My desire to find out more about a Guide Dog began almost 5 or 6 years ago. I got to a point in my life that I was depending on loved ones to take me out and really relied upon their time schedule. At that time, my youngest had just started nursery and as she grew older, I had more time to myself but was trapped in my home with so much anxiety, that I couldn’t even step outside and simply walk down the road to go to the shops in my local area.
Adverts on TV about Guide Dogs came frequently and one day I plucked up the courage and called them to find out more. Dave Kent and his Guide Dog, Quince and support worker Mel came along with another Guide Dog that they were looking after at that time.
Dave explained more about the charity Guide Dogs, the process of which a Guide Dog undertakes before a match is made for a potential person with sight loss. He explained who can apply, the application process and what the responsibilities are.
I had shared with Dave that I didn’t really know why, maybe not being able to see them properly and not knowing if or when they would pounce on me, that I was quite fearful of dogs or any other kind of animal. Dave completely understood and then something magical happened. He guided my hand very slowly up and down Quince’s body including his mouth and that was the very first time I had been that close to and touched a dog. It was a very emotional moment and very strange at the same time. I had been scared about something, without really knowing why and all my fears were relieved by just one kind action.
Following this very important home visit, together with some other factors, I had decided that applying for a guide dog was not right for me at that time
Almost 2, maybe 3, years later, I obtained employment which entails travelling frequently across London and I was absolutely certain that it was time. It was time to pick up that phone and contact Guide Dogs again. It felt that now with my situation changing, it would surely increase my independence. I went through the application process, a home visit was carried out to assess my home environment, we discussed familiar routes and tried some of them with my GDMI (which stands for a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor), using just a harness.
Once I had passed my application process, I waited a further few months.
I was invited to a Client Overnight Stay where I got to practice walking with a couple of Guide Dogs and one of them was called Billie, who I was paired up with first. I learned how to look after her, how to groom her correctly, how to spend her and how to feed her. Most satisfyingly, I learned commands and got to walk with her. It was a very life changing experience which is so valuable for someone who is thinking about applying for a Guide Dog but does not know fully what is involved and has had no interactions with a dog before.
I was then put onto the waiting list as I was successful in this part of the process.
It is important to note that just because you would like a Guide Dog, it does not mean you will automatically qualify. The Guide Dogs charity carry out several assessments to see whether you may be a suitable candidate.
Now having been on the Guide Dog waiting list for 21 months, I was invited to another client day to practice walking with Guide Dogs who have nearly or just completed their training. It was fantastic to put this learning into action and have this contact again. Four of us went who are in similar stages of our application, not only was it great to speak to others in very similar situations but also amazing to have this experience and share it with them.
Last week felt incredible, being able to walk with Guide Dogs who navigated me across the streets of Euston and Kings Cross. I had never felt so free, and confident walking the streets of London. I was gliding without fear of bumping into people, obstacles or anything. Of course, it is my responsibility of communicating instructions and directions to the Guide Dog, however, my first Guide Dog that I was paired up with called Colin, was a wonderful and young black Labrador. With lots of praise and tickles he worked magnificently. I adored Colin and when it was time to leave, I hate to admit it was a sad moment.
This experience which I had last week, instilled my belief that having the option to have a Guide Dog is the right choice for me. As time passed on, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, there are others out there that need it more than me and maybe just maybe, I will be just fine with my white cane. Inevitably, I can’t stop thinking about how I felt as I proudly walked the streets, with my head held up high, well, sometimes down as I made sure that Colin was okay, but I was relaxed, I was smiling, actually I was gleaming, and I felt free.
I am still unsure how long It will take for me to be matched up with the right dog for me but all I know is that I am pretty high up on the list. Currently there is a long waiting list and if someone for any reason has to stop working with their Guide Dog, then they get priority.
It will be challenging in introducing my Guide Dog perhaps to family and relatives, or maybe some of the events or functions I attend but I am keen and passionate to raise awareness of how a Guide Dog can be so life changing. I am so looking forward to the day when I receive the phone call that Guide Dogs have found me a match!!
The photo is of Guide Dog Billie.