One year on. acknowledging Freddie and looking forward with Ike.

Darragh and Ike sitting on a stone bench near a river at the end of Shop Street in Galway.

This is a conclusion.

If this was one in a series of books it would be the happy ending that would make you wait with anxious inpatients for the next one to come out.

Like a book, I knew that it would probably have this kind of ending but the interesting part was watching the story line unfold.

Now that it has ended I’m relieved but I’m looking forward to what will follow.

I’m talking about one year. For some of you it’s been the worst year ever, for some of you it’s been the best year. For some of you the year since I wrote the post about retiring my last guide dog Freddie has been completely normal without anything to set it apart from any other.

For me, the year since retiring Freddie has been difficult, challenging, frustrating, annoying and at times even intolerable. It’s also been satisfying, interesting, educational and very rewarding.

Looking back to last year, I wrote a blog post while dwelling on the memories I made with Freddie. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to cope without having a guide dog. I was also very aware that I was going to miss him as a companion. It’s impossible to know Freddie without enjoying his quirky attention seeking personality.

The independence I get from having a guide dog was only really shown to me when I had to revert back to using a Cain. Commuting using a Cain was a nightmare every single day. I like work. Yes, I know. That’s a crazy thing to say. Work wasn’t my problem. Getting there was. I knew it was going to be difficult but I had no idea exactly how much not having Freddie was going to have an impact on my ability to be mobile.

I blogged a few times about how difficult it was but I didn’t really want to over-do it. I wanted to show people in a small way that although I was very strict on Freddie, retiring him was still very difficult for me both because I was losing a fantastic guide and because possibly more significantly than I expected, because I was losing a four legged friend. As anyone knows me will agree, this kind of sentiment is not something you’ll hear from me very often. In fact, I know of one person in particular that would go as far as to say that I don’t talk about that stuff often enough at all.

I don’t want to write about this too much because I’m sure it’s kind of obvious but although I would have always seen myself as very capable with a Cain, I found that I just couldn’t navigate around new environments as easy as I could with Freddie. O’Connell Street was a horrible place to get around. Because it’s so wide I found that finding landmarks or static objects to help me orientate myself where few and far between. Walking along the shop fronts was generally impractical because of the range of obstructive shop furniture and displays that littered the path. Following the road side of the path was equally as challenging. There are too many bins, poles and signs to allow it. I also found walking along the path around the central bank a little difficult. There are too many people standing around the walls. Following the edge of the path was also difficult because it is too busy. Considering I was having these problems in areas I know quite well just imagine the problems I had when I I needed to go somewhere completely new to me. I don’t want this to seem like this is a post where I’ll spend all my time complaining so I’ll quickly move on to the next part of it. Don’t worry; the positive stuff will come up shortly.

During the post I wrote to mark the retirement of Freddie, I explained that Freddie was fantastic in social situations. He in fact made me become more approachable while in college which hugely improved my social life. I was a little surprised that I still relied on him somewhat when this reliance was demonstrated to me last September during a Blog and Twitter meet up in Dublin. I had no idea who was in the room but I knew that if I could just get to speak to the right person they’d tell me who was around. When someone walks into a pub with a dog it seems to be impossible to resist saying hello. This is something that I hated up to recently. I wished that people would simply respect that I am not a walking talking advertisement for Irish guide dogs and in fact, if I was out, there’s a good chance that I won’t appreciate someone coming over to me asking for either me or my dogs life story. Don’t get me wrong, that still annoys me from time to time however I have a new appreciation for it. It’s funny the things that you miss when their gone. During that Blog and Twitter meet up I would have loved someone to come over to ask a question that I’d answered a hundred times in the past week. Once I could ask them simple questions I would have been delighted! Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t stop me for long. It just would have been easier.

The seven months while waiting for my successor guide dog wasn’t a complete frustration though. I made some really fantastic new friends. It was interesting and refreshing to never have Freddie come up in conversation. After a while it became a little predictive that questions about Freddie would be asked regularly. I didn’t mind though and in fact as I wrote on the blog, it was a nice tribute to Freddie that so many people, both strangers and friends asked about how Freddie was keeping after he had retired. It was just nice to get to know people who had never met Freddie before.

Darragh and Ike in Eyre Square in Galway.
Anyway, enough of all that kind of thing. You know that not having a guide dog for seven months was a little difficult and I don’t want to have to do that for a long time again. After the Seven months though I got to train with Ike. My successer guide dog. He’s a 32KG golden retriever male. I explained Freddie’s little personality traits last year. I think it’s only fair that I give Ike the same recognition.

Ike is a new dog. I’ve only had him for five months so far. The powers that be say that it takes between six months to a year before guide dogs fully settle into their new home and their new routine. It’s important to say this in this post because although I can list off Ike’s personality traits and I know him quite well, I’m continuing to learn more and more about him every week. He continues to grow to fill the very big shoes that Freddie left for him and with every new route I show him he seems to have a way of impressing me beyond all my expectations. With all that said, let’s get down to the interesting bits.

Ike has an insatiable curiosity. He wants to know everything that’s happening. He’s rarely content to just sit up beside me when I’m working while at home. He wants to regularly walk around to see what Emma’s doing. He generally comes back up after a second when he’s satisfied himself that nothing interesting is happening but he doesn’t relax if he thinks there’s something going on around him that he doesn’t know about. I have noticed that he really doesn’t like staying in his bed when I’m doing something in a different room in the house. He might last for about ten minutes but he inevitably comes up to have a look. If I’m working in the computer room he comes in just enough to see what I’m doing but he prefers to sit out on the landing.

He’s got a really funny way of sitting and lying. If he’s sitting and there are steps around he’ll put his backside on the step above his paws. If he’s lying he puts his two front paws over the step. It’s like he’s hanging on. If he’s there for a while he crosses them.

When he works he has the most fantastic walk in the world. I have no words that can accurately express how much I love Ike’s walk. The very first time I walked with Ike I knew that his walk was just brilliant. I said it almost straight away! You know the walk that a horse has? He is exactly the same! When working with Ike, he pulls a little bit to keep up the strain so as it’s easy to follow him. Because he has quite a long body I can almost tell what he’s going to do before he does it. People even comment on it on the street! When Ike is working he seems to be more confident and relaxed than when he’s not working. I don’t really understand that yet but I certainly complain. I find that it’s better to leave Ike to do whatever he wants to do when he’s not working. Most of the time he just wants to sleep. Occasionally he comes over with his toy or to get a rub. But he can be quite happy sitting on the landing watching me in the house or as it gets later he is quite happy to mosey to his bed.

He’s quite vocal. When he needs to blow off some steam he does it with no prompting at all. He runs around in circles and barks once or twice. He usually prefers to do this around a few trees but he’s not too fussy. He also growls while playing. It’s obviously not a bad growl. He’s too playful to be anything more than an over excited.

When working he’s a bit strange. I like it though. He completely ignores people that he knows or recognises. He just walks right past. I love this because it means that I can keep control of when he gets to greet people that I meeting with.

Emma says Ike walks as straight as a die. She’s absolutely right. He never veers left. He’s equally happy hugging the left as he is tracing along the right side of the path. He’s also happy with walking right down the centre as well. I really love the way he guides. I have no doubts as to his abilities to be completely honest with you, I have found it difficult to become use to Ike’s personality but his work and guiding style is perfect.

I have had my fair share of teething problems with Ike. He was relieving himself while working. This was massively impacting his work and his confidence. Fortunately we seem to have found a solution to this. It took time though and I know now that it was worth it.

Last year on the 13th of June 2010 I had just returned from Galway. I had enjoyed a great weekend I had played music with some great musicians and I had enjoyed the break. I sat on this chair, in this room with massive uncertainty looming. I had just retired Freddie and I didn’t know how things were going to work. Today, the 13th of June 2011, I am sitting in the same place with Ike beside me. I can hear him lightly breathing. He’s a sleep. We’re back from another weekend where I spent most of my time playing music. We travelled to Carlow, Limerick, Galway and Cork in four days. It was a lot for such a new dog to handle. In fact, it was a lot for any guide dog to handle. I was well prepared though. I had planned a lot of free time for him, nice large places to stay each night and of course, loads of praise, reassurance, encouragement and play. Not only did he work brilliantly through the entire weekend, he exceled! I didn’t think it was possible but he continued to demonstrate that his incredible memory was more than able to handle anything I threw at it. He also surprised me a few times as well by doing things I seriously didn’t expect such as jumping up on a bench made out of rock. I’m still not sure what possessed him to do that. He wasn’t working at the time. I had taken him to the grass at the river at the end of Shop Street in Galway. He didn’t need to relieve himself but we had been walking for some time so it was a nice opportunity to let him stretch his legs before continuing on for the next while. He was on a flexi lead at the time. We were talking to a young family nearby when Ike walked straight over to the bench and jumped up on it completely. In fairness, I may have accidently pointed over to it but I’m not really sure. All I know is one moment he was standing on the grass and the next moment he was standing on the bench. I’m putting it down to a lack of experience and his giddy puppy nature making a brief appearance. I didn’t mind. In fact, aside from telling him to get off I didn’t even bother correcting him. I was too stunned and I found it very funny.

Darragh and Ike walking through Eyre square
Speaking of the dog of the hour, he has just stuck his head up to say hello. He doesn’t nudge me like Freddie did. I just know he’s looking up at me because I heard him moving around in his bed, yawning and probably licking his nose. Yes. He’s like me. A little strange.

Ike is learning a lot faster than I thought he would. He’s already correcting me when I try to direct him in the wrong direction to find crossings, he knows that I have a lot of places to go during the day and he knows that although I give him a lot of freedom I expect and demand precision obedience without exception when we’re working.

I want to finish this post by thanking Emma for putting up with me for the past year, Nicky for listening to my rants while training with Ike, Simon the fantastic instructor with Irish Guide Dogs and of course every single friend and every person who took the time to comment or contact me in the past year.
This blog will shortly come to an end. My reasons for this will be explained in the next day or two. The next post that I write will tell you about the past eight days. I successfully played music in eight sessions in eight towns over eight days. This is a first for me and it’s something I want to write about to record the fantastic experience. That will be the last major post I write here.
Freddie runs toward Darragh over a small stream in Townly hall outside Drogheda

2 Responses to One year on. acknowledging Freddie and looking forward with Ike.

  1. Darragh,
    Where did that year go? Another great post.
    Your posts during the last year, about retiring Freddie and working with Ike have been written with such honesty, and i think all present and future guide dog owners would learn a lot from reading them. Even talking to you about it has been educational for me, and I know I will think about some of the stuff you have said, when it comes to OJ’s retirement.

    Now, your excuses for a final blog post better be bloody good!
    Good blogs seem to be slowly disappearing, and I was hoping you wouldn’t be another one of them 🙁

  2. Thanks for the update. As Jen says above, your excuses for a final blog post better be bloody good!

    I wish you well in whatever new endeavour you have in mind. Please say Hi to Emma from me and give Ike a special pat.