I have read a few blogs lately where the writers speak of training with their guide dogs and their thought’s looking back on it one year on. I’ve found some of the posts interesting however for me what is more hard hitting in terms of my experience is my time without a dog. What I was doing this time last year when using the Cain, the challenges, the benefits, the risks and the restrictions. I think I’ll possibly only do two of these posts. One now and one around December. The reason why will become clearer in a moment I hope.
This time last year I was just back into my first week of work after being away in Salu in Spain for two weeks. I had retired Freddie three months previous and I had yet to visit him. I was actually surprised at how much I missed him but that’s not the focus of this post so I’ll keep moving. I came back to reasonably good weather but as always happens around September and the start of October the wind was really starting to pick up. Me and wind don’t mix at all. It’s just a bad combination. It’s harder to walk straight when there’s strong wind and the amount of audible information I can pick up about the environment I’m walking through is drastically reduced. When using a guide dog the issue of wind causing disorientation isn’t as big a deal because the dog will keep you on the straight and narrow but with a Cain it’s not easy for me at all.
I was only really starting to settle into using the Cain at this stage. I was adamant that I wouldn’t get lazy and fall into habits of using sighted guides or anything like that so armed with the Cain and the K-Sonar I battled my way through. I remember one morning I got completely confused and ended up crossing two roads instead of just one. I knew the road was wider than it should have been and before I knew it I was on the wrong side of Kildare Street.
My social life took a nose dive as well. I hate to depend on people so when people from work asked me to join them for lunch I declined because I didn’t want to walk at my slower pace and have to so obviously follow along. I also stopped doing simple things like walking into town in Drogheda on Saturdays because it just wasn’t worth the hassle. There were a few places I hated walking around. The path just before the pedestrian gate into the bus station on the way toward the Dublin road was one, finding the crossing at the North road in front of the Trinity arms was another. I also hated walking past St. Peter’s church on West Street and the open spaces before the path in the train station in Drogheda were very off putting as well. There were just parts that I really hated to walk around but I had no choice. Routes that took twenty minutes with a guide dog took half an hour or more. Streets that I breezed through with the guide dog were a source of mounting stress and apprehension with the Cain. I just hated the entire time. That might sound like a poor me post but it’s really not. Please don’t take it as that. I’m one of the lucky ones. Believe me. I continued to get out. I continued to work every day. I continued to do almost everything that I could with the dog. I continued to travel. I continued to play music. I just did it all with more difficulty, less independence and less mobility. There are people who for having a guide dog is their source of freedom. Again, I am one of the very lucky ones and I was very aware of this for the entire time I was waiting for Ike.
It’s worth occasionally looking back at last year at that wait between Freddie and Ike to appreciate how much things have changed and how much life has returned to normal again.
One thing that’s very important to say and I wish more guide dog owners, instructors and even journalists who interview people with guide dogs would say is: Having a guide dog means different things to different people. The empowerment, freedom, mobility, independence, flexibility and efficiency that guide dogs bring to their users are simply immeasurable even to other guide dog users. To some having a guide dog is the best thing ever. To others having a guide dog is completely unsuitable and would never work. Everything about a guide dog and the handler is different to any other team. Every guide dog that handler uses will completely change the dynamic. There are just too many variables that come into play in this partnership. I really think this is something that people would benefit from being aware of at times.