl and encouraging her on. If I was unlucky, however, she’d just mess about. It got to the point where some mornings and nights, she’d actually lay down on her belly at the far side of the pen and refuse to move. Now many will say that this was a clear sign that she didn’t need to go. Wrong. If I went out with her after she’d not spent, there was a guarantee that at some point during the route, she’d go. After a while, John told me to try some kind of punishment for not going. So, after a while of standing and encouraging, I’d clip her to her lead, walk her swiftly into the house and sit in the kitchen with her. She’d have to lay down on the floor and wouldn’t be allowed to move. If another member of the family came into the kitchen, they were to ignore Zena and she wasn’t allowed to greet them. Five or so minutes later, I’d take her back to her pen and begin the routine again. We would go on until she went or, the more likely option, it was that late that I needed to go to bed. If it was a lucky night or morning and she went straight away or whenever she actually went eventually, I’d produce a tasty treat — usually a gravy bone, milky bone, bonio or one of her favourites of a cheesy nibble or bacon chewy — and make her sit to receive it. Then, she’d be allowed out of her pen to go wherever she liked. Sometimes that was inside to receive fuss from whoever else was still around or other times it was for a frolic around the garden. That was her reward for going. My hope was that this would encourage her to go regularly knowing that as soon as she did, she’d be given a treat. Oh how mistaken I was!

Towards the end, when the toilet situation hadn’t improved and seemed to be getting somehow worse, I reached out to John for more advice. It had reached such a low that it was preventing me from going out. The dog that was supposed to be enabling me to be independent and leave the house more often was actually making my days more difficult and limiting the amount I could leave the house. So then John suggested a crate as a punishment. I let Zena into her pen and when five minutes of encouragement have passed with no result, I take her into the house on lead and put her in the crate, securely bolting the door shut. I leave the room and go off to do something else, which means that she’s alone and cannot be with me. Half an hour later, I come back, let her out, attach her to her lead and off we go to the pen where I encourage for another five or so minutes. This continues three times. If she hasn’t spent after the third opportunity, she’s locked in the crate. If it’s daytime, I go off to do whatever I have to around the house or if I need to go out, I do it without her. If it’s before bedtime, she’s sleeping in the crate. She only slept in the crate twice and the following morning she was quick to go. However, during the day it made no difference. Even when I went out without her and came home and tried to spend her, she still refused.

Several of my Guide Dog friends questioned why I had such an issue with this and the truth is simple but ridiculous. Nobody ever taught me how to pick up after Zena. Also, many guide dogs show clear signals to their owners that they’re going to go on route. Zena did not. There was pretty much no warning of when and where she was going to go, except that I knew that she would most likely go on route if she’d missed a go that morning or the night before. Combine the fact that I was unsure when she was going and didn’t know how to pick up after her cleanly and I was pretty screwed. So it came down to the fact that I was praying she’d go just so that I could get outside. It isn’t supposed to be like that. A suggestion John had to save me the humiliation of not knowing if she’d gone and to allow Zena to spend was trying gutter spending. This means that if Zena is showing signs of wanting to go, I take her to a safe space at the side of the road, lead her into the gutter and instruct her to go. With her issue with roads and crossings, though, I didn’t really see this as a valid option. Why encourage her to spend in gutters when she has problems staying on the pavement already?

The one other thing, and this is a smaller issue but one nonetheless, that I struggled with is that when John interviewed me last October and told me that he’d recommend me for training, he also said that he thought he could make it work — me having a guide dog despite my previous issues getting one — because he was prepared to put the time and effort in, if I was too, to help me get there. Obviously, he understood what I was trying to say to him and saw the need for a guide dog in my life. That I will indefinitely be grateful to him for. He believed in me where nobody else ever has. He gave me the chance I so needed to prove to myself and others that I was right about a guide dog. I’ve always had this feeling that a guide dog would improve my mobility millions. On good days, of which, despite this outcome, there were many, Zena and I bloomed together. I was able to go and meet friends confidently, walk to the gym confidently, go into shops boldly and ask for help with shopping. John was prepared, even with my lacking amount of familiar routes, to give me the chance to show that I could do it. And I did. But he also agreed that he’d come out in the future and help me learn new routes. Apart from learning the route to the gym during training, I haven’t had any support to learn any others. I bought a Trekker Breeze — it’s a little machine that you attach earphones to and attach to your belt that directs you along routes once you’ve programmed in where you want to go — to help me with this. That way, John would only have to go over a route with me once perhaps twice for me to have a vague idea and the Breeze to have the route programmed in. From there, Zena, Breeze and I would be fine to tackle it ourselves, with the back-up of Google maps if we got horrendously lost. But that never came. We’d agreed that June would be the month to do it. Now of course I understand that John is an incredibly busy man. He is pretty much single-handedly training all potential Seeing Dogs. Currently, he has three pups lodging with him who he is at the very early stages of training to become the next batch of Seeing Dogs. I know that I can’t expect him to come when I call and I certainly didn’t. But I needed to make progress. As Zena doesn’t work well with family around, there was no point in asking relatives to help me learn new routes with her. Even if I did, nobody was available to help. Both parents work full-time and Zena walks miles too fast to ask my grandparents to step in. Sadly, if she’d been a plodder, they’d have been gladly available to help because they did when I was using my long cane and preparing for a Zena to arrive. But by the end of the month, with all the problems outlined above not being resolved by every solution I tried and no hope of progress with new routes on the horizon, I’d had enough. I felt that Zena, more than anything, would be better off without me. Perhaps she needs someone with a little sight to guide because they will be able to spy when she’s being a cheeky monkey and stamp it out straight away. It took me until I could tell she was doing something naughty to be able to crack down on it. By then it was too late; the flow was interrupted and she’d most likely got away with whatever it was she’d wanted to do. Maybe she needed someone who has a full life. They work five days a week, meet friends or do activities every evening and have full weekends of things to do, all of which involve Zena guiding them somewhere. Perhaps that would keep her focused. I don’t know. I do know that I’ll never be that person for Zena. Probably, by the time I am, she’ll be a little old lady long passed working age. She needs someone now. I’m not her someone, however much I tried to be, however much I desperately wanted to be.

Of course there were things Zena was great at. She was good in restaurants whenever I went out to eat, happy to lay under the table as long as she had room to stretch out. She was good whenever I went to anything that required her just to lie down at my side. She was happy to lie still as long as she got a little fuss every now and then. She was the best companion and friend in a dog that any human could ever have asked for. She was always at my side whenever I moved but stayed put whenever I requested. She let me groom her even though she made it quite clear she detested the event. She let me clean her ears with horrible stinky liquid and cotton discs even though they must have been painful with the infection that flared up. She behaved perfectly at the vets, letting them prod and poke her, trim her nails. She didn’t even flinch when she received her vaccinations. Not even a squeak could be heard as the vet injected the needle. She’s certainly a braver girl than I. She waited, almost always patiently, whenever I presented her with a treat. Once she learnt how, she was queen of tug-of-war with her best toys: Jim the Kong teddy, tiger, rabbit and fox/mouse. She almost always greedily gobbled down her meals, sitting and waiting for the whistle to sound beforehand. She was loving to every other member of the house, too, but always coming back to pay me the most attention. An absolute angel on a free run. She’d run like mad but always come to the whistle for a treat or to be clipped back on to her lead. Running along nicely but energetically saying hello to every other dog in the park. If Zena was a person, she’d certainly be a very social young one. She’d be the kid out all the time for sure. She ate her worming tablet like it was a tasty treat, sat still to have flea treatment applied. Gave the best cuddles when I was feeling rubbish. Slept happily at the foot of my bed in her basket every night. Never howled if she was left home alone. And when I wanted her to work around other guide dogs, no problem. With my sister and my friend across the road, who have a lab retriever and German Shepherd guide dog respectively, Zena would be no problem. She’d follow along behind, keeping fairly close to our company. The only thing she struggled with then was not getting too close to the other dog that I was tripping over them and over-shooting crossings so that I collided with the other dog and/or person. But that was just her eagerness, I think. With more practice, I think she’d have been a star at working around other guide dogs. But I didn’t feel I had more time. I didn’t feel that I had the energy to teach her. Nothing was getting better. Nothing I tried was working, no matter how many times I repeated the action. So many people were commenting on Zena’s bad efforts at guiding. Several of them said that they were genuinely worried for my safety. Now I don’t know why she wasn’t doing the job she’d been trained to do. I don’t know if she was bored, if I wasn’t fast enough, if she really hated working, if her breed just shouldn’t be a guide dog. Most of me thinks it’s a bit of everything. For quite some time, I felt that Zena’s skills, especially her boundless enthusiasm, would be much better suited in another profession such as sniffer dog. Or just a pet dog. As a pet, she was wonderful. You couldn’t have asked for better. But as a guide? Not so much. And that’s the difference. I applied and made a commitment for a guide dog, for independence, mobility and confidence. At no point did I expect it to be instantaneous. Not once did I think it would be perfect — far from it! I’d been warned more times than I can remember how hard it would be, how much I would feel anything but love for my furry companion. But never was it supposed to be this hard. I wasn’t supposed to be waking up every day wondering if my dog would go to the toilet so that we could go out to do a route where she’d over-shoot curbs, walk me into people and pull frantically on the lead. Yes, I was supposed to feel tested, but not constantly like I was getting all the wrong answers. We were supposed to make progress, not take a baby step forward and immediately jump ten giant steps backwards. So I made the decision that enough was enough, I called time, I let her go. And for anyone who may have read this and thought I’m heartless, I quit, I didn’t think of her. I’m the opposite. I tried one-hundred percent of every day for the last five months to make mine and Zena’s partnership work. I loved her like I’ve never loved another animal. My sister calls her guide dog her furry daughter and I’ve never before thought an animal could feel like your child should. Now I’ve had Zena I know, even more so now she’s gone. As for not thinking of Zena? She’s exactly why I made the phone call and told John he had to take her away. If nothing else, Zena deserves more. More of everything that I can’t give her. We were not the right match in the slightest. She’s enthusiastic and speedy. I’m steady and methodical. They are opposites. Opposites do not attract where guide dog and owner are concerned.

There is nobody to lay blame upon for this. Seeing Dogs and John gave me the opportunity. I gave that opportunity everything that I had. It hasn’t worked out. Guide dogs are withdrawn all the time. It is the most hard, heartbreaking and thought through decision I’ve ever made and I wish it upon nobody. I wish every guide dog partnership could work out, that no one ever had to let their furry child go. If I could still have Zena here with me now but not have to make her be my eyes, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But to Seeing Dogs she’s a guide dog and maybe she can be someone else’s eyes and do well at it, like that person I mentioned above. Maybe she’ll be their superstar. To Zena’s next owner I’d say to watch out for the dribbly beard. There’s nothing you can do about it but she will leave puddles of water everywhere. To love her like no other, because she already unconditionally loves you. She’ll trust you and love you no matter how frustrated with her you get. She gives the best cuddles; if you lie down on the floor in the fetal position, she’ll come and curl up with you. Play tug-of-war with her, it’s her favourite. She loves a Dentastick every evening. They really do make her breath a bit better. If you get him, Jim is her favourite toy. She has him in her basket to sleep with and will bring him to you should you request. He was a present bought for her by my mum earlier this year and Zena’s adored him ever since. Let her have freedom, she loves that more than anything. Give her endless fuss. She’d sit or stand in front of you for hours just for a stroke if you let her; that’s the first thing I learnt about her. She loves raw carrot as an extra special treat, especially if you scatter them in her dinner. She is the most wonderful dog in all the world and you are definitely the luckiest person to live to have her, just like I was the luckiest to be her mummy for five months. I didn’t ever not love her even at the toughest times. I will always treasure that gorgeous bundle of ginger crazy fur. Despite our flaws together, she opened my eyes to what having a guide dog can be for me. She gave me the chance to see exactly what I want. She’s the most loyal, loving, forgiving, kind friend you’ll ever know. If you’re down, she’ll know about it. She’ll put her paws on you and nudge her nose against you. That’s her way of telling you `it really all will be ok in the end, mum` and that she loves you more than you know. I love her more than anyone could ever know. Sometimes, she loves a big comfy cushion to sprawl out on. Others, she’d love to just lay by your side whatever you’re doing. Don’t forget to appreciate her and all she is. I know I certainly didn’t do enough of that. I was too caught up in making her a guide dog. Her favourite food here was Arden Grange chicken. Other stuff might be cheaper but she loves it and she’s worth every penny, even if she’s being a cheeky monkey. That’s the best part of her. There’s so much more to her than the funny furry dog exterior. Let her have as many free runs as you can. If you want to take the risk, give her a tennis ball. She’ll race after it, get it and bring it back to you for hours on end. Afterwards, she’ll drink the bowl dry and drip her beard all over your floor. But she’ll love it. She deserves the best that anyone can give her and I wasn’t that person but I sincerely hope you are. I hope she gives you the independence and confidence you’ve been craving. I already know she’ll be the best companion you could ever have hoped for, because she was the best furry friend I’ve ever had and letting her go was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. But if she’s your superstar, I know it was the best decision I’ve ever made, for all of us.

What’s next for me? I hope to keep in touch with John and hear how Zena gets on, if and when she’s matched to someone else. I intend to phone Guide Dogs at some point and reapply for a Guide Dog and the My Guide service. I’d like to learn new routes and definitely want another guide dog. Mobility with a dog is so much more than that with a cane and a guide dog really does enable me to go places. I get out of the house with and because of a dog and that makes all the difference to my life. So my eventual aim is another dog and I intend to do everything I have to to achieve that aim. My only fear is that it will take years and years. I’m not a particularly patient person when there’s something I desire so much and when I know that it is more than possible and something is preventing me from having it. I guess I’ll just have to make sure that there’s no reason for me not to have another dog. The best thing Seeing Dogs and Zena have given me is the proof that a guide dog benefits my life more than even I thought it would. If Zena benefitted my life even with all the bad stuff, having a dog who really is a good match will be even more of a positive to my life. I miss Zena more than I can say and the only way to make sure that letting her go was the right thing to do, apart from her making a massive difference to someone else’s life in ways she never could mine, is to ensure that everything I learnt whilst she was mine doesn’t go to waste. The only way to do that is by having another dog and using the confidence I built up with Zena to allow a second partnership to flourish the way ours never could. My gratitude to Seeing Dogs but especially John for giving me the opportunity of Zena is infinite. She gave me so much in such a short space of time and for that there are not enough words of thanks. But for me the charity just doesn’t work. I need more support and that, I’m certain, Guide Dogs can offer. So now is the time to do everything I can to enable that potential to be fulfilled. And yet again, that’s exactly what I intend to do.