Tag Archives: Guide Dogs for the Blind

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 1

My first My Guide session took place last Thursday. Jenny had rang two weeks earlier to arrange everything but as I’d been going away to Newcastle for a fortnight, we had to postpone until I was home. Originally, we were going to meet at 10am and had agreed to start work on my best route idea: the long walk into Woolston, which is the nearest little shopping street. It’s also where my dad works and features several fish and chip shops, a Co-op, a Lidl and a 99p store to name a few. I estimated that the route would take 40-minutes to an hour to get there and the same return. That’s double the length of current routes I have and I couldn’t think of anything better to get started with. In the end, Jenny phoned me on Thursday morning to say that the weather was dismal and how did I feel about rearranging for the afternoon? I already had a meeting scheduled with my employment adviser for a review of things but decided to cancel and reschedule that for My Guide as not much progress has been made on the employment front and I felt learning new routes needed to take priority.

So at the rearranged time of 1pm, Jenny turned up at my house and kitted out in our raincoats and decent footwear, we headed out. It was still a bit blustery and Jenny said the clouds looked as if they could rain; but the weather report was positive, suggesting we might even get some sunshine. As long as we didn’t get thoroughly soaked and the wind kept at bay enough for me to hear Jenny talking, I didn’t mind.

The route, as I’d predicted, took just over and hour. It was lengthened a bit by me programming everything into my Trekker Breeze and Jenny figuring out which ways were best to go. Overall, I thought the route was great! I mean, its going to be hellish for me to learn, but its great for the end result. It’d get me out of the house for 2 hours just walking to and from Woolston and that’s without stopping off at any shops or for lunch or anything. Another added bonus to the way Jenny has decided to go is that it actually passes right by the entrance to The Archeries Park, another destination on my routes-to-be-learned list. This means that we are tackling two of my priority destinations in one go. In learning the route to Woolston, I’ll easily master the route to the park. In fact, I’ll have learnt the route to the park before I manage the whole way into Woolston.

On Thursday I programmed the whole there and return routes from Woolston, landmarking anything either Jenny or I thought was relevant to help me learn the route and orientate myself. When we arrived in Woolston, we popped into Dad’s shop and said hello. That is my main motivation for learning how to walk into Woolston. If I can walk there, I, and any future furry companion, have had loads of exercise and hard work and so can meet up with Dad and even get lunch together if we fancied. There’s a very tasty bakery in Woolston so what better way to work off the calories of a doughnut than an hour’s walk home? Plus, the little convenience store and 99p store sell very tasty doggy treats and toys. There couldn’t be a better reward for a hard working companion than a tasty treat or new toy to play with once we got home. Also, my grandparents take my elderly great-Nan into Woolston each Tuesday to get her pension and have a coffee and cookie in Subway. They always do a little bit of shopping and its nice to get out of the house and join them. Even if I caught the bus there, there’s no reason I couldn’t walk home, especially if I had a furry guide by then. A little further away than Dad’s shop is my doctor’s surgery and pharmacy so if I just had to pick up or put in a prescription, it’d be nice to lengthen the trip out with a long walk. Having the option of the walk as well as the bus is just a nice possibility.

I feel it is going to take me a long time and many many sessions to learn the Woolston route. But Jenny seemed quite positive and enthusiastic about helping me so I’m really hopeful that were going to have a really good My Guide partnership.

As well as starting to learn new routes, I have also been placed on the list by HumanWare for a new Victor Reader Trek unit in the new year. These are £545 plus £10 postage so to afford one I have sold my Victor Reader Stream and Trekker Breeze. Kindly, the man who has bought my Trekker has consented to me keeping it until I have my VR Trek up and running and all my routes and landmarks transferred. Kieran has agreed to help with that when it arrives because apparently the software needed is very fiddly.

Right now everything is quite positive. I had news from Zena’s new owner a few weeks ago saying sadly she had to let Z go too for reasons of her own. Zena is now living with a family she boarded with in the past as a pet and has been withdrawn as a Seeing Dog. Although I was sad for the lady who had her after me, I’m mostly pleased that Zena has been withdrawn as a Seeing Dog. I think she will have the life she so clearly needed with a family as their pet. I always said she’d make an excellent pet for someone. Sadly, I’m not in touch with her new owners but I hope she has the life she deserves.

My next My Guide session is scheduled for tomorrow. Jenny is meeting me at 10am and we’re going for round two of the Woolston route. Last week, Jenny guided me so I could concentrate on recording all the necessary landmarks. Tomorrow, I’m going to start doing it with my cane and Jenny following and directing me. The plan is to do the whole route with my cane over and over and hopefully I’ll start retaining it. If not, we’ll split the route into chunks and learn it that way. I just hope Jenny is patient!

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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.