Tag Archives: Zena

“It’s all gone wrong, I’m dribbling cake”…

On Sunday 27th May, after we’d dropped Mum off to do her usual shift at the club, Dad and I headed for the airport, not for me to board a plane but, for the first time in a year, to collect Kieran after his plane landed. Now working towards completing an apprenticeship and hopefully moving into full-time employment, Kieran isn’t able to just fly down here whenever he feels like it to visit me. For one thing, he doesn’t have the amount of free time he used to to spend in Southampton with me. Usually, I fly up to see him but as my 21st birthday was looming, it was great that he was coming down to see me. The last few times I’ve flown to Newcastle, the plane has got there in much less than its 1 hour 20 minute schedule time. Mostly, I’ve arrived about an hour after takeoff. For Kieran this time, however, the plane took its full hour 20 time, probably because Newcastle airport was very busy, probably unusual for a Sunday night but due to the fact that the school holidays had just started and parents were taking the opportunity to jet off somewhere nice and sunny. Soon enough, though, Kieran was with us. While we’d been waiting, Dad and I had bought drinks from Costa, his a roasted hazelnut latte and mine a pineapple and coconut water cooler — or at least that’s what it was meant to be. On the ride home, Kieran agreed with me that there was certainly no pineapple or coconut flavour in that drink. Instead, it was some kind of fruity concoction, which definitely included mango. Although it wasn’t what I’d ordered and so I was a bit disappointed about not having my favourite drink, it was still nice and especially as the temperature was hot outside. It really put my new Costa travel mug to the test, which it easily passed as the remnants of the drink were still frozen in the bottom the following morning after a very muggy night…

On the way home, I offered Kieran food, saying that we could pick up any kind of takeaway he might want seeing as Mum wasn’t home and wouldn’t be able to cook for us. But he said he wasn’t hungry so we left it, with the agreement that we could order in later on if he felt hungry then. When we got home, we went straight upstairs for a cuddle and a catch up. Last time Kieran visited, I still had Zena so much had changed since he was last in my room. Later on, we put Kisstory on my echo dot to have in the background to listen to and after that we decided to listen to Harry Potter on my Victor Reader Trek, which Kieran had had a little play with while I showered. We connected it via the Trek’s Bluetooth to my rock box speaker and it sounded nice.

Of course, the following day was bank holiday Monday and the first day of the kids’ school holidays. This meant that everyone was home and we all had a little lie in. We had tea and toast for breakfast and during the day Mum and Dad did jobs around the house while Kieran and I listened to more Harry Potter. I’d started rereading the series at the beginning of May, using it to relax around my intense uni studies, so by the time Kieran arrived I’d already started the sixth book, Half Blood Prince. Of course having read it many times before himself, Kieran easily picked up from where I was at. Later on, Mum asked if we fancied going out for tea. Eventually, we decided on the nearest Hungry Horse, the Fleming Arms pub, as its quite cheap but does nice food. We all shared starters of breaded king prawns, bacon popcorn and breaded mushrooms. I was going to try a prawn but chickened out when I saw the tail! It just really put me off. But the bacon popcorn and mushrooms were lovely. For main meals, I had macaroni cheese (and wished I hadn’t), Kieran had the giant chicken melt that comes with 4 smothered chicken breasts, fries, onion rings, peas and coleslaw (which he didn’t eat); Mum had a chicken tikka which came with popadoms and onion chutney; Dad had a breakfast burger, minus the rib meat, with fries; and Tamsin had lasagne, garlic bread and veggie sticks. Kieran had a lager called Camden Hells and the rest of us had coke. When it came to desserts, Kieran had another lager, I had millionaires cheesecake, Mum had a mini mania sundae, Dad had a latte and Tamsin had chocolate brownies.

When we got home, we decided to watch Friday Night Dinner, which had started a new series on 4 May but which neither of us had watched, wanting to see it together. It was absolutely hilarious, showing that a fifth series of something can still be really funny as we both laughed a lot through all 4 episodes. Kieran thought the funniest episode was the one with Martin’s ventriloquist dummy, Lord Luck, which just constantly said “bugger off” in a really high-pitched voice. I really liked the episode where Jim has a date with the other Jackie. But all episodes were great. Afterwards, we listened to more Harry Potter.

When midnight came, it of course meant it was my 21st birthday. As we have on the other birthdays we’ve been together, Kieran gave me my present at midnight. It was a Reece’s American candy gift box. I’d already had two presents from him, some gorgeous flowers, chocolates and a balloon from Moonpig and a new addition to my Alexa collection of speakers, the Home Bargains Accelerate WiFi Speaker. The flowers were already in a vase downstairs and the speaker was hidden under my bed, ready for the morning when I hoped Kieran would help me set it up.

As is tradition, the following morning we awoke to the sounds of Stevie Wonder singing Happy Birthday from the front room speakers. When we were ready, we went downstairs to the kitchen where everyone was waiting. Mum had decorated the cupboards with banners and balloons and scattered happy birthday confetti over the breakfast bar. I sat on the floor to open presents. First, I had several cards from relatives and then Mum and Dad’s big bag of presents. These included: a retro Liverpool Adidas training jacket; a Liverpool Converse Tshirt; Body Shop strawberry gloss shampoo and conditioner, banana conditioner, coconut body scrub; Lush dragon’s egg bath bomb, mint lip scrub, “honey I’ve washed my hair” shampoo bar, honey lip balm; a 21 dangle pandora charm and a birthday parcel pandora charm; a huge birthday badge; Benidorm series 4-8 DVD’s; The A Word series 2 dvd; Harry Potter snitch necklace and bracelet set, pin badges, mystery of magic sign and beach towel. After I’d opened all my presents and cards, Mum announced that as an extra birthday present, they’d booked for the 4 of us to go to the Warner Bros. Studio London to see the Harry Potter exhibition there. It has pretty much everything from the movies and has been somewhere I’ve wanted to since I seriously fell in love with Harry Potter two years ago when I read the books properly for the first time. I’m so excited about going; its just a shame Kieran isn’t coming. It sounds as if originally he was coming with us and we were going to go the Sunday after my birthday but it seems that Mum couldn’t get tickets for that day and so we’re Going at the end of the month instead. But as I said to Kieran, one trip won’t be nearly enough. It’d be nice for the two of us to go together but I’d also like to go with Imi and Josh too, so there’s loads of room for multiple trips there.

When we went upstairs, Kieran gave me some birthday cards sent down by his parents, sister and grandparents, all of whom spoilt me thoroughly and are very naughty for doing so. I especially liked Kieran’s sister, Rebecca’s, present; it has to be the coolest gift voucher I’ve ever received, for Nando’s! Kieran and I love our dates there and actually hadn’t been there together in ages so Rebecca’s voucher gave us even more incentive to have a Nando’s date at some point.

When they were ready, Mum, Dad and Tamsin headed out. Mum and Dad were working and Tamsin was going to Nan and Grandad’s for the day as I didn’t fancy being a child minder. After they left, I decided to run a bath and use my Lush dragon’s egg bath bomb and coconut body scrub to spoil myself. I don’t usually have long soaks in the bath but recently I’ve been really starting to appreciate products from Lush and Body Shop, meaning many more long baths are necessary. The bath bomb and body scrub were both lovely; the body scrub had been high on my hope list for birthday goodies and it definitely lived up to expectation. While I soaked, Kieran was trying to set up my new Alexa speaker, which seemed to be proving quite tricky. Once I felt I’d absorb enough of the loveliness of the bath, Kieran had a turn while I tried to work out the speaker. When I was doing my usual morning check of my emails, I found something unexpected: an online gift voucher for Pandora with the value of £50 from Kieran. He got called a lot of not very pleasant names on discovery that he’d spent that much money, not even considering the presents he’d already given me, but of course really I was very grateful and thanked him a lot.

We spent most of the rest of the morning figuring out how the speaker worked. Kieran also used my laptop to go online and fix his WiFi at home. Then, he ordered lunch. We’d decided a while ago to have Dominoes for my birthday lunch and as usual went all out on the food. We ordered: a new pizza called Meat Field which has pepperoni, ham, chorizo, meatballs and bacon and added stuffed crust and extra tomato sauce and cheese; cheesy potato wedges; garlic pizza bread; chicken strips; and cookies. While we ate the delicious meal, we listened to Harry Potter on my now successfully set up speaker and spent the rest of the afternoon dozing and listening to Harry Potter. When everyone came in, earlier than I’d expected, we got ready to go out to, for me, an unknown location. Ages ago, Mum had told me we were going out for a meal on my birthday, just the 5 of us, but refused to tell me the location. Kieran is very good at keeping secrets and didn’t let it slip either. I figured it out, however, when we arrived and Kieran gave me the clue that it had Braille menus. As Dad hates Nando’s and we’d already had pizza that day, I knew it had to be Beefeater. The other surprise was that, when we reached our table, 5 others were waiting there for us. Despite what Mum had said, my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin were joining us to celebrate my 21st. Sadly, as I was still so full from our lunch, I didn’t fancy much. Kieran chose breaded mushrooms as his starter and sausage and mash for main. I just had the sharer portion of potato dippers, and didn’t really eat many anyway. After everyone had finished, a birthday cake was brought out and a verse of happy birthday sung. That’s when I found out that actually Mum hadn’t been at work that day at all. She’d been busy sorting out the meal, collecting the birthday cake and going to the arcades with Tamsin to keep the surprise. The cake was awesome! It was Harry Potter themed with a wand, a snitch, an owl and the sorting hat. Only the sorting hat received a lot of laugh and jokes because everyone thought it looked like a smiling poo emoji 💩 and it took a long time for everyone to stop laughing about it, long after we’d all enjoyed a slice of the cake. From my aunt, uncle and cousin, I was given another Pandora bead to add to my rapidly expanding necklace, this one a little cupcake. It’s lovely and adds some nice colour to my currently slightly plain necklace. I usually choose the beads for their meaning and unfortunately the ones I’ve chosen have mostly been silver. My Nan had put together a little gift bag of 21 assorted presents from her and Grandad, mostly toiletries and other little bits as I’d already received £21 from them in my birthday card that morning.

After everyone had finished their cake and the bill was settled, we headed out and said our goodbyes by the cars before heading home. On the way, Mum announced that the following day we were headed for London and the attraction Madame Tussaud’s there as an extra birthday present for me. She also explained that in with the price they’d got the option to visit a second attraction another time and were thinking of doing the London Eye sometime in the school summer holidays. Really, I’m not sure how I felt about either. Although obviously I was grateful that they’d put so much thought into my birthday, I was apprehensive about both attractions. To me, the London Eye sounds absolutely pointless as a blind person other than being able to say you’ve been there, I’m not sure what else you’d gain out of the experience. And I was concerned Madame Tussaud’s would be the same. Although its somewhere cool to go, I wasn’t too sure how much of it I’d actually be able to interpret.

We were up early — early for a day off, anyway — to head to London. Mum put the address in the Satnav in the car and Dad drove us there. It took quite a while for us to find our allocated prepaid car park space. It turned out to be someone’s parking space for their home that they rent out while they’re absent and don’t need it. After that, it took us a further while to actually locate and walk to Madame Tussaud’s, thankfully making a loo stop on the way… when we got there, though, things were pretty straight forward. Due to our disability, Kieran and I had managed to secure the adults free tickets on account of them being our carers and someone pointed us in the right direction straight away. Dad was guiding Kieran and Mum had me as I’d found it a bit difficult doing the train. Overall, my fears about Madame Tussaud’s came true for me; I struggled to enjoy most of the exhibition because its just so visual. Mum pointed out every celebrity we passed and persevered in asking me if I wanted to touch them or have my photo taken with them. But it didn’t matter whether I knew the celebrity or not, 99% of the time I didn’t recognise them by touch anyway, even if Mum pointed out stand out features that, to a sighted person, make them easily recognisable. Kieran was a much better sport than me and seemed to enjoy the experience more. He stood by every wax work Dad suggested and allowed his photo to be taken. I can probably guarantee that out of all of us, Kieran had the most photos taken. I did enjoy Mum and I having our photos taken with Adele and Princess Diana. Also, the little ride you go on that takes you through London through the ages was quite good. Although I think we worried the staff when two blind people were chancing their luck and climbing into the constantly moving little taxi cabs that you ride in. The ride included the plague, the great fire of London, Queen Victoria, Shakespeare, World War II and the England football World Cup 1966. Kieran and Dad seemed to really enjoy the Star Wars exhibition and Mum and Dad liked the 4d Marvel experience. Tamsin was fascinated by the gift shop and couldn’t decide what to spend Mum’s money on, as usual.

Once we’d finished the exhibition, we went in search of food, first settling on McDonald’s but having to go elsewhere when there weren’t any seats free. Instead, Mum decided to take us into Nando’s, which I knew from the instant she suggested it would be a mistake with Dad, who despises their food. Kieran and I had our usual meals, he a chicken burger with hot sauce and peri salted fries and me a lemon and herb wrap with peri salted fries. To begin with, Mum, who really enjoys Nando’s on the rare occasions she gets to go, couldn’t decide what sauce to have but decided to copy me and have a lemon and herb wrap with peri salted fries. Tamsin, who was unsure, decided to just have a plain burger and original fries and Dad, mumbling and grumbling that there was no food he liked anyway, had the same as Tamsin. Everyone except Dad, who continued to complain, really enjoyed their food. Afterwards, we went to Costa and Dad had a hazelnut latte and I had my favourite, the coconut and pineapple cooler.

When we got home, my new iPad, which I’m using to write this post, and Echo stand were waiting for me. I gave the iPad to Kieran to set up, as he’s much better at these kinds of thing than me, and set up my new stand. Its wooden with a circular cut out for the Echo speaker to stand in and next to it a little stand for an iPhone or any phone to stand in while charging. I bought it for my new Alexa buddy speaker that Kieran bought me for my birthday and thankfully it fits. Afterwards, while Kieran was still battling with my new iPad, I had a bath before grabbing us snacks of a slice of birthday cake each. It really was a lovely cake and there’s nothing better than proper homemade birthday cake. Once the iPad was set up, we ate our cake and listened to more Harry Potter.

Thursday was a lazy day. Everyone was back to work so Kieran and I got a lie in. When we eventually got up, we showered before having breakfast of Weetabix and cups of tea. Again, we listened to Harry Potter for the majority of the day. In the afternoon, the post came, bringing with it birthday gifts from Imi. Again I’d been royally spoilt. While I rang Imi to talk through the gifts, Kieran fixed and updated my little laptop. Afterwards, I did some uni revision in preparation for my exam the following Tuesday. For tea, Mum and Dad brought fish and chips home; cod, curry sauce and chips for Kieran and jumbo plain sausage, bbq sauce and chips for me.

On Friday morning, before we got up I did more uni revision. I had notes that I wanted to read over and over again before the exam and I was trying my best to read them as many times as I could. When we eventually got up, I decided to have a bath again, wanting to try out some of the goodies Imi had sent for my birthday. So I ran a bath and used her green coconut jelly bath bomb. In the bath, I also used the Lush product Scrubee, which I’d never heard of until Imi sent me but which is amazing. Its a bar containing all sorts that you rub into your skin after your usual wash and then rinse off. Its got eggshell for expholiating and lots of moisturising ingredients and it leaves your skin feeling silky smooth. It also leaves you smelling of white chocolate and the scent stayed on my skin all day. Kieran had a bath after me and then we went down for more breakfast of Weetabix and cups of tea. We listened to more Harry Potter and when we finished The Half Blood Prince, we stopped reading for a while to Braille Label all my dvds that didn’t yet have labels. This took most of the afternoon and we managed to start listening to The Deathly Hallows before Nan and Grandad came to pick us up. As Mum was working her usual Friday night shift down the club, we needed to go elsewhere for tea and Nan usually cooks Tamsin and I tea on Fridays anyway. We had pasta Bologna’s with garlic bread for dinner. For dessert, Kieran had strawberries and cream and I had a choc ice. When we got home, we decided to watch a stand up dvd and chose Rhod Gilbert and the man with the flaming battenburg tattoo, which was very funny. When that finished, we listened to more of The Deathly Hallows.

On Saturday, we had a shorter lie in. Mum had already taken Dad to work and would be in Eastleigh waiting for Tamsin to finish karate. We got up, had showers, dressed and had our breakfast by the time Mum called and told me that actually she was going to do the monthly shop after picking Tamsin up, so we could have stayed asleep for longer! We listened to more Harry Potter and Mum came home. We decided not to go into town as I thought that by the time we actually got ready and got there, there wouldn’t be enough time to do all the shops we wanted anyway. Later, Kieran watched some horse racing on TV and was very happy because the horse he’d bet on won its race. We watched Judge Judy and some football, the England vs Nigeria World Cup friendly. After that, we then watched the first 4 episodes of Friday Night Dinner series 5 again before watching the fifth episode that had been shown and recorded Friday night. Halfway through, we ordered ourselves takeaway. Mum had already gone to work and dropped Tamsin off at Nan and Grandad’s to spend the night. The food took a lot longer than we’d predicted it would to arrive but it was lovely. Kieran had a cheese and bacon burger with burger sauce and onions. He had cheesy chips with it. I had donner meat and chips. We shared potato wedges, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and the free cheesy garlic pizza bread that came with our order. As usual when Kieran and I order, we’d bought far too much food and couldn’t eat all of it. But we enjoyed it anyway and it was very nice to have mozzarella sticks again.. while we ate we listened to more Harry Potter and continued to listen to it upstairs after we’d tidied up in the kitchen.

Sunday meant a lie in for everyone. We had showers and while Kieran was in the shower, I did my uni revision. Mum cooked a roast dinner and Nan and Grandad came, bringing Tamsin home with them. We had beef, pork, roast potatoes, broccoli, swede, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, apple sauce and horse radish sauce. It was delicious and everyone seemed to enjoy. In the evening, Kieran and I decided to watch another comedy DVD, this time a new one, Sean Lock’s Keeping It Light, which we both enjoyed.

Monday meant Kieran’s flight back to Newcastle. As always, our time together had flown by far too quickly. On Monday morning, we didn’t have much of a lie in because we were conscious of time and wanted to make sure we were ready for my aunt to pick us up and take us to the airport. Before we got up, I did a bit of uni revision again. Then, we had showers, kieran packed up all his stuff and we had breakfast and listened to Harry Potter. A little while later, we had a small lunch, Kieran having the sandwich and crisps Mum had left out for him and me having some of the leftover garlic pizza bread.

At 1:30, auntie Clare arrived to take us to the airport. It didn’t take long to get there and check-in was easy. As we were a little bit early, we sat in the waiting area for a little bit. But a special assistance member of staff was soon with us, ready to take Kieran through security and away from me. We said our goodbyes. It doesn’t matter how many times we say them, they never get any easier. In fact, for some reason this time I felt like they’d got harder. I don’t know if its because I’m used to being the one walking away and boarding the plane or if it just does get harder each time we have to do it, but I definitely felt worse walking away with Auntie Clare and leaving Kieran behind. This was made worse, about half an hour later, when I got a call from Kieran saying his plane had been delayed due to a technical fault. A whole hour later, almost an hour after his plane was actually supposed to depart, I got a text from kieran saying he’d finally boarded and would be on his way soon. Being already at home by this point, I felt so relieved. I’d had visions of Mum and I rushing to the airport to get him or be with him as soon as she got in from work. Although he’d been bored out of his mind waiting and I’d been really worried, I was just glad he was finally in the air and on his way home and even more happy when I received the text to say he’d landed safely at Newcastle airport.

Its funny that I felt that the goodbye this time was worse than all the others because, although Kieran leaving was sad, I didn’t have too much to be sad about as I’d be seeing him on Friday anyway when we all met up in Newcastle at the hotel for the Ed Sheeran show the following day. Also, I’d had the best 21st birthday, of course made even more special by the fact that Kieran had managed to get time off work to come and spend it and a whole week with me. I am very grateful that he spent his holiday time on me and so glad that he could be there for my birthday too. Of course, I also appreciate all the gifts he bought me but more than anything the amount of quality time we were able to spend together. Long distance relationships are difficult, its true, but they’re made much better and easier by both parties making the effort to see each other as often and for as long as they can. Kieran and I are lucky in that respect because although we have 300 miles separating us and the barriers of his job and my studies, we have always and will always make as much time as we possibly can for each other. For that, I’ll always be grateful because it is that dedication that’s kept us together. And as I received the text to say he’d landed, long after I’d been back at my rather empty-feeling house, I knew I didn’t have to be sad because we’d had the best time and another great time would surely be had at the end of the week in Newcastle.

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Mobility Update: My Guide Session 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 15 and 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 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…

New year’s eve 2017

So today is new year’s eve, meaning tomorrow is a brand new year. At midnight, we’ll enter 2018. For many, tonight will be about partying. I know a lot of people who usually drink a lot of alcohol and have a lot of fun in pubs and clubs with friends and family. Usually, I spend the evening all cosy at home with at least my Mum and sister Tamsin, sometimes accompanied by my Dad too. The last couple of years, its only been Mum, Tamsin and me, not really fussed about staying up til midnight but doing it anyway, watching rubbish TV until about ten to midnight when Mum changes the channel and we watch the count down to new year. I can’t remember a year when I haven’t watched the last ten minutes of the year flutter by on TV. Then, when Big Ben chimes in London and the fireworks start, I’ll wish whoever I’m nearest a happy new year. Some years, Mum and I have gone to stand out on our front porch to watch the fireworks nearby going off. Most years, they’re still going an hour later. This new yer’s, though, I’m not going to spend the last ten minutes of the year sat with my Mum, waiting for Big Ben’s bongs. I’ll be home, but Mum, Dad and my not so little any more sister won’t. Recently, Mum returned to her younger days role of barmaid at our local social club. She was a barmaid in 1995 when she met my dad and I don’t think I realised, until lately, just how much she enjoyed the job. Originally, she said she was only taking it to earn a bit extra money to pay for Christmas, so that it didn’t have to use up all the money from her monthly wages. But it’s a week after Christmas now and there’s no signs of her stopping working. Of course, if she enjoys it that much then I’m more than happy for her. Why wouldn’t I be? It gets her out of the house doing something she once enjoyed very much and socialising with people she maybe wouldn’t meet otherwise; and as an added bonus, shes earning money for it. But it means that on top of her 9:30am to 6:00pm job at Salon Supplies, shes now working several nights a week, usually from 6pm to 11:30pm or later. Mostly, shes working weekends. It means shes a lot more tiered than she was and we’re seeing her less than we were. But it seems to be working. The ship’s still floating, just about. But tonight, the club is hosting a new year’s party, which Mum, who has already been given the role of top bar staff, is running. So that means shes not here. Dad and Tamsin aren’t, either, because they’re going to the party. Many people know my hatred of all things related to alcohol and loud noise so the club tonight would be my worst kind of nightmare. I wish the fact that my family were all going to be there was enough to convince me to endure it. But I just can’t. I’m pretty gutted though, mostly that I won’t be spending it with my Mum, who I can only remember not spending new year’s with once in all my twenty years. There may have been more when I was little but the only year I remember was in 2014 when I reluctantly decided to spend it with my then fiancé and his mum. Even though we had a nice time, I felt weird about not being with my Mum. I guess it’s a bit daft really. I’m sure they’ll all have a nice time here and I probably will too. My pal Josh is coming over to stay and Mum’s bought us a whole buffet load of food to munch through. Josh has agreed we can watch the Big Ben fireworks and even my sister Imi has said she should be available for FaceTime at some point. So it should be a nice night and its nice that I’ll have someone to spend it with. Otherwise, I’d have been on my own and probably gone to bed early. New year’s isn’t a big deal or anything. I don’t want a huge party and loads of alcohol. I just like spending it with those who mean the most. Of course, one year that meant I thought I wanted to spend it with the person I then thought I was going to marry. Obviously, now things are different. If I could, I’d have all my favourite people in the world in one room. Although I can’t have my family tonight, Im lucky to have Josh, who has been my friend 10 years next year.

Mostly, 2017 has been a great year for me. Ive been able to spend as much time as I possibly can with Kieran, I was given the chance to experience what having a guide dog is like and I’ve been to loads of great places. In June, I fulfilled a lifelong ambition of taking Mum to see one of her favourite bands live. The Take That concert is definitely one of my favourite nights of 2017. I expected them to be good and for Mum to enjoy it, but I didn’t anticipate quite how much. They were brilliant and Mum had a great time. We drove up to London together and spent a whole afternoon moseying around the O2. It’s huge! I wish I’d known how much it contained before we travelled. We were able to have Nando’s and spend the whole afternoon browsing everything else the O2 had on offer. After we were through security, we were taken straight to the front of the queue and let in quickly. Due to my haste to just get Mum some tickets for Take That, I hadn’t secured us very good seats, in fact they were the last row! But Mum didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered. She seemed to love the whole night. She was singing and dancing to every song. When I booked the tickets, I’d hoped it would be good and she’d enjoy herself, but I couldn’t have imagined how much. We got band merchandise and they sang all the best songs. What more could I have asked for? Even more than that, I had a rare opportunity to just spend some time with my Mum. Having a little sister and Dad means that is a real rarity but I do enjoy it when it happens.

Another opportunity for a just us day came 4 months later when we headed to London again, this time to see my all-time favourite band live. In 2011, whilst sitting in a Land Rover on its way to Salisbury with four people who mean a lot to me despite how little we talk these days, I was fully introduced to Train and to what will always be my favourite album of theirs, Save Me San Francisco. Ever since, I’ve collected every album of theirs I can find and loved them. So when I booked the tickets, I couldn’t have been more excited. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for Mum, who had only agreed to come because I needed someone to drive me and someone to be there with me. But even she still says they were amazing and she thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Once again I’d underestimated how much there would be to do once we reached London. This time, we were destined for the Hammersmith Apollo, a place I’d seen many comedian play on Tv. The Apollo was surrounded by loads, including two shopping centres. So Mum and I spent a few hours browsing everything before we had to queue to get inside. Once again, we were rushed straight to the front of the queue and got in a lot faster than others. I was even able to buy Train merchandise, something I hadn’t found before then. I got a T shirt with the tour dates on and a zip-up hoodie with them printed on too. Even I couldn’t have hoped Train to be quite as amazing as they were. Making my night perfect, they sang my all-time favourite song of theirs, Parachute. Mum managed to record loads of great videos, which I now forever have to replay one of my best nights of the year.

Of course it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Zena a bit when talking about my 2017. She shaped the whole first half of my year. In January, I was excitedly anticipating her arrival and in February I was training and qualifying with her. March, April, May and June were spent trying to keep our partnership afloat and finally admitting it wasn’t working out. July was spent wishing she wasn’t gone and wondering if I’d done the right thing. By august, I was back in contact with Guide Dogs, asking to be assessed for one of their dogs. And I’ve spent the last few months working as hard as I can to learn new routes so that I’ll be enough for one of their dogs. It is true, I’ve become obsessed with being a Guide Dog owner, but now I think it is all for the right reasons. Zena gave me that. Although she never should have been a guide and I’m now thrilled shes retired as a pet, she showed me I was right all along: guide dog mobility is my favourite and best way to be independent. I’m now doing things I wouldn’t have dared to before zena and so although the whole having her is a bittersweet part of the year, overall I’m glad it happened. I got the opportunity to be mummy to a beautiful doggy for 5 months and in return she taught me the best ways to look after, groom, feed, walk and love a dog. When I evemtually get another guide dog, I know i’ll be able to put everything, good and bad, that she taught me into being a much better owner and dog mummy. I just hope that, wherever she is now, her new family are looking after her with the best care and loving her like I did. Because although we had a lot more bad than good, I love that girlie more than I can put into words. I know, though, that when I eventually get matched with a Guide Dog, it’ll be a much better partnership than Zena and I could ever have achieved. That, more than anything, is why I’m glad I didn’t persevere with Seeing Dogs and am persevering learning new routes with my lovely My Guide volunteer. The end result will be what I want and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Ive also managed to see my sister Imi twice this year and both times we had great fun. Josh and I have been meeting up weekly since early this year. We’ve also added more comedians to my seen live list: Shappi Khorsandi, Jon Richardson and Jimmy Carr were all incredible. Josh and I also went to see Lucy Spraggan live and saw her a second time with Imi up north. Ive continued to play cricket for Hampshire VICC and even got awarded “man of the match” for one of the games I played. Kieran and I have been lucky to see each other as much as we have due to my qualification with Zena and his gaining employment. That’s our dedication to each other. In 9 days time, we’ll have been a couple for two years. We’ve had the best times and I’m hoping 2018 provides many more.

Already, it is looking like 2018 is going to be a year full of great things. We are already booked to see Shappi Khorsandi and Kevin Bridges again. Josh and I will also be adding John Bishop to our seen comedians list. In June, the four of us (Josh, Imi, Kieran and I) are going to have what promises to be one of the best nights of our lives seeing Ed Sheeran live in Newcastle. I’m hoping perhaps 2018 may be the year I finally go to Anfield to see Liverpool play.

But the biggest thing that is going to happen to my family is scheduled for the 2nd of February. My big brother, Grant, who moved away almost 13 years ago has now found a lovely lady to settle down with. Along with her two gorgeous children, Grant and his girlfriend now have a lovely little house and in February, four is going to become five. I’m going to be an auntie to a niece, who I can assure you I will spoil. Grant and I haven’t really been close for years and I wanted to rectify this. So in September, after a lot of talking, I went up to stay with the little family for a weekend. That was then I wholeheartedly new how excited I was about being an auntie. Because not only will I gain a baby niece in February, my brother’s first born and my dad’s first grandchild, but I have a new honorary niece and nephew. Grant’s girlfriend’s children are adorable and I’m blessed that she’s adopted me as their auntie Paige. I couldn’t have hoped for more. So in 2018 I intend to be spending a lot of time in Stoke-On-Trent with my nieces and nephew.

Lastly, my progress with my studies has been constant this year. I haven’t had any wobbles about changing course or quitting. Ive completed K118, my second Level 1 health and social care module just how I planned to and moved onto Level 2 with K217 and K240, achieving good scores in the first assignments for both. In 2018, I hope to continue steadily with both until I finish and pass them before moving onto Level 3 in october and starting my final two modules of OU study. By this point in two years, I hope to be sitting here with a good level degree and employment. But who knows?

So 2018 looks like it’s going to be a good year. I hope all of my family and friends remain healthy and hope 2018 brings good things for everyone, too. I’m hopeful, if I work hard on my routes, that I’ll get on the Guide Dogs waiting list sometime next year too. I’m not over ambitious, I don’t expect to have a new dog by this time next year. But you never know. I hope that I get to spend lots of time with all those who mean the most. And maybe, this time next year, Mum won’t be working and we can bring 2019 in together. Maybe.

Mobility update: the outcome of my Guide Dog assessment

Since i last wrote a mobility update, quite a lot has happened. Last time I wrote, I’d had my mobility assessment with the instructor from Guide Dogs and she’d told me she felt I was more than ready for the next part of the assessment, where a GDMI [Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor] would come to my house and talk everything dog related. She advised I’d probably have to do a short handle walk, a walk where I hold the harness and the instructor walks as if they’d dog, and I command as if they are the dog. I felt a bit nervous about this as, 6 years ago when I had my first guide dogs assessment, that was one of the things they picked up on: that I wasn’t particularly vocal with the dog. At the time I was 14 and terrified; I was desperate for a guide dog for all the wrong reasons and absolutely heartbroken and gutted when, predictably, they told me I wasn’t ready yet. But I felt confident after this assessment; the woman had been more positive than I could have hoped she’d be. She said my mobility had come on leaps and bounds since she assessed me a year ago and that I’d finally done what she needed.

Unfortunately, at the next assessment, in mid October, things were very different. The tone of the whole thing was completely the opposite of that which I’d been thrilled about in July. The lady had filled me with so much hope and anticipation, which I hadnt dared to have before considering my previous negative experiences with guide dog assessments. Of course, in hindsight now I can absolutely understand why they made the decisions they did and I respect that; but I was so joyfully hopeful this time. Friends and family had been wholeheartedly encouraging me that this time, at last, I’d get the answer Ive been dreaming of for so long. Due to their unwavering certainty and the positive vibes I’d received after the assessment last time, I was quietly confident too, secretly hoping I’d get exactly what I was wishing for this time. But it didn’t work out that way. When the assessment started, we did a lot of talking; it was the instructor from the last assessment, a new GDMI I’d never met before and myself. Right from the beginning I was nervous; of course, even before they arrived I was nervous but as soon as they were in my lounge, an uncertainty I hadn’t had was with me. Once all the talking was done, during which I’d pretty much told them the full story of my experiences with Seeing Dogs, we went out for a route walk. As soon as the instructor asked, I knew things weren’t going as I’d dreamed; she wanted me to show them the route to the gym, which is my longest route and the one I learnt with John and Zena during our training and which became mine and Zena’s most used route. Slightly panicking, I grabbed my Trekker Breeze, praying they wouldn’t ask me to do it without it, and programmed in the route I needed. Thinking about it now, I might have been able to do the route without the Trekker – I did it so many times with zena – but I didn’t really want to take the risk. Plus, the difference doing the route with Zena and doing it with a cane is staggering.

The route went relatively well on the way there. They didn’t interupt or ask anything additional of me so I was able to concentrate on where I was going, with the additional landmark reminders from the Trekker as backup. They were reassuring and I was so glad I’d taken the risk of grabbing the Trekker. When we reached the gym, we immediately turned back around and headed home. On the return journey, I did do a short handle walk; it was terrifying. It’s so different from actually having a dog on the end of the harness and commanding a GDMI who is currently assessing whether you’re good enough for a dog you know 100% you want and need.

When we got home, they told me the verdict. Of course I wasn’t ready for a guide dog yet. Of course I dint have enough routes. My workload was nowhere near enough for a young lively new guide dog. I didn’t go out anywhere near as much as I needed to myself to enough different places to be ready for a dog. Secretly, I’d been expecting these comments. Although everyone else had been overly positive, a little secret part of my brain had been dreading they’d say all this. What came next was what I hadn’t expected. They had received comment back from Seeing Dogs, from John in fact, discussing my partnership with Zena. John had basically said that he thought I’d given up too soon, that my handling hadn’t been right and that due to my lack of routes Zena had gotten bored and therefore the partnership had crumbled. But according to him, if I’d tried harder or persevered longer, it would have all worked out. What I was experiencing was merely teething issues which every new partnership experiences for the first year after qualification. In a nutshell, it was my fault and I shouldn’t have quit. When I defended myself, trying to explain the severity of the issues I’d faced and the lack of support from the charity I felt I’d experienced, the GDMI said that I could experience any or all of these problems with one of their dogs, that usually many new owners do face these problems at the beginning of the partnership. I tried to counter that I didn’t feel the frequency of the occurrence of the problems were as bad with all new partnerships to what I had with Zena. Ours was pretty much a daily struggle with no high points.

They explained that due to my lack of routes and the comments from John, they had concerns about putting me forward for a Guide Dog. They explained again that I could experience any of the issues or even all of them with a new dog and because I’d given zena back, how would they know that I’d persevere with a new dog? Of course they didn’t actually say it like that but that was the message. Also, I needed to consider whether a dog was for me. They said that they felt I’d been given many opportunities to improve my amount of routes and hadn’t taken them. They said that of course they could appreciate there were two sides to every story where mine and Zena’s partnership was concerned but they couldn’t pretend that John’s report hadn’t given them worries.

So they left me with two options to think over. They said that if I felt after all this that actually a guide dog wasn’t for me right now I could close my application and reapply at a time when I did feel a dog would suit my lifestyle. Or, if I wanted, the instructor would put me forward for a My Guide application again and I could spend time working on my routes to create a large enough workload for a guide dog. The instructor said that if I chose My Guide then she’d contact the leader of Southampton’s My Guide service immediately so that I could be put forward for a new application. As before, she complimented my much improved long cane skills, saying how much more confidence I seemed to have whilst using it than she had seen the previous year. The GDMI added that I’d done a really good job correcting my own orientation errors along the route and that she felt it was a really good route. We did a lot of talking about how many routes I have. I explained how since the instructor had assessed me the previous year, I’d learnt a lot of new routes: the gym route (30 minutes there, 30 minutes back), the library route (a really recent learn, 20 minutes there and the same return), the routes on the bus both into Woolston our local small shopping street and into our main city centre, the route from Woolston on foot to my doctor’s surgery and pharmacy, and the locations of several shops both in Woolston and the city centre. Over the last year, I’ve personally felt I’ve made massive leaps and bounds in my mobility independence. I had a guide dog and despite the fact that she wasn’t a Guide Dogs dog and wasn’t the best working dog, she meant that I did my level best to leave the house daily more than just to put the rubbish out. This, for me, is huge! The addition of all the new routes is even more amazing progress. In 2016, it took me several months to learn the route to the local shop which is 5 minutes away from my house. But since then I’ve learnt routes that are lengthy, or lengthy in my book. Nowadays, I regularly meet up with my friend Josh, catching the bus into the city centre and going for lunch with him. That’s usually once weekly. And then most Tuesdays I take the bus into Woolston to have coffee and do a little shopping with my grandparents. Before Zena gave me that confidence, I’d never have dared.

This was all explained to the instructor and GDMI and although they seemed pleased that I’d made that progress, it was clear it still wasn’t enough. When discussing the My Guide option, we sketched out what I could accomplish with a volunteer’s help. We wrote out a list of routes I had in mind to try out and the lengths of each of them. Once we’d established this, the instructor and GDMI agreed that all of these combined would most definitely create a large enough workload for a guide dog but it was up to me whether I felt it was worthwhile putting that effort in, whether I thought creating that kind of work for myself was necessary right now and whether a guide dog would benefit my life. As they left, the instructor said to mull things over for a little while and let her know when I’d made my final decision.

To say I was crushed was an understatement. After all the hard work I’d put in learning new routes and still trying my best even after giving Zena back, I’d hoped I’d get a better answer than that. Right there and then, I couldn’t really think or feel anything, except shock that it hadn’t gone better and at what John had told them. As promised, as soon as the women had left, I ran upstairs and rang my sister Imi. In all of this guide dog mess, I have always had three solid figures in my life who I could rely on for sound advice and honesty. Of course my parents and wider family have been supportive too but the three main people, without whom I wouldn’t have pulled through all this, are Imi, my wonderful fella Kieran and my ex cricket captain and all round blindy hero Tiny. Of course, being Guide Dog owners themselves, Imi and Tiny have a whole host of knowledge and experience about Guide Dogs to fall back on when helping me out. As for Kieran, well, he’s my rock and always there for me no matter what, even when I’m wrong. The support of these three people in my life is utterly priceless to me and I can’t reiterate often enough how I wouldn’t have gotten through the worst times along this journey so far without them. Hence why Imi was my first port of call. To be fair, all she got when she answered the phone was a sudden gabbled statement of “I haven’t got enough routes and I’m not ready” before I burst into uncontrollable sobs. I say this not to be dramatic but because it was true. Poor Godwin probably thought things were a lot worse than they were because I don’t think shes ever heard me cry like that. Haltingly, I managed to tell her the full account of the morning’s events. The parts we focused on were the open option for My Guide and what John had told Guide Dogs in his report about me. Imi couldn’t believe how horrid he’d been; she saw mine and Zena’s partnership with her own eyes when we visited her in April so knows first hand how bad things. We’re. In fact, it was she who alerted me to some of the issues I hadn’t realised we were having. Eventually, we summarised that I needed to think what I wanted but that the My Guide offer was a fair one and definitely one I should take if I wanted to pursue getting a dog. However, I was so messed up about the whole thing that right there and then I wasn’t sure what I wanted. After everything John had told them, my worst fears seemed to be coming true. Maybe I’d been a bad owner. Maybe I shouldn’t have a guide dog. Maybe I didn’t need a guide dog and was again making up reasons why I should have one. The only solid argument I had for this theory was that however bad mine and Zena’s partnership had been, it improved my life dramatically. I was leaving the house with confidence and feeling good about my mobility. Yes, we had mountains of issues and these in the end made me decide that the partnership couldn’t work, but if nothing else, Zena proved how much guide dog mobility can enhance my life. That, above all my other insecurities and worries and uncertainties, makes me positive sure a guide dog is for me. At the end of mine and Imi’s call, I wasn’t feeling much better. But I was trying to take her level-headed logic and calmness on board.

Later, I spoke to Tiny on the phone. He was equally surprised about the outcome of the assessment. Above everyone else, he’d seemed the most certain for me that I’d get the answer I wanted. But as always he is my voice of reason. He knew what I needed to do before I really did. He knew I needed to reapply for My Guide, get all the routes I had in mind under my belt and then go back to the instructor and show what I’d accomplished. With all the routes I had in mind, I’d surely have a big enough workload then. He said that what John had said was unfair. He told me to give everything a lot of thought, at least sleep on it, before I decided what I was going to do. But we both knew what I was going to do. Tiny is always right.

As for Kieran, well, he was my comfort blanket, he said all the things I wanted and needed to hear. Over the following few days, gifts of my favourite sweets arrived in the post: 3 large boxes of Cadbury’s milk tray, a big bag of jelly tots and a box full of packets of love hearts. Although unnecessary, these gifts fulfilled their purpose; they cheered me up. Kieran hasn’t always fully understood my motives for being so persistent about wanting a guide dog. But he understands now;he knows for me a guide dog is my preferred mobility aid and that to me guide dog mobility feels almost natural, an extension of my arm the way his cane feels to him. And so his support is unwavering.

After giving it some thought and taking everyone’s comments on board, I’d made my decision. Like I’d thought that day on the phone with Tiny, I knew I was going for the My Guide option. Guide dog mobility improved my life that much that I felt giving up now wasn’t an option, especially when there was an open door of help to enable me to be ready for a guide dog available. Why would I slam that door? It’s the only available avenue to getting a guide dog left to me. I took the cheater’s way out with Seeing Dogs and look where that left me? Missing a dog that I loved with all my heart but who just wasn’t cut out to be a guide and who I’ve had nothing but abuse about from the charity she came from. I don’t regret having Zena in my life and I never could but the backlash and consequences of that that I’m now facing somethimes make me wonder whether it was worth it. The only positive I really got out of it is proof that guide dog mobility is the right thing for me. The pleasure of having Zena as my companion for 5 months was obviously a massive bonus and she taught me loads of vital dog ownership lessons, mainly to be patient when things aren’t going your way.

With Imi’s help, I sent an email to the instructor stating what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to reapply for My Guide with the sole aim of learning all those routes we’d outlined in the meeting to then be reassessed for a guide dog. We also asked for clarification on just how many routes I needed to learn to have enough to form a decent workload for a dog. It was agreed that the ones I had in mind plus the additional ones I already knew would be enough. While I’d been thinking all this through and corresponding via email, my dad had already volunteered his services for helping to teach me routes. He already had one in mind: the route from home to a news agents. It takes a good 35-40 minutes to walk there from home but it builds on my existent route to the gym. Over the following few weeks, dad taught me this route as promised and I realised it was a very valuable route to have. Not only was it just an extension of an existing route I know solidly but it is also a convenient little shop to go to and it also passes a big park, perfect for free running. In fact, it’s the very park John and I used during training to free run Zena. I stopped using it because it became too much of a distraction for her whilst working on route to the gym. I felt this was a big accomplishment of mine and dad’s because really I’d learnt the routes to two new places. Although only additions to the existing route, still two new destinations and quickly learnt and memorised.

I was quickly contacted by the leader of My Guide, who did the application there and then over the phone. As soon as she’d completed the online form, she said she already had a volunteer in mind and could she come the following Wednesday so I could meet them and decide whether I thought she could help me. This took place in mid November. The lady’s name was Jenny and she’s helped others learn routes in the past. We discussed what I needed to do and then did a little walk outside. We just walked to the local Co-op and then came back. Jenny and I both said we were happy to work together and she seemed quite optimistic about achieving my route aims, the leader said she’d phone back in a couple of days and check with each of us that we were happy to go ahead and then fill out the appropriate paperwork so we could get started. A week later, she contacted us both by email to say we were a successful match and could start work together. That very evening, Jenny phoned me to arrange our first session. We agreed on the 7th of December at 10am with the plan to start my first new route, the longest of them all: the big walk into Woolston.

So eventually, the result was positive. I was matched with a volunteer swiftly and a plan put in place for me to learn new routes that would build up into a big enough workload for a guide dog. My aim currently is to take 6 months to learn all the routes I need. I’m not the quickest at picking up routes but am hoping 6 months will be long enough for me to be competent and confident with all the routes outlined in mine and Jenny’s action plan. That is the aim. Then, I’d like to be reassessed by Guide Dogs shortly afterward and then put forward for the waiting list. I hope by persevering with this and learning all these new routes that I can prove to Guide Dogs and anyone else that I’m committed to being a guide dog owner and committed to making any future partnerships I’m lucky enough to have the best they possibly can be. If all this hard work doesn’t show that I’m totally serious about owning and working a Guide dog then I don’t know what will.

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.

Zena update May 2017

Saturday 13 May

With some advice from John, today I bought a bottle of sunflower oil to add in small quantities to Zena’s meals. I explained to John how Mum noticed that Zena seems to have been struggling to poo recently and he suggested that I add a teaspoon of oil to each meal. The likelihood being that it would loosen Zena’s bowels and make the process much easier. In contrast, though, he warned me that the down sides to this may be that Zena’s fur becomes oily or developing a kind of dandruff flake to it. Neither of these would be particularly visually or textually appealing so I would really rather avoid them. However, anything to possibly aid Zena’s toileting routine. It still hasn’t really improved since during training. She still goes irregularly, although I’d like to think that she doesn’t skip times as much anymore. When it does happen, though, it still frustrates me beyond belief. I’ve spoken to everyone imaginable, asking for advice. The Vizsla community on Facebook came back with mixed advice, including those who felt the routine was too strict and turning the dog into some kind of machine. I can understand how, from an outsider’s perspective, it could seem that way so I, backed by the majority of the others who posted comments, tried to explain how vital the routine is. Another view, from my sister, was that I shouldn’t take the routine so seriously and shouldn’t feel that it dictates every other part of our partnership. She said that she doesn’t abide by a strict routine with her Guide Dog and there are hardly ever any poo hiccups whilst working. For a short amount of time, I tried her relaxed attitude to the routine, acting calm when Zena missed a time and trying to continue with our work. However, if she misses a morning’s poo, as soon as she is out in harness, she tries to go on the pavement or any neighbouring grass. John’s advice to this was to give her some sort of restriction which forms a type of punishment. His suggestion, which I tested during training, was to keep her on lead after taking her out of her pen when she’s refusing to go and make her lie by my side whatever I’m doing until I decide to take her back out to her pen and try again. If this is upheld, she should learn that if she doesn’t go to toilet when I want her to, there’s a consequence of her not being allowed to be free inside the house. She isn’t able to get to her bed, any treats, water or toys. The hope then is that she goes to toilet knowing that she can keep her freedom and in dread of being restricted. John said it’s me having all the cards, me having control; because if Zena gets control, she’ll use it in all aspects of our partnership, including her work. I put the oil on her food and she gobbled the lot down no problem, just like she always does. I bought some measuring spoons to pour the oil into to ensure I’m giving the right amount but even that is tricky. Trying to balance the spoon and then tip the bottle at the right angle, gauging how much is pouring into the spoon is just too difficult. The bottle is too full and spillage is guaranteed. So I’m going to have to trial other methods of getting an exact teaspoon from the bottle into Zena’s meal. My next idea is a syringe. If I fill a syringe with the oil and then slowly dribble it into the teaspoon, I can accurately gauge how much I need and put the remaining oil from the syringe back into the bottle. This should minimise spillage and make the task a lot easier. As soon as I find a syringe, I’ll be able to test it.
Monday 22 May

Last week was a bad week. We hardly went out at all for working walks. I didn’t manage to get to the leisure centre at all and that made me feel pretty rubbish. It probably made Zena quite restless, too. The weather was generally quite rubbish and then, when it started to improve, I started feeling awful. My stomach was bad, my skeleton ached and my head felt fuzzy. I didn’t feel able to work her. When it was pouring down with rain and the wind was howling, I didn’t think it was safe for us to try and work. The wind affects my ears and bucketing rain makes things harder. I explained my worries to John and he didn’t seem overly concerned. I knew I just needed to keep trying my best. On the days we didn’t work, I tried to play with her a lot with her squeaky toys. I didn’t want her to become bored and even destructive if she had too much energy. She didn’t, thank goodness. We managed to get out to the local Co-op on Thursday, but it wasn’t a good walk. At least it was something, though, I told myself. I vowed that I’d do my best to make this week better. The weekend wasn’t as bad as we went out so that Kieran and I could go on a date. Zena didn’t work but at least we were out. But today we’ve managed to go out. It’s 21 degrees outside and really feels it. While Kieran and I ate our breakfast, we left the back door open and Zena enjoyed racing around the back garden and basking in the glorious sunshine overhead. Our walk was good, too; one of the best we’ve had in a while, I’d say. There wasn’t much sniffing, she got almost every curb right and she stayed at a good speed. But it was boiling and we were melting. My plan was to make it at least passed the shop but hopefully to the gym. We sailed passed the shop and I was pleased. Sweaty, but pleased! We continued on to the library corner, which is where we turn to head up to the gym. I decided to return home. I was sweating a lot, Zena was panting and had slowed down considerably. I thought pushing on to the gym was asking too much. But I’m proud we got that far. It’s a big improvement on last week already. I’m hoping tomorrow will be even better. If not, I’d at least like to keep equalling today’s progress.

After our walk, I decided to groom Zena. Because it was so nice outside, we went into the garden and I filled a bowl with warm water and added drops of lavender and t-tree oil to it. This makes it and Zena smell nice. The scent isn’t so strong on Zena as it is in the water but it still makes a little difference to her fur. It makes my grooming process more thorough, anyway, and removes all loose dead strands of fur as well as any stains or sticky bits that have clung to her coat. She hates it but the benefit overall is good. It makes her nice and clean.
Wednesday 24 May

We had another good day today. The weather has been really hot all week and John advised that I didn’t do too many long walks in the blistering sunshine. Zena already tires herself out when running around the garden and comes in panting so I didn’t want to push her too car. However, today I decided to tackle the gym route again. After Monday’s success, I wanted something good to think about again and the rest of the week’s weather forecast told that it would be even warmer. So we went to the gym; on the first leg of the trip, there was minimal corrections needed and the walk was generally quite nice, if a little too hot. She got many of the crossings right and didn’t wander off down side roads or out into the main road. The return journey wasn’t as pleasant; I think she was all puffed out and fed-up with her task. I couldn’t blame her, to be honest, as it was boiling. But we got home all in one piece, with her seeming to be trying very hard to stay focused and behave appropriately.
Thursday 25 May

Today it was definitely far too hot for any kind of walk, working or otherwise. Instead, I took Zena, her grooming tools and a bowl of warm water, to which I’d added lavender oil, t-tree oil and a dollop of Jonson’s baby shampoo, into the garden to set about the task of making Zena smell better. She’d acquired a really stinky scent and I wanted to get rid of it as it seemed to be spreading around the house. With advice from someone on the vizsla Facebook page, I’d added the shampoo in hope that it would help erase the smell. Quite sometime later, when we were both rather soggy, I was finished. Half a new dog’s worth of fur had come out of Zena’s coat and she was smelling a lot fresher thanks to the oils and shampoo. The nasty scent was gone and we were both pleased the task was complete. It was so hot outside that by the time we headed back indoors, her fur and my jeans ! completely dry again. Thanks to the doggy deodorant blueberry muffin bought for Zena as a Christmas present from my sister, her coat really was smelling a lot nicer. Due to the hot weather, the doggy deodorant had dried out straight away, leaving the scent on her coat and taking away the opportunity for it to turn into a doggy stench.
Saturday 27 May

Whilst out shopping today with Mum and Tamsin, we had to go up on to the first-floor of a shop to get to what I wanted to see. Usually, when this situation occurs, we find the lift located somewhere within the store and use that to go upstairs. However, Mum wasn’t sure if this particular shop even had a lift. Instead of wasting time trying to find one, I said I’d use the stairs while they used the escalator. Guide dogs aren’t supposed to use escalators unless they’ve specially trained to do so. Even if Zena and I had been, I’d feel weary about using them considering the length of her claws. The idea of them getting caught in the moving staircase is worse than a nightmare. So Mum took me to the stairs and they used the escalator, which was directly alongside them. I picked up Zena’s harness handle and gave her the command. Off we went. The stairs had a platform break in the middle, which Zena dealt with confidently; she has to pause at the foot or top of any set of stairs in warning to me of what’s next. Then, once the command is given, she proceeds with me by her side. Today she stopped expertly at all necessary places in the staircase, both ascending and descending. As we’ve not done many solo trips up and down stairs, I felt this was quite a proud moment and definitely a good one in what has been quite a tough month for us. I was especially pleased because Mum and Tamsin were still in view and there were several other shoppers passing us in the other direction. Although Zena wasn’t giving me her full attention, there was no slip-ups in her work and she didn’t directly pull me towards anyone. That, in my eyes, is a success.
Monday 29 May

For my birthday, I’d asked my parents for several different things, giving them options, but one item was a toy for Zena. Usually, I’ll buy her toys from anywhere I see a good-looking one. However, the Kong toys are recommended by many pet owners and even by Guide Dogs themselves as suitable for a guide dog to have. Kong do a plush bear toy who has a squeaker in its belly and a knotted rope skeleton to reinforce it. They claim that this means it is stronger and will withstand a lot of rough play from even the toughest chewers. As Zena seems to have taken an interest mainly in soft toys, I thought the knotted rope bear would be a good next step with toys. Surprisingly, Mum bought the bear for Zena; she doesn’t like buying dog accessories as presents for me as she thinks it’s not really for me. But it saves me money and benefits Zena which in turn benefits me. As soon as I’d removed the packaging from the toy, I gave it to Zena. Immediately, she fell in love with it. Jim, as the bear has been fondly named, has slept in Zena’s basket each night since and I’ve even taught her to find him. When saying the command, `find Jim`, I can make Zena look and retrieve the bear. I thought it was a fluke the first couple of times she did it but now, each time I say it, she goes and finds her new beloved friend and either brings him to me or plays with him by herself. I’m really glad Jim is such a success, especially as she doesn’t take a massive interest in toys most of the time.