• Tag Archives nama
  • I qualified with Nama this day last year.

    Today 18th October marks one year since I qualified with my third guide dog. As any follower of this blog or my updates on various social networks will already know, it has been one hell of a year. In fairness to you, I’ve been saying that almost every year for about five or six years. This past year has been life changing though. Let’s see. I qualified with Nama, I got married, I went on honeymoon and experienced things people could only dream of, I found out I was going to be a father, I changed job and finally I became a father to our beautiful daughter Méabh. Yes. It really has been one hell of a year!

    Of course I would have done all this without Nama by my side but it wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable or easy. As I’ve always said, Nama is a bullet proof, resourceful, independent, intelligent, obedient and loyal companion and guide dog. Over both Freddie and Ike he can handle more work, more changes and more upheavals. However, one thing I will say is he’s not gentle at all. I know Ike would be a lot more cautious and a lot easier going around now. Nama is really hardy but he expects everyone else to be hardy as well. That’s the way I like him though.

    I’ve written before here about what Nama has been doing in his first year so I won’t repeat myself. Since September however Nama’s work load has really decreased. I have been working a lot from home so I’ve had to artificially boost his work day. I think this has been a very unwelcome change from his perspective because he was really enjoying the work load I was giving him every day. The exercise was also doing us both a lot of good but overall, commuting every day was not doing my personal life or social life any favours. I’ve been commuting for the past ten years so although it’s not really the best thing for Nama, I have to do what’s right for me and my new family. It’s something that continues to weigh very heavily on my mind though.

    Nama is full of energy. His idea of a perfect life seems to be an equal balance of constant play and work. With the changes in my work life and the even bigger changes in my personal and family life, poor Nama’s needs have been pushed to one side. I’m really hoping that things will balance out again. Until then, I’m feeling very guilty because he really deserves more than I’m giving him at the moment.

    That’s really what this post is about.

    With all the changes that we have gone through in the past year, I’m really finding it difficult to juggle everything at once. Take today for example. We were over in my parents’ house for an hour or two. I had to go over to look at a computer problem that my mother encountered last night but because she had cleaned the house this morning I felt bad bringing Nama with me. He has been shedding a lot lately and the fact that I haven’t really had or taken the time to groom him regularly over the past two weeks really hasn’t helped. Anyway, we got back to the house after a while and I knew Nama would be very happy to see us. Ordinarily I’d spend the first few minutes giving him attention, letting him relieve himself and generally making it worth his while waiting for me to get back but today, it was raining and Emma’s not really herself yet so I had to open the house, go back to the car to bring the baby stuff in, go back again to bring in some shopping and then go back to dispose of some recyclable waste that was left over from the packaging. All this was probably done within about five minutes because I ran in and out as fast as I possibly could but I felt very guilty as Nama was moaning and crying in the living room waiting for me to go in to him. I have so many things to do at the moment from taking care of the baby, taking care of Emma and taking care of Nama that unfortunately, for the moment Nama needs to take less of a priority for a while. This leaves absolutely no time for me of course and when I have time to myself, I have absolutely no motivation left to actually get any work done. I’ve taken on some work outside my nine to five work but I’m so far behind that it seems like an absolutely impossible task. I know that it’s just that I’ve taken on a bit more than I can handle at the moment but unfortunately it’s meaning that I’m feeling particularly bad and guilty for poor Nama. Mainly because he’s been so good in his first year of work that I think I should be doing better for him.

    Reading back over that it sounds like a poor me post. It’s not. Things will get better. I’ll find more time for Nama and my priorities will get back on track again. For the moment I don’t think I will ever get out of this busy stressful stage but I know it will happen eventually.

    The extra money that I’m trying to raise will go into finishing a big chunk of work that I want to do before the end of the year. I know that when it’s all done all of this will be worth it.


  • My guide dog Nama after six months

    Welcome to May. Sorry I haven’t written here in such a long time. I was looking at my feed reader this morning and while grumbling to myself that my favourite blogs such as Paws for thought and K8 the Gr8 hadn’t been updated I felt a sudden pang of guilt for neglecting my own little corner of the blogosphere for so long. The thing is, there is a lot happening at the moment, but I’m out of the habit of blogging. So, when I sit down, so many topics are ready to be written about that it becomes a task of epic proportions. This blog is less about what has been happening and more an acknowledgement of having Nama, my guide dog for over six months and the success of this new working partnership.

    Looking at everything Nama has done would take far too long. So instead, let me highlight some of the main points.

    At a basic level, Nama has travelled to and from work with me every day from Monday to Friday since the middle of October. This might sound like a simple task however; consider that I live about 50km away from work so on an average week he travels to Dublin five times. That is about 240 bus trips in six months. Putting another slant on this, that’s 12000KM that he has travelled excluding other trips to Carlow, Galway, and Belfast and of course Dundalk. It’s a short trip to the bus station and slightly longer to the train station in Drogheda but our route to work in Dublin from getting off the bus or train is quite dynamic. Depending on the day, the weather or our mood, we can walk for quite a while before getting to the office. Changing routes keeps things interesting and a long walk first thing in the morning clears the head. We also vary our route at lunch time. Instead of just going to Stephens green and back we try to venture to different areas on the way back to work. It might be a quick diversion down Grafton Street or it could be a longer walk down by the department of Finance, by Pierce Street, across the quays, through temple bar, over college green and back up Nassau Street. The walk during lunch time blows away the cobwebs and gives Nama a good challenge to focus on. We regularly travel to several buildings in Dublin city centre during the day as well depending on the work we are doing so he has quite a busy working day. In the evenings, we sometimes go for a leisurely walk around Drogheda. I’ve got back into amateur radio lately so I can be seen walking around Drogheda with a dog in one hand and a radio in the other. That’s his standard working life. That sounds taxing enough but it’s the boring part. It’s the part we do because we have to.

    The interesting work is when we head off to Carlow, Galway, Belfast or Dundalk. When he’s thrown into situations that are quite unusual and interesting. For example, during the recent pan celt festival in Carlow, he didn’t have a huge amount of work to do but he needed to walk to and from various sessions. He then had to tuck himself away quietly until I was ready to go. Some of these sessions lasted a very long time. Of course, walking between sessions meant that he was working through areas that he wasn’t familiar with and the idea of a defined route went out the window. For such a new dog this might seem like too much but he took it in his stride. In fact, on the Sunday, we had some time to kill while waiting on a train home so we set off walking. I had the idea that we’d just walk in a block formation and we’d end up somewhere that he would recognise and I’d be able to get him to find a land mark that he recognised. This works well usually. I can tell when he’s recognising something that we’ve been to before. He pulls into it with a lot of determination. So, when he finds it, I can orientate myself and give him more decisive commands to reach our destination. This was going well until we got to an area with a big open space and I lost my straight line for a moment. Little did I know, Nama was following the path to maintain the straight line but it didn’t feel right to me. He resorted to his usual giddy location of familiar land marks so we found where we were again and set off in the right direction. Although I thought we had gone wildly off course, we followed a perfect route around a large block area. It’s this willingness to work after being so quiet for so long and to handle new situations that really sets Nama apart. Of course, he’s not a machine. He has his own needs but I’ll get to these shortly.

    One of his big trips in the past six months was a quick stay in France. We were invited over there to play music. He flew over and back with me without a single problem. The toileting facilities were about a ten minute walk away from the hotel but that didn’t bother him either. Again, he sat quietly when I was busy and in fact, he came on stage with me twice because I didn’t have someone to watch him for me. He doesn’t care about sound checks. He is more than happy to sleep through them! He visited the usual tourist attractions with me such as the church of Nostradamus, the burial tomb of napoleon and of course the Eiffel tower. ON the Eiffel tower we went right up to the highest floor and although it was very windy we walked around the external balcony. Absolutely none of it phased him. I personally hate the sensation of heights but it was exhilarating to be up there. Especially with Nama by my side guiding me around. I’ve said it before; I trust a guide dog more than I trust most sighted guides. There are obviously exceptions but if a stranger offers me assistance, I’ll use the dog. The way I see it, the dog has trained his whole life to guide me. The stranger hasn’t a clue. So, it was a little comforting to have Nama up there with me. I will also say that it is hard to explain how empowering and freeing it was to have Nama with me in France. I didn’t need to depend on anyone from the group I was with in unfamiliar areas, I could go off for a walk on my own around Paris and I could be a lot more self-sufficient. Parris isn’t the easiest place to walk around independently when you can’t see however although there was a language barrier, the locals were very helpful at crossings and areas where I needed a prod in the right direction. I’d definitely go back and in the future when I’m traveling, if it’s at all possible, I’ll have no hesitation in bringing Nama with me again.

    Nama isn’t perfect. He’s far from it and in fact, he’s a lot of work. He has a serious problem with food distraction, he gets bored easily and if he gets an idea into his head it takes a few minutes to get him to snap out of it. He also took a long time to firm up on the basics of guiding when we got home. For example, he was very bad in crowds. One of the instructors noticed the potential for him to be a bit careless while on training so I was given some good tips to enforce the desired behaviour. The problem was that he was walking me straight into people, not moving far enough away from people who were walking toward us or brushing off people walking in the same direction as us. Most of these problems stemmed from an observation that he developed that people would move out of our way when we approached. It took me a few months to make Nama realize that it was his job to move out of the way. Not the other pedestrians. He got better slowly and he’s now at the point that when we’re in built up areas, I can tell him to be careful in a very relaxed tone and his awareness of the people around us is brilliant. One bit of advice we got when I was encountering this problem was to slow down and give Nama more time to react. This actually made no difference. I know with experience to slow down in crowds so I had already done this. He simply didn’t seem to care that we were walking into people. It was also really hard to correct him for doing it incorrectly because when we hit people they automatically assumed that they had done something wrong. We reinforced the correct response by simulating the problem repeatedly over a few weeks and then using the responses from the simulations in every day work. Even now, I have to stay vigilant because with all of his little quirks, he can regress easily if I don’t pay attention. So, the type of work that I enjoyed with Freddie where I could switch off and let him get me from A to B isn’t possible with Nama yet. However, it should go without saying that we are only six months into our working partnership so I nor expect or anticipate this yet. I mention it because it is something I am aspiring to. I will say that it’s important not to associate one working partnership with another but if I was to break that rule for a moment, I will say that Freddie’s guiding style and his ability to avoid stationary and moving obstacles is far superior to Nama’s. However, Nama is more resilient than Freddie. So, there are always strengths and weaknesses in every guide dog.

    As I said earlier, Nama isn’t a machine. He has needs to maintain and establish a good working standard however these needs are easy to meet. Nama needs lots and lots of play time. IT might be while standing at a bus stop with him trying to grab my coat sleeve, or it might be at work when he decides that while I’m not too busy he’s going to come over to play with my shoe. We play first thing in the morning, when we get home from work and several times during the evening. He needs a lot of physical contact while playing as well. Other dogs might be mouthy when their young but I think he’ll remain that way. He is only rough with me and at times I’ve had to get him to settle down but he absolutely loves playing with his mouth. They say dogs hold stress in the muscles around their mouth so I spend a lot of time when he’s winding down playing with that area. He is quite destructive on toward dog toys so unfortunately the only toy he’s allowed walk around with is the Kong. I like him to have at least one toy to be able to bring around because it means he has something else to grab on to apart from me!

    I was told when I got Nama first that he was quite aloof. This means emotionally and / or physically distant. I have no idea where they got this impression from. Nama is the clingiest dog I have ever met. I thought Freddie was my shadow. Nama is just ridiculous! I can’t go anywhere. He follows me around the house, around the office and around anywhere else we go. At home, he sits outside the bathroom door until I come out. IF I’m washing the dishes, he lies right behind my feet. If I’m hoovering the stairs he even tries to come with me. One friend thinks that this could be a sign of sensitivity but I don’t think so. He’s done this right from the start. When I was in the centre he tried to follow me around after the first few days. From getting home he has continued this. I’ve tried sending him away but he goes a few metres away and lies down again. If I close the door so that he’s in another room he starts crying. I’m not complaining. Far from it. We have an incredibly strong bond and that’s vitally important in attaining a lasting and productive working partnership.

    So there you have it. I’m delighted with Nama’s progress. It should go without saying that I believe he has more growing to do and he needs to improve in some areas but we’re through our first six months. Let’s see where the next six months takes us. Already, I’m delighted to say that the best acknowledgement of the incredibly high standard of work that he does is to say that he has given me the freedom, independence and mobility that I haven’t enjoyed since before retiring Freddie.


  • bring on the summary of summaries!

    I suppose it’s really time for an update isn’t it. In fact, to be fair to you, it’s really past time. Are there any of you reading this thing anymore? I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting about the place. It’s been getting a bit neglected lately.

    So, first things first. I’m a married man. I’m really sorry to do this to you all but on new year’s eve, I tied the Knott. Actually, that’s not really true. I didn’t tie it. She did. It’s been really hard typing with these shackles. ?

    After the wedding, as is quite normal, we went on honeymoon for a few weeks. Because of the weather over here we thought a warmer temperature would be nice so we took ourselves off to Thailand. If you’re ever thinking of going somewhere a little different then I highly recommend there. I know I should write a blog post about our honeymoon but I haven’t a clue where to start. Maybe I can talk Emma into helping me sort out all the cluttered memories at some stage. It would certainly be a shame not to blog about it.

    Let me start off by telling you a little about the wedding. It of course goes without saying that Emma was absolutely angelic and she looked stunning. But of course, you already know that don’t you! There was no sign of any stress from either of us coming up to the wedding so when the day came we easily enjoyed it. However, I really shouldn’t wined her up so much. Sometimes she actually believes me! I’ll say no more after that. I’ll leave it to your imagination. ?

    The morning of the wedding was quite busy. My best man Nicky along with his girlfriend Jenny stayed with me in my parents’ house the night before and we had a few things to do before getting to the church. Showering, ordering breakfasts, having a hot towel shave for the first time. Myself, my father and Nicky did that. Jenny went to the hair dressers. In case any of you are feeling funny.

    I wasn’t nervous at all on the morning of the wedding. However, sitting in the car on the way to the church with my father and Nicky was when it hit me. Some of the weirdest possibilities went through my head. What if she didn’t turn up? What if the car breaks down? Will I be late? Will guests arrive? I need to pee. Funny actually, I forgot about needing to pee for about two hours after that.

    We got to the church and I was a little surprised at the amount of people from our families that were there. Of course, I knew that that many people would show up but I just didn’t expect them all to say hello within the first five minutes. I knew what my responsibilities were. I along with Nicky went to the door of the church to greet people as they went in while all the time secretly in my head wishing for Emma to hurry the hell up.

    Suddenly a hurried whisper reached me that she was approaching the church so we hurried up to the alter so as we’d be in the right positions for when she arrived. Again, the weirdest things went through my head. I was thinking that the musicians need to be starting now, the brides made and page boy needed to walk nice and slow and I was hoping desperately that Emma wouldn’t start before the musicians started the wedding march so that what the musicians had planned would go off without a hitch. So many things that had absolutely no importance what so ever flooded my mind and then suddenly they all stopped when the bridal march started and it hit me like a hammer to the stomach. Oh crap. This is it. Not that I wasn’t absolutely certain. That’s not what I mean. But it was a sudden realization that from March when I got down on one knee in the muck in Wicklow all the planning led to this minute. From the time I decided to propose a long time ago until then I had always known that Emma was going to be my wife and we’d be very happy together but the one thing I kind of forgot to consider was the wedding part that marked the start of the whole thing. To say I was nervous would be like saying that the sun is a little warm. My legs felt like jelly. My hands were shaking and my nose was itchy! No. having an itchy nose had absolutely nothing to do with my nerves but it took my mind off them for a second because the age old battle of wills raged in my brain. Scratch nose or don’t scratch nose. That is the question. If I scratch, all the people in the church will see me. Ah no. Their all looking at Emma. They’ll never notice. But what about the damn photographers! They’ll see! And they’ll probably get a picture of it too! Slimy little feckers. All of these silly thoughts sprinted through my cerebellum for the two or three minutes it took Emma to walk down the aisle toward me. Then they all vanished as her father shook my hand and removed her vale. At that stage all I could do was smile, lead her by the arm to our seats and thank god the waiting was over.

    The mass went smoothly enough. Of course there were the usual mishaps; the best mad. I mean man, was handed the rings by the flower boy. I mean page boy but he dropped them. Then the priest handed mine to me and yeah, you guessed it, I dropped it too. It made everyone laugh though. All I could do at the time was smile, turn and mumble uups to the people nearest me. People laughed about that one thing for hours during the reception.

    After the mass we had a lot of pictures taken by the photographers. It seemed like we stood in various places and in various poses for hours. In the church, outside the church, at the hotel for the reception, outside the hotel, pretending to cut the cake, pretending to carry Emma and more that I’ve blocked from my mind. Those damn photographers drove me crazy! I’m sure they’ve done a great job and I would highly recommend them but I absolutely hate getting photographs taken so the entire time of getting pictures taken was like living in hell for a few years. That might seem dramatic but it’s true.

    After the pictures were taken we got to relax and mingle with the crowd a bit. That was probably the first time we had to say a proper hello to people. It was nice to spend a few minutes with as many people as we could thanking them for being there. It is a thing that I used to think was done out of manors or tradition but I must say, for Emma and myself, we were really delighted that every single person came. There were no thank you’s said just for the sake of saying them.

    Of course next came the meal. I won’t go into that too much. Basically, it was absolutely lovely. We couldn’t praise the Boyne valley hotel enough. They were nothing less than absolutely amazing. Please do consider them if you’re in Drogheda and your organizing an event. Now, one thing I will talk about briefly is the speeches. As any of you who know Nicky will agree, He’s a brilliant speaker. He can talk for hours to anyone. It’s a brilliant talent to have and he uses it well. He certainly used it well during our wedding anyway! He introduced everyone flawlessly and kept the guests laughing throughout the entire thing. Speeches can become long winded and boring but I would hope that our guests didn’t think that of ours. I was going to tell you about all the mistakes people made during speeches but it would have been a very long list. Instead, I’ll just say that the only person not to make a mistake and the most natural speaker of all was actually Emma. I say that with a little bit of surprise I will admit but it’s only because it was Emma who was the only one that really didn’t want to say anything. She agreed to stand up when we decided to give some small gifts out to parents, grandparents, the best man, the brides made, the flower girl and the page boy. The way she went around and personally thanked each one was very nice and natural. Keeping in mind that Nicky entertained us very well, I think Emma did herself very proud. The best line of the night has to be from the brides made when she got up and said very clearly; “Holy crackers. I’m a bit drunk” before launching into her speech.

    We’re looking forward to getting the pictures from the photographer of course but the thing I’m really looking forward to is getting the DVD from the company who supplied us with a video booth. People who came to the wedding were able to step outside the main reception room and leave a video message for us. As the night went on and the drink flowed the messages seem to have got a lot more entertaining. There are even one or two videos that will feature me. Although, I’m a little bit afraid of them.

    Of course there was some really nice music throughout the day. Two really good friends of mine Trudy and Andrew performed during the mass, the Willing fools played during the reception and two more very good friends Malachi and Noreen played at different times during the day as well. Other musicians came but didn’t play all that much of course but it was brilliant that they were there. As you’d expect, I couldn’t just sit around and listen to that much good music without joining in from time to time but I was warned by my mother not to go missing too much so I kept my participation to a minimum. Well, ok, to tell you the truth, I kept it to a minimum until about 3AM in the morning when we went to the residents bar. Then I didn’t stop until 8:30AM that morning.

    The day after went by so fast that I hardly remember it. We took stuff back from the hotel, went to see my parents, left Emma’s mother back to the bus, got some food very generously offered by my mother and then got about three hours sleep before traveling to the airport very early on Wednesday morning to leave for our honeymoon.

    Come back again shortly for the first post about the honeymoon. It’s something I really need to write about sooner rather than later.

    Since coming back we’ve both being doing great. Life has returned to normal which is really nice. The first thing I did when returning home was collect Nama, my guide dog. It’s really brilliant to have him back again. I actually missed him when I was away.

    Nama is really settling in well. Of course, being away from me for three weeks set him back a little bit but he’s back to the stage in his development that he was at before Christmas so it can only get better from here. He’s anticipating where we need to go and he knows when it’s time to relax. Now that the weather is slowly getting a little better, during the days that are nice and mild we go for a nice long walk around Dublin city centre. We start by letting him relieve himself in Stephens green then we do a lap or two of the park. We cut in and out of various pathways to vary the route a little and then we exit the green and depending on our mood we either take a route that is nice and active or quiet. Now that Nama is getting accustomed to these variations in our routine and he knows that there’s no hurry to reach a particular destination I find that he’s really starting to relax when we’re out for a pleasurable walk. It’s nice because when he relaxes I can play with him while walking. This playing can be as simple as reaching over with my right hand and tipping his ear. Or dropping the handle and trying to grab his tail. It won’t put him off his stride but it focuses his attention back on me and he knows that we’re in a good mood and work can be fun. Nama is a dog that really loves to use his teeth so after a few tips of his ear he tries to play using his mouth. This is when things can get really entertaining for him. We slow right down and he pushes right into me. Nama is not a sensitive dog at all but the change in his mood after these short play sessions can be quite obvious. He really loves the interaction.