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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.

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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 7

Last week’s session was a positive one. After changing the route, I’d been really concerned that as it seemed a lot shorter and less complicated than the one we tried first, Guide Dogs might not be happy with it. However, it is so much simpler so a lot easier to learn. I haven’t got it anywhere near fully remembered yet, but this week was really our first session of learning it so that isn’t a concern. Last week, we just tested out the route, walking the way Jenny guessed would work. But we tried out a few different things, meaning that we hadn’t actually done the full route properly. But on thursday we did. With my Trekker Breeze on and recording, we headed out on the new route.

As I’d thought last week, it is so much simpler than the first route into Woolston we tried. Jenny counted an approximate 25 crossings in total for that route and there’s only got to be 5 or so in this new route. That’s not me saying I want to take the easy way out, because I don’t, but it just seems daft to persevere with a route I was struggling so much with when there’s an easier option that will get me to the same destination with less hassle. Plus, the walk along Weston shore is lovely; it’ll be really beautiful in the sunny summer, if we get one. It is pretty much one straight path all the way to Woolston. I don’t even have to swap to the opposite side of the road or anything like that. But it still takes about an hour each way, which of course is still a fair walking distance and good exercise for me. Yes, the other route was more challenging and gave me more to think about, but the simplicity of this one isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Again, we stopped for our usual break in Coffee Mac’s, feeling quite pleased with how the route was going so far. Because of that optimism, I decided to have a little extra in the shape of a cheese and bacon panini to go with my apple juice. I kind of got fed up of hot chocolate – I’ve never been the biggest fan, only liking it occasionally – and the apple juice is healthier. But I was hungry and things were going well so I felt a snack was deserved. Jenny clearly agreed because she went for a toasted tea cake to go with her coffee. Sadly, I was disappointed with my panini. There was just something about it that tasted funny. I think next time we have a great session I’ll stick to my reward of a slice of cake. Jenny said she enjoyed her tea cake, though, so that was good.

The return journey was good, too. There a couple of tricky patches along the route but there nothing in comparison to the difficulties in the other route to Woolston. I’m certain they’ll be easily ironed out after a few weeks’ practice of this route. Another thing that reassured me that this route is a good choice was by my friend Jemma. She lives in southampton also, actually in the same area as me, and has a gorgeous German SHepherd Guide Dog. It just so happened that as we were walking towards home, they were waiting to catch a bus at the bus-stop nearer to there place that I pass on my way home. We stopped so that I could say hello and I told Jemma that I was in the process of learning the route into Woolston. She asked which way we go and we explained. It turns out that the new route is the route Jemma uses if shes walking into Woolston. This gave me huge reassurance because if she uses that route with her Guide Dog then Guide Dogs can’t object to me sticking with it.

Jenny has passed on my concerns about this route to the leader of My Guide, who replied and said she’d forward these onto the GDMI to find out whether the route would be good enough and also if I’m doing enough. Hopefully, they’ll get back to Jenny soon and we’ll have an answer. I’m hoping it’ll be a positive one after all the hard work I’m putting into learning these routes. Sadly, Dad and I couldn’t go out on our walk last Wednesday to continue learning the route to my sister’s school because the weather was just too bad. To begin with, we’d thought it could be ok, but then the wind really picked up and there was just no point in trying. I’m just really hoping that the weather holds off tomorrow so that we can get out. It’s not an over complicated route, either, but its still going to take me a few tries to learn it so the more times were able to get out there practising it the better. Plus, I’m flying up to visit Kieran and family next Wednesday evening for a fortnight so I’m going to miss at least one My Guide opportunity and definitely two walks with Dad. It isn’t a big deal, really, because I feel like I’m making leaps and bounds in progress but I’m impatient so for me any sessions missed I’ll want to make up for, the more sessions I miss, the longer it’ll take in the long run for me to learn these routes and therefore be accepted fo a dog. Obviously, visiting Kieran is important to. He’s my other half, my fella, and we don’t get that much time together considering the almost 300 miles separating Weston from Blyth. So I’ll take any opportunity i can to see him, even if that does mean sacrificing precious route learning time. Ive waited this long for a Guide Dog, I’m sure a couple extra weeks in the long term shouldn’t make a massive difference. As long as I get there after all this effort, that’s all that really matters. As the new Woolston route and the route to my sister’s school are both going well, I don’t think I’ve got too much to worry about. Plus, next week I have my employment support session and the lady is just going to follow me to the library this time. Then, as long as shes happy that I’m familiar enough with the route, next time I’ll do it by myself and meet her there. The library route isn’t much in comparison to the Woolston route, but doing it completely independently for a purpose is definitely a step in the right direction.

So everything is going smoothly and I’m making progress in all areas of mobility. Plus, people have been contacted to make sure that this time it’ll be a positive response after all my hard work. I couldn’t have hoped for things to be going any better. Hopefully, tomorrow Dad and I will make more progress with the route to my sister’s school and on Thursday Jenny and I will continue the process of learning the new Woolston route. Fingers crossed I have more positivity to report on next time…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 6

Yesterday’s My Guide session was different to say the least. At first, Jenny and I were a bit dubious about how it would go as the ground was quite frosty and Jenny was worried it’d be too slippery underfoot. Thankfully, it wasn’t and we were able to continue with the session as normal. Except, it wasn’t a normal session. We changed the whole arrangement of things from what we have been doing to something SO MUCH BETTER!

If you’re up-to-date with my My Guide session post – which, if you aren’t, I don’t blame you, I just waffle on and this is more for my entertainment and satisfaction than anything else! – then you’ll know that since Jenny and I started working together we’ve been working on a route from my home into Woolston, the nearest little shopping street. Well the route Jenny picked out, we tested and I agreed on was quite complicated to say the least. Ive never been good at learning routes; I don’t know why, its just not one of my strong points. So this new complex route was definitely a challenge. A month into walking it by myself and we both felt I was making progress considering how much there was to learn and remember. But today Jenny suggested something else, something I wish we’d thought of before I stressed over the complicated route. There’s a much more straightforward and easy route into Woolston. Instead of approximately 25 crossings (Jenny counted), this is one straight road that leads into Woolston. It takes about an hour each way, we’re going to time it next week to get a definite time frame, and is so straightforward I’m hopeful I could have it memorised fairly soon. After last week’s horrible session, this was such a relief. Maybe its me taking the easy way out. But it shouldn’t matter. It’s still a lengthy route, although less complicated, and still leads me to the intended destination. Also, it means I get to walk for longer beside the shore, which will be glorious in summer. Jenny also spotted that there’s a stretch of green that could make a great short free run spot parallel to the route I’m walking.

It worried me a little, though. As its so simple, it takes less time to get to Woolston. Jenny suggested that some of this was probably due to the amount of time I spent judging if roads were safe to cross on the other route; its complexities made it naturally longer. I decided that I’d check the results of my Fitbit, which tracks steps, floors climbed, distance walked and active minutes, that night against previous weeks’ totals for our sessions. The results were quite different. Where usually its at least 14000 steps and well over 4 miles, nearly 6 sometimes, those results showed just over 12000 steps and less than 4 miles. I don’t know if its just because the route is less complicated; it must be because technically I’m still going from the same starting point to the same destination. I’m just concerned this could be a problem. Should I be focusing on the more complicated route because it presents a challenge and is definitely longer? Or is the fact that the other route is easier and more of a convenience, sadly making it shorter, more worthwhile to pursue? I talked this over with Jenny while we sat in Coffee Mac’s again, she with her coffee and me my apple juice. She tried to reassure me that, even if it was a bit shorter, the principle of the route was the walking thing and as I had the outward and return route it still took quite a long time so would provide a lengthy working time for any future guide dog. Looking at my Fitbit results, though, it looks as if the easier route cuts out quite a lot of mileage. I just can’t work out if that’s a bad thing or whether it shouldn’t be a problem. If someone who knows about these things could shed some light for me, I’d be greatly appreciated.

It was a lovely route though, especially as the weather was quite nice. On the return journey it did get a bit windy but mostly it was nice. Before we headed home, Jenny and i popped across the road to say hello to Dad in his carpet shop. I’d told Jenny all about the progress Dad and I had been making with our Wednesday walks and she seemed pleased. While we’d been sat in the coffee shop, she had written down a list of all my known and potential routes. It’s becoming quite a list. For known routes we currently have:

Short routes:

1. Walk to local bus-stop, barely 3 minutes;

2. 2. Walk to nearby Co-op, about 10 minutes each way.

3. 3. Bus route to Woolston. Although of course this doesn’t involve much walking, only onto the bus from home (shown above) and off the other end to wherever I want to go e.g. coffee shop, Co-op or see Dad, I consider it as a route as before now I wouldn’t be considering things like that.

4. 4. Bus route into town centre/shops: again, dozens involve much walking but opens up lots of opportunities e.g. meeting a friend, going to a coffee shop, getting myself lunch;

5. 5. Route from home to library = about 25 minutes each way, I’ll time it properly when I do it next week;

6. 6. Home to Mayfield Park = about 25-ish minutes each way with a free run in the middle;

7. 7. Route from home to the gym/leisure centre = about 30 minutes each way, I’ll time it properly when I go next;

8. 8. Route from home to news agents = about 35 minutes each way. I’ll time it properly when Dad and I do our next walk;

9. Routes I’m learning:

10. 1. Route from home to sister’s school = about 45-50 minutes each way. Dad and I will time it properly next time we do our walk as last week was the first time.

11. 2. Route from home to Woolston (now changed to newer less complicated route) = 55 minutes to an hour each way. We only did a test run of this yesterday so wil record it to my Trekker Breeze and time it properly after that.

12. 3. Home to Nan’s = no idea how long, Dad estimates at least an hour each way. We’re going to learn this after we’ve learnt the school.

13. 4. Home to Victoria Country Park = no idea how long. Jenny suggested it yesterday and as it was Zena’s favourite free run spot and would create another probably long route I thought why not.

14. 5. Home to archery’s park = I’m not sure. We’ve started to learn it via the long and complicate route we were using but Jenny says there are several different ways to get there. There’s a possibility of eventually learning them all for variation.

15. 6. Home to Dominoes Pizza/Co-op = probably as long as the library route as they’re an extension of it, although I’m considering learning how to get there using part of the complicated route we were using.

16. 7. Home to train station to airport = no idea. It would be mostly transport but I think it’d be a handy one to have under my belt. I’d have to get my usual bus from home into Woolston, then another bus from Woolston to opposite outside southampton central statin. Then get inside the station, find a member of staff and be put on the train to southampton airport parkway station. From there, disembark and get assistance to take me the exit. Then learn from the exit, along the road and across into airport arrivals hall. This idea was planted by John nearly a year ago when I was training with Zena. Although it sounds complicated with all those steps it should actually be quite straightforward.

So there’s quite a lot to be getting on with. I’m sure I’ve probably forgotten some in that list. We discussed loads esterday and I wish I had an in-built notebook to record all thoughts. Jenny was taking notes in a book herself so if I’ve forgotten anything she’ll have it written down. I’m still going with the idea that I’ll inform Guide Dogs once I’ve learnt the route to Woolston and ask to be put on the waiting list for a dog and in the meantime, while I’m waiting, continue to work through that list of routes with Jenny that we’ve compiled. I feel that’s a reasonable request, especially considering how long the waiting list can be and my insistence that Jenny and I will continue working on more routes. By the time I hopefully get matched with a guide dog, I should have so many routes we’ll be too busy! I should at least have a much wider choice than I did with Zena. Really, I already do. And if that isn’t seen as progress and dedication, I don’t know what could be.

So next Thursday Jenny and I have our seventh session. We’re going to be working on the new and improved route into Woolston. As it is so simple, I’m feeling very optimistic about it. I just hope its simplicity won’t reflect badly on me. I still intend to use fractions of that old route, just not the whole thing to get to Woolston. In time, with learning fractions of it for other destinations I might even crack the whole thing into Woolston. It would be a good walking alternative to get there in the winter because our new and improved one would be quite chilly in the winter where its mostly open spaces. I’m really thrilled with these massive leaps we’ve suddenly made today. Its like one of those breakthrough moments and it couldn’t have come at a better time after last week’s disaster. But as Jenny said, its all learning and I will still be using parts of that complicated route so nothing was wasted. Hopefully next week will be even more positive…

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.