It has been 2½ years since I took ownership of Zodiac, my first guide dog, and during lockdown he really has become my best friend.
It’s been a life-changing experience – I no longer walk with my head down scanning from side to side, pre-empting the pitfalls that face me, I now walk upright with confidence knowing Zodiac will avoid all the pesky obstacles that are in front of us.
It is all about the dog! I have now got used to people not wanting to know me, people just want to pet my guide dog, say hello to my dog, talk about my dog! People often ask, “Are you training the dog” to which I reply, “No he’s my guide dog” and that can either be a conversation starter or a complete stopper! Now and again I get the reply “But you don’t look blind” – I’m not quite sure what that actually means but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that “I don’t look blind”.
It’s definitely not all negative, what I do know is my guide dog has increased my conversations with random people 10-fold, and that can only be a good thing hey! I’m no longer invincible because of my guide dog. Zodiac certainly initiates far more conversations that I ever could, when we travel on the underground in London, generally people have their face in a newspaper, mobile or a book, occasionally people actually look at him, he brings a smile, a nod or starts a conversation, which is sometimes a breath of fresh air in such a cramped and quiet environment.
Prior to having my guide dog, my life was a very ‘quiet’. I didn’t use a cane and as you will no doubt have noticed it’s very hard ‘catching the eye of a blind man’ to start a conversation, so Zodiac does it for me. However, I am very jealous of him as he gets more strokes than me!!
I travel every week, nationwide, using all forms of transport, normally donning a suit (usually looking very smart I may add) and I get the looks, dog to owner, owner to dog, looking me up and down as I do not fit the stereotypical blind man (whatever that may be I ask myself?).
I recall one particular train journey; after being away from home for a few days, I was travelling from Birmingham to Cardiff, accompanied by my guide dog, and a gentleman sitting in the seat opposite started a general conversation about Zodiac. 20 minutes later he was sharing a bottle or two of wine with me, chewing the fat whilst Zodiac found a comfortable position at my feet. I don’t think having a cane would have had the same effect, do you?
Another journey I recall, on a train yet again, I passed a lady in the carriage who commented how gorgeous Zodiac was. I thanked her and took my seat, the refreshment trolley came around, I wanted to purchase a sandwich and a drink but found myself having to return the items as the contactless machine was not working, until a voice chirped in said “I’ll get that” from the lovely lady who had commented on Zodiac! Once again I would have probably gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for my faithful companion. I have so many stories of random acts of kindness since having Zodiac, I really do appreciate all that he brings.
Some hotel staff have gone far and above the call of duty to ensure Zodiac relaxes in style after a hard day’s work. Supplying beds, food bowls and treats to make his stay as enjoyable as possible….those little touches go along way and I know Zodiac appreciates it. However, we sometimes have a little problem when some hotel rooms provide chocolate treats for guests – I’ve got to be on the ball to ensure I eat them before Zodiac detects them…..typical scavenger my boy! I would also like to give a shoutout to my local spa and gym, as while I’m on the treadmill, trying in vain to shred a few pounds, Zodiac is enjoying total relaxation in the office with a bed, water and plenty of cuddles provided by the team – talk about the spa treatment!
I deliver training to a wide variety of people and large audiences and Zodiac normally takes to lying down quietly whilst I facilitate. However, there are occasions when he’ll scan the audience waiting for someone to catch his eye (generally it is the ladies) but as soon as he makes eye contact he has been known to slink across the room like a sniper thinking no one would notice. If I can’t see him I can definitely hear him…you can’t fool a blind man Zodie!
I still experience the silences, walking along the street listening to others chatting and laughing, in a lift, on a train station and then it stops. I know they are looking at me, studying me, but I have now taken to speaking out in those quiet times and sometimes giving people quite a fright by doing so. I try to bring humour to my requests or conversation starters, to break the ice and those barriers that people feel are there – just because I’ve lost my sight I haven’t lost my tongue! Just remember folks, communication is key for everyone, but even more so when you don’t see very well.
Zodiac has truly become my best friend, he guides me and keeps me safe to the best of his ability, he brings conversation into my life, people remember me because of him and he is loved and adored by everyone that meets him.
Watch my video when I first met Zodiac by clicking on this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s-_FsCF4HA