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  • Day 2 – Training with Ike my new guide dog

    What a difference a day makes.

    Before we start, you may want to read other posts related to training with Ike. Secondly, you might want to read about the first day with Ike.

    Isn’t that the truth? This time yesterday I had a dog in my room. Now, I have a big hairy mutt that I’m convinced must be actually crossed with a horse! He’s huge! Oh. Sorry, have I not said what breed he is? He’s a… Oh. Hold on, there’s someone at the door.

    Now, where was I? Ah yes, he’s a horse. This is great though because when playing with him I don’t need to be all that careful. I’m quite a strong person so I’m often afraid of hurting dogs by playing too rough. This fella insists on it though. Of course, I need to be careful but wow he really gets into it! At every opportunity we’ve been playing, doing short obedience walks or simply sitting on the ground having a bit of a chat. Granted, it’s a little one sided but we can’t have everything. As I was saying, yesterday he was just a dog that I had to get to know because it served a purpose. Today, he’s an intelligent guide dog who has some really interesting quirks and who loves getting his back scratched! I’m learning little things about him all the time which is really boosting my confidence with him and in turn, he hasn’t stood at the door pining since I got up this morning!

    It hasn’t all been good though. Let me start from when I got up. I’m not feeling the very best at the moment. I have a dodgy cold and it’s kind of kicking the crap out of me. I was awake and thinking of getting up when I heard Ike getting sick. This actually doesn’t bother me at all. When you get past the thing of oh I’m cleaning up dog sick it’s really very easy. The only thing I’d say is that I personally like to be very independent. I know that they want to make things as easy as possible while people are training here and actually, I think this is actually necessary because it’s easier to remain as positive as necessary when the only thing you have to think of is the dog. Still, I’d really hate to greet someone first thing in the morning by asking them to clean up dog sick. I’d much rather know where to find the cleaning stuff so I could do it myself. So, I cleaned it up and attempted to feed him. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a standard thing to do because if the dog isn’t feeling well the last thing you want to do is make him feel worse by giving him food. I knew though that him getting sick was just caused by his pining over moving from trainer to me as his new handler. I tried to feed him an hour after I got up but he didn’t eat again. I don’t mind a dog not eating once. Like us, they can just decide not to eat for different reasons. When he didn’t eat for the second time I decided to enlist the help of the trainer. He was great. He began to give me a glimpse into the behaviour of Ike and told me a few things that the dog needs to simply make him feel better. These nuggets of priceless suggestions were given randomly throughout the day as and when they were needed. I have to acknowledge that the trainer I have is very blunt and straight. He doesn’t mess around and I love that. I couldn’t ask for a more suitable trainer for me. He gives suggestions when I need it and he changes the way he gives me information when I ask for it differently depending on the type of route we’re doing. There are a lot of things that I need to re-learn and even more things that I’ve picked up in the past eight years that I need to forget to effectively pick them up all over again in a way that suits Ike. I am loving this process. It’s hard without a doubt but I think it’s a skill that won’t just serve me well for guide dogs it will probably help in other areas too. Adjusting to change is difficult, this isn’t change, this a complete wipe of the slate to start with a completely new set of protocols and procedures.

    So, after the successful feeding with the assistance of the trainer, I took him out to spend. I find that with Ike, he relieves himself really quickly if or when he needs to go. That will be really useful when we return to work.

    I made sure to play with him before our first walk to put some of the trainers suggestions into action. We didn’t always use a toy. Sometimes I just had to sit there with him letting him try to catch my hand`. At this early stage, it’s really hard to know what he likes most in terms of attention, petting, playing and even correction and positive reinforcement. To be honest, it’s really frustrating not knowing.

    Things from this morning really started to look up. The first and second walks were fantastic and it was through these two simple routes that the early stages of a bond started to show. The dog reacts really quickly to commands and he is really easy to follow. We got quite wet both times so he needed to be towel dried after each one. He really loves this. Especially when it’s done in a playful way. This is really how most things need to be done with him. Through play or really positive encouragement.

    For the time between the morning walks and the afternoon one we took it easy. I did a few more play sessions and a few more walks around the inside of the centre but it was very uneventful. One thing I really noticed though was he was much more attentive. I no longer had to say his name to get his attention all the time.

    The afternoon walk was a little bit more difficult. Not for the dog but for me. I don’t really understand why but I needed a little bit more concentration while walking through some of the obstacles. Because things like off curb obstacles were such second nature to Freddie, I fell into bad habits by simply using hand signals or by letting him use his own initiative when navigating around them. Again, this is to be expected and it goes back to what I said earlier about re-learning a lot of things. It’s this kind of thing that I’m finding quite easy though. It’s the interaction while not working the dog that I am finding most challenging. And at the risk of sounding a little negative, by challenging I mean I’m almost ready to go absolutely crazy. I simply can’t get over this fella’s stubbornness. I know that I will just need to learn how to and I quote: Make what I want him to do something that he thinks is a good idea and that he wants to do on his own. This is easier said than done because although I’ve heard more than one person suggest this, I have no idea how to implement it. I’ll give you a really quick example. We finish in the run and he’s just spent. He trots in happily by me. Firstly, this is something really different because I’m use to the dog standing and basically demanding praise and attention for this most difficult of tasks… No, Ike just keeps walking in by me straight over to the other corner. I know he’s just having a sniff. This is understandable but calling him doesn’t seem to have any effect. I have to do a quick jig and slap my legs like someone who has a crazy itch that they can’t scratch to get his attention so that he knows I mean business when I tell him he has to come over. I’ve also been told that I need to be careful to not make this a battle of wills as again, when he does something he has to think that it was his idea and he has to want to do it. I just wish I knew what this means and how it’s done. Again, I don’t want that to seem negative. Sure, it’s written in that kind of way but that’s simply where I am at the moment. This will improve with time and when someone explains what the hell I’m meant to do.

    Since the final walk today we’ve done very little. I don’t want to overdo it. We’ve played a lot and I’ve sat on the floor with him to give him some attention. I’m delighted to report that he’s now eating for me so I’m hoping this will really help with his interaction with me in the next few days. I’m a little concerned that the only time he’s done a solid spend is when the trainer took him to some grass earlier today but I’m very hopeful that this is a temporary thing and with a second regular feed in the morning he’ll be glad to relieve himself.

    So, that’s day two in a nutshell. I’m looking forward to day three and asking the trainer loads of question. I seriously need to figure out what they mean by making the dog think that the task or command was his idea. If I’m to be completely honest, I’m finding his stubbornness very frustrating. I’m trying to stay positive but at the moment, it’s very difficult. But hay! Isn’t that what this is all about? With any luck, in a weeks’ time all this will be behind me and things will be going much better. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

  • Training with my new guide dog. Some clarification.

    Let me clarify something please. I am writing these posts for a number of reasons. Firstly and most importantly, I am writing these posts to give myself some kind of account of what has and will happen during the entire process of retiring one dog, waiting for the new one, training and even the settling in while at home. I’m also writing them so that others who are facing this process know they are not alone. Every person, every working animal and every team is different. This is something that is vital to remember right the way through from the beginning of training right through the working relationship and even into retirement. The way I react to something will definitely be different to the way you react to it however the good times; bad times, victories and losses define your outlook on everything. The process that I am undertaking has and continues to define me in both negative and more importantly positive ways. It’s this that I hope you will get from these posts. Finally, I am writing about this because I have found it both interesting and even amazing to read about the experiences of others in other countries who are going through the same process that I am. I would like to give something back by showing people the way we do things over here. I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way of doing things. I’m not qualified or hostely, I’m not bothered to have an opinion on it either way. From my limited experience, I love the way we do it over here and I think the staff who work with clients in here are just absolutely fantastic. I seriously could not give them enough credit.

    I have been made aware of concerns that certain individuals have in relation to my posts here. It is feared that by writing so comprehensively about my challenges and successes while training with Ike my new guide dog that it is possible that I could potentially paint an overly negative picture of this organization or even the process of training with a new guide dog. I fully understand these concerns and in fact I will ensure to balance my wording going forward. However my response has and will continue to be that this process is incredibly difficult. In my inexperienced and limited opinion it is not suited to someone who is not prepared for a bit of rough and tumble. It is however vitally important to recognise that this process will almost always have the most positive outcome that you could possibly imagine. Yes! It’s hard work! Yes! You are going to have hard days! Yes it’s going to seem almost too difficult at times! But guess what. Yes! It’s going to be worth it in the end! Two really good sayings come to mind: “Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing right” and “No pain no gain.” Simple but effective aren’t they? I’m very sorry that I didn’t make this clear right from the outset. These posts will continue every day. They will show the good days and indeed the bad but I’ll bet you any money here and now that the good will hugely outnumber the bad and the overwhelming message that you will get from this entire topic is that having a guide dog takes hard work, time, commitment and dedication but what you get in return is an animal that will stay by your side no matter what to guide you through situations that you never would have dreamed of going through before. If you have any questions or indeed you feel at any stage that I am being over critical or even over negative then please do not hesitate to email me. I fully understand that the training process is subjective to the background and prior experience of the person who is being trained. These are my experiences, my comments, my opinions and they do not under any context reflect those of anyone else or any organization.

    Now, let’s get back to the fun of training with a guide dog. Stay tuned for the highlights of day two!

  • Day 1 – Training with Ike my new guide dog

    This is where the fun starts.

    Things didn’t go to plan at all. I was here just 45 minutes and I got Ike, my new guide dog. This was the perfect situation for me. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the thoughts of spending a few hours simply getting to know my environment. Their all just straight corridors and even part of the floor is marked out to make it easy to find one of the turns. I couldn’t have asked for anything better!

    The trainer led Ike down to my room and after a brief introduction he left to let Ike and I get a little bit more acquainted I wasn’t prepared for what came next. Ike cried for around five minutes at the door when the trainer left. He stood at the door and no amount of coaxing or talking would make him move. I’m not sure if it was the best thing to do but going back to what I know best, I did some obedience. It wasn’t particularly difficult stuff. No corrections were needed at all but it took the dogs mind off his loss for long enough to get him to focus on me a little more. From here things went a little better. He’d get distracted when he heard a failure voice but by standing in front of the door with him I was able to keep his focus on me. This is something I really hadn’t expected but something I had heard a lot about so I wasn’t surprised. For anyone who is unaware of this process, the dog becomes very attached to the trainer as you can understand. When the trainer hands him over to the new handler it’s a massive wrench for the dog. The poor thing feels very vulnerable and insecure and it is very important for the new handler to build a bond with the dog as soon as possible.

    So, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve found that every time I bring Ike for a quick walk around the centre he’s more comfortable and relaxed with me when we return to the room. The problem is that every time the trainer comes back we take a little step backward. It’s a little frustrating but I completely understand it.

    After a few walks we were given a Kong. This is a rubber toy that they like guide dogs to play with. The thing is, I hate them. I just don’t like them at all. I still gave it my best shot though. I tried throwing it a little bit but although Ike retrieved it he wasn’t particularly pushed. I learned after giving it some time that he prefers it if I don’t throw it for him. Instead he wants me to hold it so he grabs on then we both pull out of it in a crazy gave of tug of war. You wouldn’t believe how relieved I am that he likes this. I am trying as much as I can to ensure I don’t compare Ike to Freddie, my previous dog but it’s a lot harder than I thought for different reasons than I expected. As very few of you know, I was actually quite nervous and even afraid of dogs when I went down to train with Freddie. It was him that put me at ease with dogs. I learned what to expect from dog behaviour from him. I was worried at the start that I wouldn’t be able to get use to Ike because I had no common point of reference but now that I know the two of them play the same I am very confident that I can use this as a solid foundation to effectively create this bond the trainers talk about so often.

    Even though I didn’t expect it to be so difficult I was slightly prepared. I had spent months walking my sisters dog an untrained and completely stupid mutt because I actually missed the company of a dog but it gave me a little bit of an idea of how to cope with a completely different dog.

    Anyway, never mind all that, I asked one of the other trainers if they’d give me a ragger. This is a toy made of rope with knots on each end. I love it because I can really feel what the dog is doing and I’m delighted to find that Ike seems to love it more than the Kong too! Oh playing is such a funny event. Ike is so vocal! I get growled at and he even uses his paws to try to get it off me. The playing field is now even!

    That’s really what today all is about. Play, the occasional walk around the inside of the centre and getting to know Ike. He’s getting use to me slowly but surely. I have a feeling that this bond is going to take a while to build but I think when it’s done, it will be completely solid and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

    One thing I’ve really noticed about Ike is he is a real licker! He licks everything! The walls, the floor, the door, the bed, and the bags oh… and me! This has settled down since about two hours after I got him but if it continues, it’s something I will need to fix.

    I have to say that his behaviour has been impeccable. I have had him with me for the entire day and he hasn’t caused me one problem. Considering that his obedience shouldn’t really be that good with me yet that’s really saying a lot. Getting him under chairs is exceptionally easy and I can easily forget he’s there when he’s settled.

    The one thing that bothers me a little at the moment is he didn’t eat for me tonight. This isn’t something that I’m overly concerned about as he seems very attached to the trainer so this must be quite distressing for him. I’ll report it to the staff, monitor it and if it continues tomorrow I’ll start doing something about it.

    The centre is fantastic. I have to say one thing though. The dog’s bed is right under a counter type thing. Ike is a very large horse of an animal so when he stretches he hits his head off the bottom. He did that after drinking today as well.

  • Preparation

    Responsibility is probably the biggest part of effective mobility in my opinion. When training with a guide dog, it’s important that you portray confidence all the time. If you’re not confident then the dog won’t be. In my experience it’s as simple as that. If you’re not confident and you’re the leader of the pack between you and the dog then how can the dog be expected to be confident? After all, you’re the dominant one. You’re the stronger one. You’re the one that always has to be in control. That’s how the pack works. Taking responsibility for this is vital.

    How can you be confident though when you’re entrusting your safety to a four legged hairy mutt? Let’s face it, at the start, how are you meant to trust that this dog isn’t going to have a brain wave one day and figure out that if he knocks this fella out he won’t have to walk me everywhere. I know. I know. They love working and they love doing what their trained to do. I’m just making a point. How can I be expected to implicitly trust this animal with my safety and mobility when to me, it’s little more than a trained pup. I can’t do it. Well, more accurately, I can’t and won’t do it right away. It takes time. For me, that’s what the three weeks training in Cork are for more than anything else. I won’t trust the dog; I’ll trust the trainer who is walking behind us. If the dog makes a wrong move, I may not detect it right away until I become use to its little subtleties. The three weeks training in Cork will help begin to create a bond between the dog and me. This bond is by far the most important part of the dogs training with me. The bond builds this pack mentality for the dog and probably more importantly, it builds a trust for me with the dog so that I believe it’s able to do what it’s been trained for.

    As I said at the start, it’s important that I take responsibility for my own mobility. Life doesn’t stop just because my situation changes therefore it’s important that I don’t stop either. When I return from training in Cork and I have had some training at home, I will need to launch back into work with the dog at my side. I know from conversations I have had with the trainer that this is going to be a particular challenge with this dog as it would probably be more comfortable for it if I ramped up slowly to my usual routine. I will have to take this into account in a lot of situations however unfortunately the most complicated routes that I do from the perspective of a guide dog are unavoidable. This is where the responsibility for confidence comes in. If I am very clear and concise in my instructions to the dog it will hopefully be able to keep its concentration focused on smaller tasks. With this more granular breakdown will come an increased number of milestones. With every milestone comes praise for the dog for doing it right. With smaller tasks, more praise more frequently the dogs confidence should remain high.

    I can only do this if I am confident in the routes myself. For that reason I have begun analysing every route that I walk every day. From home to the train station, From the station to work, from the work to the park, from the park back to work, from work to the train station, from the train station to home and all the other routes in between. I am walking each one both on my own and with friends to ensure I intimately remember and understand every stage.

    The aim is that I will be able to use these routes as a foundation for the dog for a number of months. They are challenging as they contain a lot of crossings, off curb obsticals, crowds of pedestrians, noise, barriers and distractions. Once we master these routes I will be able to slowly increase the scope of the dog’s routes steadily over the next eight months to a year.

    In conjunction with this I am also revising material I received in the pack given to me when I qualified with my previous guide dog to ensure I clearly remember all of the different commands. I am attempting to ensure that this entire process goes as smoothly as possible because I know that as soon as training begins it’s going to be an uphill battle. Things that I never expected to go wrong will crash down around me. It’s inevitable that the dog will probably get sick, the weather will go against us, I’ll have habits to break or something else will happen to set us back a little bit. Hopefully the more prepared I am the better I will be at getting back on course afterword.
    So that’s it in a nutshell. The preparation for the training is ongoing but even though I’m trying to cover off anything and everything that can go wrong, I know that nothing is certain. Hopefully I can prepare for that uncertainty too?

    During the training I will attempt to document each stage, each set back and more importantly each success. If this interests you, look under the new guide dog category for these posts.

  • T minus two weeks.

    So, I’m exactly two weeks away from traveling to Cork for training with my next guide dog Ike if all goes to plan and the weather doesn’t completely mess everything up.

    Emma noticed on Sunday night that a new picture had been added by Irish Guidedogs to their facebook page of Ike showing him with a santy hat in his mouth. The caption underneith it reads: Ike disappointed that he missed Santa.

    I contacted the trainer last week to see how everything was going and it seems like things are progressing reasonably well. There still a lot of work to do but hopefully by the end of the training it will all be sorted.

    For obvious reasons known to people who have gone through this process I cant say all that much just yet. During the training however I will provide regular accounts of how things go. It will be as much for me to look back on as it is for visitors to read about.

    Ike disappointed that he missed out on seeing Santa.  Maybe next year.

  • Six months later.

    Six months after my Fairwell to Freddie, my previous guide dog, I’m still waiting for the new dog Ike to be fully trained in preparation for the class in the middle of January 2011.

    It’s been a long, boring, difficult, frustrating and challenging six months. Still, I’ve navigated my way around the country and even to England, Spain and Italy with just the cane so I really can’t complain. Not having the dog has limited what I can do and where I can go substantially but I’m lucky that I still have quite good cane skills so I haven’t been completely left high and dry.

    It’s funny how things change. Originally when I applied for my first dog I had hoped that it would make getting through crowds easier. Crowds have always been one of my weaknesses. I just can’t keep my Barings while walking through them. Interestingly now that I’ve experienced the benefits of using a guide dog my reasons for looking forward to the new one are slightly different!

    There are three homeless people around this area. Leaving aside if they are legitimate or not, I’m tired of walking into them. There’s one man who stays in the same place but the other two keep moving! Also, the man who stays in the same place stands where the other two are sitting or something so their almost completely impossible to miss. I’m sure there as tired of being met with a cane every day so you’d think they’d warn me when I’m approaching? No. They don’t. They just wait until they get poked. Actually, last Friday there was a new person sitting at one of the walls. He or she really got on my nerves. I was walking along trying to listen out for people coming toward me and trying to make sure I didn’t land on my behind by slipping on the ice when this idiot grabbed the bottom of my cane and tried to steer me around by it. This is like showing a red rag to a bull for me. Leave my cane alone! Don’t touch it! For any reason! I don’t care if a bus is coming toward me, leave my cane alone! There are other ways you can direct me if it’s absolutely necessary!

    My next reason for looking forward to having a dog again is simply relaxation. I haven’t gone for a walk for the hell of it in six months. I miss strolling around Stephens green during lunch. It’s nice to just get away and have a few minutes to think from time to time. I probably didn’t appreciate how much I’d miss it when it was gone.

    Christmas shopping. Before I had Freddie I use to get friends to give me a hand with this. No, the dog was completely useless for finding good presents for people, but he was great at finding doors to shops. This year I neither have the motivation or frankly and honestly, the independents to do this as efficiently as I have been able to for the past seven years. The simple act of asking people to help with this is also embarrassing! Yes. I’m well aware that that’s stupid thank you very much.

    Yes, I’m looking forward to January. So much so that I can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit at all this year. I just want the whole thing to be over so I can get on with 2011.

    Oh, I really miss the social side of things. I’ll never again complain that people come over constantly when the dog is around. I actually miss it! This isn’t as sad and pitiful as you might think! It’s simply a thing of logic. Say you’re out on your own for whatever reason. If you’re surrounded by people, it can be difficult and actually even intimidating to simply strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. In fact, I did this last week and began by talking to an empty chair. Stupid! I know! The fact is that when you have a dog, people are more likely to come over and say hello. This gets the ball rolling nicely. By that simple conversation you can gage a dozen little helpful things about what’s going on without asking one single obvious question.

    So, today, I’m going to have to bight the bullet. Today is the day where Christmas shopping can’t be put off any more. Things need to be done.

    It’s been a difficult six months but I think it was just the six months I needed to give me a good kick in the ass and make me appreciate what I had and what I’m striving for again.

    Bring on 2011!

  • The matching visit with my perspective new guide dog.

    A picture of Ike. My new guide dog?
    Ike is standing beside me.
    So… I’ve had eight text messages, four direct messages, one email and 5 calls from people wondering how the matching visit went today. Thanks for the concern. I know that many of you have gone through this process so your support is appreciated.

    The day started at half 7 in the morning. As the song says, the weather outside was frightful! The winter decided to fling all its lode at us in one night. Thunder, lightning, rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind and frost ravaged the country over night. The M1 and M7 were particularly bad roads. Certain parts of it were reduced to one lane. Most dangerous parts of the road were made worse with compacted ice.

    I was more concerned about traveling than Emma was. She braved the elements with a lot more confidence than I’d have in that kind of weather. It was very slow going in parts. In total it took us five hours to get to Cork.

    We got to the Irish guide dog centre in Model farm road in Cork at just before half twelve where we met the instructor. He introduced himself again and started the conversation off right away by introducing the dog to me. We went into a different room after a few minutes and we continued talking.

    I asked a few dozen questions and the instructor answered them all expertly. It was very interesting to hear about this perspective dog. We discussed its likes, dislikes, things that needed to be improved and its strengths.

    The next stage of the matching visit was the walk. We did a route that the dog would be reasonably familiar with. It’s important that the dog is happy with where it is walking around so that it has one less thing to worry about when it’s doing the first walk with what could possibly be its new handler.

    After the walk we had another quick conversation with the instructor. I was impressed with his plans for the next dog. He has some really nice methods of ensuring the perspective dog is given the right training to enable it to hit the ground running so to speak.

    We decided that Ike, the dog that I met was a very suitable dog for me and I will begin training with him on the 10th of January.

    The walk was better than I thought it would be. The dog is incredibly easy to anticipate. With Freddie, movements were fast, snappy and very confident. This dog is a little bit more apprehensive. This is obviously something that will improve but I hope it doesn’t change his body language all that much. I love it! Everything he did I could anticipate well in advance. He’s a very long bodied dog so when he’s making a change to his position or his movements there seems to be a little bit more advanced warning.

    Let’s see how it goes.

  • Matching visit with the perspective new dog.

    I found out on Monday that IGDB have a dog that may be suitable for me.

    I’m going down to Cork tomorrow for a matching visit. At this point, I have absolutely no idea what kind of dog it is, if it’s a he or she, what the dogs name is or anything else. This is standard for everyone going down for a matching visit. I suppose it’s to ensure that people don’t have any preconseptions or expectations so I completely understand their reasoning. Still, I’d like to have some kind of idea.

    Of course, I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m sure Emma will have a picture or two to post up here.

    I’m nervous. Mainly because any dog that I get is going to have some very large shoes to fill and although I understand I’ll have to start it of easy, it’s going to have a lot of work and a lot of responsibility if or when it’s fully trained.

  • New dog?

    Firstly, I know I’m jumping the gun by writing this post.
    It is highly unlikely that this will actually happen. No, I’m being realistic.
    I got a call this morning from Irish guide dogs to say they have two dogs in mind for the class starting on the 10th of January. If all goes ok in the next month the trainer will call me to organise a matching visit to determine what one of the two is best suited to me.
    Even if it goes ok there’s a a major challange ahead. It’s never easy training with a new dog but I’m looking forward to it more than most of you will possibly understand.
    Bring on December!

  • Thanks Freddie

    My guide dog Freddie: 10th June 2000 to 15th august 2012. RIP.

    I can’t explain how utterly upsetting it is to write this. Today, while I rubbed Freddie’s ear, we put him to sleep. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. I wanted to write sooner rather than later because it’s very important to me that I say thank you. Thank you to everyone who commented on this post. Thank you to Freddie’s puppy walker. Thanks to Irish guide dogs for giving me a guide dog that is simply one of a kind. Thank you most of all to the family who took him during his retirement. I know it only lasted two years but wow he had an amazing two years. I seriously can’t express enough how grateful I am for the way they treated Freddie. It was actually my father who really confirmed it last week when he got to see Freddie for the first time in his new home. He said that the best decision I could have made was sending him to that particular family. It is simply amazing how much they cared for him. I could never have asked for anything more. The more I visited Freddie the more I noticed their attachment grow.

    For me, and I know for everyone with a guide dog, one of the hardest things is that day when you hand over the dog. It’s not like turning off a light switch. You have taken care of the dog and equally, the dog has taken care of you. That bond isn’t one that’s easily broken. That was actually very evident tonight. Even though Freddie could hardly move, he still found the energy to look up at me for assurance when the vet was shaving his paw. When Mark told me, in a funny way I knew that I was meant to be there. Not being there for the end would have been simply wrong.

    That’s really the only reason I wanted to write. I just wanted to thank everyone. I am finding it a great comfort to recognise that Freddie has been incredibly lucky. Just think about it. He had a brilliant puppy walker, Ok, he had to put up with me but still, he travelled a lot and experienced a lot more than any other dog I have encountered. Then to top it all off, he lived with a fantastic family in a lovely area. I couldn’t ask for any more. When it was his turn to move on, he did it just like he did everything else in life. With speed. Within a very short space of time he rapidly declined. I think that’s much better than a prolonged illness. It meant that up to two weeks ago, he still had his normal character.

    Origional blog post written on the day of his retirement.

    This shows Freddie walking through a shallow stream. As he’s walking, he’s licking his nose.  Very attractive!
    No blog post could do this topic Justice. Not even a novel could really come close to explaining all the ways that the past seven years have changed everything.

    I’m also no different to the thousands of people who have gone through this process. Thousands of people who could probably express the significance of this much better than I ever could or will.

    This post is a thank you. It’s a feeble attempt at gratitude and recognition for over seven years of constant service, companionship, trust and loyalty. It’s an impossible task. How can you begin to show this level of gratitude to a creature that doesn’t understand? I’m not writing this for you, the reader, I’m probably writing it more for me. This day marks a change that I knew was coming for a long time. It’s actually a welcome change. He’s done his job. He’s probably done more work than most guide dogs ever will. We’ve lived in Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick and Balbriggan. At one stage, we were changing apartments every six months. When Irish guide dogs for the blind said it wasn’t good for the dog, I was worried but he impressed me by taking it all in his stride. That has been the one defining characteristic of Freddie since I got him. Things that I and others thought he’d never do were things that he excelled at. He’s commuted to Dublin from Monday to Friday for many of these seven years. Again, working through rush hour commuter times he’s amazed people at his relaxed nature while navigating through dense crowds that would pose a challenge even for sighted people. The dog has the most incredible memory. Long time readers of this blog may remember a time four years ago where he guided me from college green through Trinity college to pearse station. I had never been that way before, but while I was out of the country, Emma took him for a walk through Trinity once. He is the kind of dog that remembers a route after doing it once. He was also the kind of dog that allowed rules to be broken but would make sure I stuck to them rigidly if I got a bit too reckless. Emma laughed when she began to get to know him as she noticed that if it seemed that I wanted to cross a road without stopping for an adequate period of time Freddie would curve his body around me so that I wouldn’t walk any further.

    Freddie has a very unique personality. While working, his personality changes even more. While at home, he’s sneaky. He’ll decide that he wants to spy on you and the door of the room your in will open just a fraction so he can stick his nose through for a quick look. He wants to be part of everything. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a computer, watching the television or playing music. He always wants to be right beside the action. If he gets board though he’s quite content to make himself known. If that fails, he’ll skulk back off to bed waiting for the next interesting thing to happen. Funnily, if you tell him to do something he doesn’t want to do, you’re likely to get sneezed at or a loud sigh. Every action starts with a standard sequence. He gets up, stretches, shakes, and sneezes and then he’s ready to go. While working, he’s equally unique. He pulls left all the time no matter where he’s going. If he’s board, he’ll take a look around as he’s walking but he always keeps one eye on where he’s going. He’s always been very happy to work and in fact, I know no other guide dog that actually walks into his own harness. He knows his way around Cork, Galway, Dublin, Drogheda, and Limerick, Dublin airport, Dundalk, Carlow, Kildare and even parts of London. His confidence never seems to dip. He always seems to have a very clear idea of where he’s going. Even when it’s somewhere he’s never been before he thinks he knows best. Actually, in his defence, he usually does know best and it’s a regular comment from friends that I should just shut up and let him do the thinking because when I second guess him I’m usually wrong.

    A picture of Freddie guiding me down a quiet road with a grass verge and large trees on each side.
    His retirement from work is something that has been on the cards for a long time. I’ve never really felt sad or sorry about this. I am delighted that he’s had such an active and varied life up until now and because he’s worked so much, I can think of no better reward for him now than enjoying his retirement in a home that is going to treat him like the amazing animal he is. Of course, I’ll miss him. Both as a companion and as a mobility aid but I can honestly say, this is overshadowed by the relief that he is going to enjoy himself.

    It’s true what they say. A guide dog is always more than a mobility aid. I think it will be strange for people who are not blind to read that for me, he was actually best at being a conversation starter. In college, I had a great circle of friends. I enjoyed myself a lot! For the first two years though that circle of friends stayed quite static. When I got Freddie, people that I’d never even heard of approached me. When you are blind, or indeed, if you have any kind of disability at all, it can be difficult for people to approach you. Having a dog really breaks down that barrier. Within weeks, my social life had changed. I suppose, I was a little bit more independent and confident and that really helped me take more risks and having the dog with me was something very different. Even people who didn’t like dogs warmed to Freddie. The place that I work in at the moment is a perfect example. The person who complained about having a dog in the office actually petted Freddie within six months of me starting. She was terrified! She had nothing but bad experiences with dogs and she couldn’t stand the thoughts of working in the same room as a dog. I myself was not a dog person. In fact, when I got Freddie first, I was afraid of rubbing his head because it was too near to his mouth for my liking. But he seems to have a way of completely eliminating those fears and inhibitions.

    I want to try to cover all the benefits he’s provided but I can’t. It would take too long.

    If you have a dog half as good as Freddie has been for me, you’re incredibly lucky. People have said, and I believe them, I will never get a dog that is as suited as Freddie is to me ever again. Freddie is outstanding.

    The past seven years have been the most rewarding of my life. I finished college without having to repeat even one exam. I worked in companies that were the worst and the best in the world. I made friends, travelled the country and the world and took pleasure in travelling to areas in the country that would have ordinarily been inaccessible while using the Cain.

    As I write this, Freddie is sitting under my seat on the train. We’re on the way back from a weekend in Galway. He had a fantastic time and it was really nice to spend the last weekend with him doing what he loved doing most. Guiding me around areas that he’d never seen before. Showing me he was right and I was wrong. In his little head, he took great satisfaction when proving me wrong.

    Now, jumping eight hours ahead, I’m sitting at home. Its 9PM. Freddie was left at his new home and at 5:45PM today, we drove away with one less member of our family in the car. The home he’s gone to is fantastic. They have two young kids and a four year old dog. There in the countryside and they have plenty of land around them. It’s the kind of place I always hoped he’d retire to. No city streets, no busy roads and no built up areas. He’s got independents, people to keep him company, a dog to play with and no more work. I know he’s going to be very happy there.

    The wife of my friend commented that I was very brave in the way I was handling it all. People have said that I’ll really miss him when he’s gone. I really wanted to make sure I was happy when I was leaving him there. Dogs are very perceptive of the mood of those around them. I wouldn’t want him to be down because I was feeling sorry for myself. I kept my head up, convinced the family they were going to do a great job, ran them through the likes and dislikes of the dog and tried to act as normal as I could.

    My false face lasted until I got home but putting his collar and harness away was when it hit me. He’s gone. The dog that devoted seven and a half years of his life to my mobility is no longer with me. Gone are the days of him sneaking up on me while I’m sitting on a chair to give me his head for a rub. Gone are the days of him dropping his toy on my knee so I can play with him, gone are the days of him racing to the car before I get there so I could let him in. Gone are the days where he’d sneak into my computer room and quietly lie beside my chair without me noticing. Gone are the days of simply relaxing while walking around and through crowds at rush hour times. Gone is the silly dog that liked taking the long way around an obstacle just to show that he was working well. Gone is the Freddie that took corners so fast it could make your head spin. Gone is the Freddie that loved to keep up with my speed. Gone is the Freddie that could wait for me to do a job for hours on end but would just as happily work for the entire day walking around the most difficult of environments. Gone is the Freddie Era.

    There’s nothing more I can say really.

    I hope you’ve met Freddie. If you have, you’ll know everything I can’t explain. If you’ve never met him, you’ve missed out. He was one of a kind.

    Thanks. I can only hope you now get the life you deserve.

    A picture of our family. Emma, Freddie and me.