I am writing a blog to highlight the ‘highs’ and hopefully not too many ‘lows’ of my experience having a guide dog.
My first 14 days
How excited am I!
I have never owned a pet dog, let alone a guide dog, and having been on the list waiting for a suitable guide dog for nearly two years the wait was finally over, I was matched with a black Labrador cross by the name of Zodiac. The experience so far has been overwhelming, and a huge adjustment as a person living with a visual impairment. I have never used a long white cane or any other mobility aid, so when I have been ‘out and about’ people are totally unaware that I have a visual impairment, I would just walk slowly.
I have a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which is a gradual loss of my peripheral vision, I find it difficult navigating around busy towns, I would look at the floor, anxious that I may trip or fall over loose paving stones or missing the kerb. I also have night blindness, so going out alone in the dark, was not a decision I made lightly. Zodiac has totally changed all of this already, within this very short time my walking speed has increased, and he has given me new found confidence. My posture has improved greatly, shoulders up, I now look straight ahead, and going out at night is done with positivity.
A guide dog is truly life changing, there are so many benefits to having one, and I have been ‘blown away’ by my new lease of life. Guide Dogs for the Blind and their volunteers are truly amazing, the time, effort, energy, training and love these dogs receive is truly admiral and I for one, was totally unaware of the intense 2 years training these dogs receive to change someone’s life. For me to qualify as a guide dog owner I have undergone 2 weeks intensive training whilst accompanied by a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, this has not only been exhausting, exhilarating and empowering but also extremely emotional.
My disability was invisible, but now with Zodiac it has become visible, you can’t exactly ignore a 33kg black Labrador wearing a high visibility harness! I can no longer get away with it! and It has become apparent, quite quickly that people speak to me in a different tone of voice! ‘perhaps they think I’m silly or something’, this had never happened before having a guide dog. I am aware that having a guide dog, you instantly must accept a newfound ‘label’. I’ve noticed people glancing over their shoulder, staring, taking one look at the dog and the second look at me! And it has made me feel as if I am constantly on show, hopefully this will improve with time. I am just two over two weeks a guide dog owner but already have noticed how the public react to a guy with a guide dog.
I am a young 26-year-old, trendy guy…love my clothes and, I suppose, I do not fit within the remit of a stereotypical blind person? Various people have approached me and asked if I am a Guide Dog Trainer, automatically assuming that I am not the guide dog owner? Maybe I look like a dog trainer to the wider society? When I reply and reveal that Zodiac is actually my guide dog they appear to be quite taken aback.
The Story so far
Questions so far have been quite random, some fetching a smile such as ‘does your dog take the washing out of the washing machine’? ‘What tasks in the home does the dog do for you’? How do you see its’ number 2’s mate, does it ‘glow in the dark’?
Young lads who thought it was quite funny to clap their hands and stamp their feet behind me to try and frighten Zodiac, thankfully this dog is not in the least bit phased by silly teenagers.
People have actually run away and hid around a corner, I’m not sure if they are genuinely scared of dogs or perhaps I look a scary person! and 14 day in I have already been refused entry to a restaurant, however this was quickly resolved when I explained that Zodiac was an assistance dog…..their customer service was still ‘a lot to be desired’ though!
If I was out on a walk with a family pet, people would greet me no doubt saying ‘hi, how are you’, and then perhaps bend down to stroke my dog, but not a guide dog owner, oh no! surprisingly, some people just start stroking Zodiac, no greeting, no ‘do you mind if I stroke your dog’! Perhaps they think, ‘he’s blind he can’t see me’! I love the fact that Zodiac is so adorable, that people cannot resist a quick pet but hey I’m here too you know! I really do not think people are aware of the importance of these dogs, Zodiac wears his harness, not to tell the outside world that I am blind, but to let everyone know that he is working and doesn’t want to be disturbed.
The positives so far
Zodiac has brought so many positives, I love having him around and a good game of tag is a fab way of bonding. You realise there are so many nice, kind people out there who are quite happy to lend a hand and help you, lots of people like to exchange stories about their dogs, or their sponsorship of a guide dog. However, I do feel very strongly, that there needs to be more education and awareness around guide dog etiquette. The importance of not stroking a guide dog when it is working and to publicise all of the hard work that goes into these dogs to make them as great as they are.
I am quickly realising that my life has changed forever, I will, no doubt become a stronger and resilient individual and look forward to sharing my journey with Zodiac with you
For more information please contact: wwwvisualisetrainingandconsultancy.co.uk