A year on. How life changes.

I can’t believe a whole year has passed. On the 11th of January 2011 I arrived in Cork and met Ike, the dog that would drive me crazy, do amazing work and would subsequently be returned to Irish guide dogs on October of the same year. I remember the positivity, the hope, the nervousness the dread, the anxiety and the relief of that day as if it was yesterday. I sat in that bedroom in the centre of Irish guide dogs in Cork on that Tuesday evening writing that post with a dog at my feet. I was overwhelmed with so many feelings and writing the blog posts really helped sort everything out.

Here I am a year later without a dog. I explained in December that because of the irresolvable issues I encountered with Ike It became untenable to continue working himtherefore Irish guide dogs and I mutually decided that he should no longer work with me. I am therefore back on the waiting list for a new dog. This waiting list might be very long. Not because there are people ahead of me in any kind of queue, Irish guide dogs don’t work on that kind of system. Dogs are matched to handlers based on their ability to suit the life style of the individual and the work the dog will be required to do. Because I spend so much time working and travelling the dog that suits me will have a number of attributes specific to my requirements. I and others have made the point that realistically I don’t do anything that tens of thousands of people around Ireland don’t do on a daily basis. I commute to work and socialize. That’s my work from a guide dog perspective in a nutshell so finding a dog shouldn’t be that difficult. That doesn’t seem to be the case either. People have also said that they believe that Irish guide dogs are de -prioritising me because with a cane I’m still quite mobile and independent. I don’t really think that’s the case though. I genuinely believe the instructors are doing their best but that they have found it difficult to find a dog that will do the amount of work that I demand up to the standard I expect. I have spoken with a number of instructors very regularly and I am completely certain that they are genuinely disappointed that Ike didn’t work out and I know they will do anything they can to ensure a new match is found as soon as possible.

In saying that, I told them in April 2008 that Freddie’s vet believed strongly that Freddie should be retired sooner rather than later due to the arthritis in his hips. I am not happy that a successor dog was not found until the matching visit in October 2010 five months after retiring Freddie and over two and a half years after Freddie’s vet advised that his work should come to an end as soon as possible. Again though, I don’t believe this was as a result of a fault of any particular individual or even the fault of Irish guide dogs. I believe that what I was told was the truth. They assessed Freddie regularly for that time and their opinion was that Freddie was ok to continue to work. Later, he was ok to continue working but the routes he worked were reduced substantially. I agreed with their assessments because I wanted to continue working Freddie for as long as possible. However, I expected that they would ensure a successor dog would be found well before October 2010. I very rarely say anything negatively about Irish guide dogs because I think they’re an amazing organization and every single member of staff and every single instructor does a fantastic job. However, I believe they were wrong in their judgement to allow Freddie to work until June 2010. I find it hard to disagree with people who have the opinion that Irish guide dogs did not put me back on the waiting list when they claimed to have. I even wrote to an instructor on the 4th of March 2009 with that point almost a year after the vet strenuously voiced his concerns.

I write this explanation here not to cast any negative light over Irish guide dogs but instead to explain why I’m utterly void of any confidence or hope that a new dog will be found for me in 2012. I of course want to hope that I’m wrong but my experience to date has seriously dampened my confidence.

So, not to over state things, alone I stand. Just me and my white stick. I have probably written on this blog before how much I hate using the cane. Yes, I can get around and yes I’m one of the lucky ones because my mobility is actually reasonably good but I hate every second while using the cane. I hate stumbling along from land mark to land mark dreading the unknown. Dreading the street furniture. Dreading the rubbish on the paths. Dreading the cars parked too near to the wall. Dreading the people standing quietly in my way. Dreading the wind pushing me off course. Dredding the noise disorienting me. Dreading getting off the bus because he keeps stopping in different points along road. I’m tired of walking into things and giving up independence and self reliance. I’m tired of worrying.

I can’t say enough how much family and friends have helped. Emma has been absolutely amazing! Again, because I’m reasonably mobile and because I have fantastic people around me, I’m one of the exceptionally lucky ones. I could have it a lot worse and this post shouldn’t be considered one long moan. Although, I will grant you, it’s certainly sounding like one. Sorry about that.

I wanted to write this post just to say that I’m glad 2011 is over. Ike was not the dog for me. He drove me crazy in so many ways most serious of which was his constant problem of relieving himself while working. I am quite happy that he will likely be reallocated to another handler with an easier work load or who can facilitate these problems. I miss having a guide dog. I miss the confidence, the freedom and the flexibility. I didn’t get much flexibility from Ike but still, what little I did get was nice to have for the short time that I worked him. I know that Irish guide dogs and I made the right decision but living with it is incredibly difficult.

Yes, I’m glad 2011 is over. Good riddens. I doubt 2012 will be any better as I doubt a successor dog will be found within the next twelve months but hey, anything is possible.

For the moment, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing and hope that time passes quickly. Let’s hope I don’t go too crazy and don’t walk into anything too serious in the mean time. Dublin isn’t helping though. On Monday I nearly broke my nose off a shop awning on Nassau Street. An irresponsible shop owner usually has a few seats under this area and the Cain meets these therefore stopping me before I can walk any further. On Monday morning, these seats hadn’t been put out yet and because I didn’t know that the seats were in the way of any obstacle at head height I had no reason to walk with any more caution than normal. Before I knew it my nose came into contact with a metal bar that was supporting the frame that the awning is stretched over. A guide dog would almost always spot this kind of obstacle at head height and move to avoid it. Just one example of why I hate using the cane.

4 Responses to A year on. How life changes.

  1. Knowing the speed you walk, that must have been one sore nose!!

    Hopefully we’ll get to meet up soon, you can finally show me where the runner bean is and I’ll buy you a coffee. You’ve had a crap year, and I owe you one, because my year didn’t end too badly, which i’m convinced is partly thanks to you. I owe you something, and a coffee would be a good start 😀

  2. Could I put it to you, Darragh, that perhaps due to your average long weekday, up at the crack o’dawn an, commuting to and fro, interspersed with cris-cross routes, going by what you’ve said anyway, that you might consider applying for _two guide dogs? Work them on alternate days and have the day-off fella minded in your absence.

    Is it possible that the onset of Freddie’s arthritis was caused by being overworked, though he now appears to be enjoying a happy retirement and no more need for such stress.

    Do we know if IGDB staff encountered the same spending-on-walks problem with Ike as you did and agree with your experiences? Just curious, not demanding answers, as usually comments on blogs are not of the query-posing variety.

    I can empathise to a certain extent on the limits of a long cane, as while it’s a handy tool when correctly used to get about, there can be no comparison to the pace and pull of a dog, not to mind relaxed mobility.

    • John,
      Very interesting comments and questions there.

      I was told that he did not actually relieve himself while working when he was returned to Cork then again, I was told that he wasn’t given the oppertunity as when he exhibited signs he was taken back to the centre. This is what was done during training also and I believe is the route of the problem in the first place.

      It’s probably logical to link Freddie’s work lode with his arthritis to a degree but it’s common in large breeds so it’s hard to say to what degree it can be attributed exactly.

      I’d be happy with one dog at this stage. Never mind 2! 🙂

  3. Jesus, don’t be talking about giving him two dogs. How could two of them put up with him haha. If I am allowed to just comment on Freddie cause I had great time for the fella I don’t think you over worked him. He loved his work. He had little insecurities I think but everything you asked of him he just seemed to want to do for you with as much perfection as he could. He was a model doggy really. I don’t think you could ever look back and want to do anything different as far as he is concerned. Naturally the public transport and the amount of it that he had to use probably told on him and I think that if I was still working or pretending to work in Dublin Ralph would have had to retire a lot earlier with hip or leg problems also.

    Jennifer, maybe I might have a coffee bought for me also? 🙂