So this blog post I thought I’d write because I thought it might be good for you guys to see what the process is like in general and also see what my personal experience. This post will be about my Guide Dog Experience.
So back in 2015, I started studying at a college for the blind up into Hereford. We had a good mixture of visually impaired and blind students. As well as cane and Guide Dog users. Also one of my friends at the time was also a Guide Dog user. It was because of this time at college and being around Guide Dogs and their owners that I decided to go ahead and applied for my own Guide Dog, as well as the struggles I had getting around from day to day.
So one day in between lessons, I decided to go to the Guide Dog website and search for my local mobility team back at home. Once I found out their information I decided to email them to find out a bit more about the process and what was involved. Within a couple of days, I got an email back from someone at Guide Dogs to say that they would phone me to set up a home visit and send a member of staff to come and see me. Now, I must mention that I had applied for a Guide Dog some years before this, but I had been turned down at the time because I was too young. The first meeting was about me and my eye condition and all the boring paper that had to be done, as well as all the information I needed to know.
A few months went by, as at the time I was away studying a college so, my application had to be referred to the local mobility team up near my college. I then got a phone call from that team asking if they could come and see me and conduct a mobility assessment. This involves me walking around as I normally would with my cane, while the Guide Dog staff behind me look at the little things, like my walking speed and how I get around. Whilst doing this, they asked me questions like my distance in terms of my sight and how far I can see before things started to get blurry.
Once we got back to the college we sat down and discussed how we all thought it went. It turned out it went really well and that they were going to recommend I moved on the Guide Dog Mobility Assessment. After the Mobility Assessment, I got six to eight months went passed before I finally got a phone call from Guide Dogs asking to meet me for a Guide Dog Assessment around the college. About a week later, the day finally arrived and I must say I was really nervous, as I really wanted this to go well. We first sat down and discussed me and what type of dog I was personally looking for, and what Guide Dogs thought I needed. Once we had this discussion, we then did a harness walk. This is a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, brings along a harness, but sadly no dog. They hold on to the end of the harness and mutate what a Guide Dog would be doing as well as teaching me the basic commands to work the dog.
We walked around the college and practiced walking up and down stairs, practicing giving positive and negative reactions to a dogs behavior. This went so well and we were both really, really happy with how that went. Therefore I went on the waiting list for a Guide Dog. During this time, I had a number of visits from Guide Dogs including looking at where I was currently living and looking at the size of the garden and where would the dog ‘spend’. I had to do this another time, because whilst on the waiting list I moved house, so Guide Dogs had to come a assess my house again, along with looking and assessing my pet dogs.
As I had moved house, I needed new routes, to get out and about as well as routes for working my future Guide Dog. I had a number of mobility lessons before I went back on the waiting list for a Guide Dog. So fast forwarding to June 2017, at this point in my life, I had moved out of the family home, and living on my own, as well as visiting my girlfriend once a month up in Birmingham which I love to do, as still love to do! During this time, I had phoned Guide Dogs to give them an update and tell them that I had moved out and was living on my own. About a week or so later, I got the phone call I had been dreaming and waiting for almost three years. I got the phone call to say that Guide Dogs, had possibly found me a Guide Dog.
About a week later on a Thursday afternoon. A Guide Dog Mobility Instructor came round with a two-year-old, yellow Labrador Retriever cross. He brought her up to my flat, were my mum and I were waiting. We both said hello to the dog, and started to answer a few questions about where I was living, how the other residents would feel about having a dog around the place, along with my current routes and places a still go. We then went on another harness walk to practice the basic commands again, as it had been some time since I had done them before on the Guide Dog Assessment. Then we walked back to get the dog and do the same walk with the dog in harness. Once, we both started walking we didn’t stop. We carried on and on until we got to the end of the road, which was much more further then me and the trainer had done a few minutes before. After we turned around, we lead walk the dog back, and the trainer guided me back home. On the way home, he started telling me some more things about the dog and a little bit about her personality and characteristics.
Once home, went through how the two walks went. The trainer said that he thought it went really well and that me and Blossom when he then said what she was called work so well together, that he was going to recommend that we got matched as a partnership. After this, I then had to say goodbye to Blossom, which I was a little sad at because even though the chance was slim and wasn’t very likely as the meeting went so well. There was a little of me was sad to see her go, just in case I never got to see her again.
Photo: Me & Blossom looking at camera on the day we met for the first time!
About a week or so later, whilst out having lunch with my girlfriend. I got a phone call from Blossom’s trainer, to say that I had been officially matched with her. I was over the moon! He then said, that some weekend in the near future I would I like to have Blossom for the weekend? Of course, I said yes. So we arranged a date for Blossom to come and stay with me for a couple of weekends time. Those two weekends went by very slowly, but eventually, the big weekend arrived. Once they had arrived, Blossom’s trainer brought her in to meet all the other residents in the building, and have a talk about, what is expected of them and what a Guide Dog does. Once that was all done, he then brought her back to my flat, and we went through the basics on how to look after Blossom, how to feed her and take out to ‘spend’. Once he taught me all that, he went to go and get Blossom’s bed, then quickly send goodbye and left. For the first few hours Blossom didn’t want to come near me, which I can understand. But looking at her now, you wouldn’t believe it. During the weekend, we weren’t allowed to go out anywhere, so we just stayed indoors and spent time together, watching telly, playing with Blossom’s starfish which she had since she was a puppy and still has to this day, and we watched telly together. When the Monday arrived and it was time for Blossom to leave, I got a little upset to see her go, but this time I knew for a fact I would be seeing her again.
A few months went by, then one day, I got a letter from Guide Dogs to say I had been invited to a ‘Client Day’ at their offices. On the day, a nice volunteer driver from Guide Dogs came to pick me up and take me to the office. Once we got their a member of staff took me into the building and introduced me to the three other people that were going to be in my class when I came to start my training the following Monday. Three of us, including me were on our first dog, while one other was on his second dog. The day consisted of a few presentations about dogs in general and then moved onto more specific Guide Dog related topics. After that, we then went down in twos to go and see our dogs and do some basic obedience with them. As I walked up to Blossom’s pen, she looked up at me, as if to say “I know who you are…” then once she was allowed to come and say hello she started wagging her tail as if to say “I remember who you are!” We then went outside into the car park to do some obedience which went really well. We worked on basic things, like walking to heel, following the lead and turning whilst on the lead.
After this, we then went back to Blossom’s pen, and had quick fuss of her, before we had to go back upstairs for lunch. After lunch, we all got to go on a walk with our dogs. We drove to an housing estate and each got to do a route that all the dogs knew well. After everyone had a go, we went back to the office and went through the finer point of training before we started for real the following Monday.
The weekend before training was the longest weekend ever! As I was so excited, I made sure I packed everything I needed, as well as the things Guide Dogs said I needed. When the Monday arrived, another lovely volunteer driver from Guide Dogs came to take me to the hotel where we were going to be staying for the next two weeks. Once everyone had arrived, as we had already met a few days before it was more relaxed a chatty. Then our trainer went through what the two weeks consisted of and what different things we were going to do each day. Then we were each given a bag of goodies! Which had in it all the essentials which included a brand new white harness, a new lead and lead flash, a dog whistle and grooming supplies!
Photo: A clean white brand new harness and bag of dog supplies on a bed.
The next two weeks were very hard work, but at the same time very, very enjoyable! We were each taught how to put on and take off the harness, in my case i had to learn to look up and straight ahead and not look down, as for years I had got into the habit of looking down at my feet so I wouldn’t trip over them. We also learnt how to feed, groom, and ‘spend’ our dogs. As the days went on, the walks we did got a little more challenging each day, including things like going into shops, full pavement obstacles and even a walk at night. Even though I had an amazing time away training, and I’d definitely do it all again, the time came when we had to go home and start our home training. Home training lasted for three weeks, where I got to do all the local routes that I was familiar with, as well as public transport such as trains and buses. Once we had covered all my local routes and places of interested. I had one final walk, we went into town and done some shopping which I needed to do, and then we walked to catch the bus home. Whilst waiting for the bus, my trainer said that that was my final walk, and would I be happy if she qualified me and Blossom as a fully legal partnership? Of course, I said yes! So once we got home, she got out all the paper and started reading through the contract. Once she read through it, I said I was more than happy with it, and I signed all the paperwork and handed over my fifty pence!
Photo: Me & Blossom in town, standing in front of a ‘Only Fools & Horses’ van!
After going through all this, I must say, applying for and getting Blossom, is honestly one of the best things I have ever done! She has given me so much confidence in going out, and people have said that it shows. Now, instead of thinking ‘I can’t go and do this, because I’d need someone to come with me’ now its a case of ‘Let’s go and do this event’ or ‘where have we not gone together’. I know it’s a common thing for a Guide Dog owner to say, but Blossom has truly been a life changer and now I honestly can’t see myself without her. She’s helped me not with just my ability to get out and round, but also with my self-confidence and sense of importance. She relies on me, just as much as I rely on her, and not a day goes by when I don’t thank her for what she does!
So here comes my advertising bit, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association solely run on public donations and get no government funding, it costs over £50,000 for life and aftercare for one dog and their owner. You can also Sponsor a Guide Dog Puppy, or maybe give up some time and volunteer. Whatever you can do I know Guide Dogs would very much appreciate it. If you would be interest, in looking into donating or volunteer for Guide Dogs you can do so, by going to www.guidedogs.org.uk!
If you have made it to the end, then thank for reading all of this, I know this post was a lot longer then what I normally do, but I wanted to write about this for three reasons. One, was to tell you guys about my experience, two if there is anyone out there who is looking to applying for or is think about applying for a Guide Dog, and three I wanted to document mine and Blossom’s experience, so we can look back at our first eight or so months together! She is right fast asleep on her bed as I am writing this!
Anyway, thank you so much for reading this, and I look forward to see you in my next review coming very soon!
Photo: Me & Blossom (in harness) sitting in the gardens of the hotel!
Until Next Time,
The VI Critic