Sometimes the only way to get over our fear is to face it. And that’s what I had to do on Friday…
Here’s the back story: two weeks ago, I fell while walking with my guide dog, Fiji. In truth, I wasn’t badly hurt but it’s taken me time to heal from the various scratches and grazes on my hand, arms and knees. And I haven’t walked with Fiji while healing. The other thing you need to know is that they’ve been digging up sidewalks and roads to install fiberoptic cables in our neighbourhood, a fact that may or may not have contributed to my fall. But that’s not what this post is about.
Fiji’s been remarkably patient while my knees healed enough to climb steps without pain. Thankfully, during my time off most of the fiberoptic installation has been done. So I knew we wouldn’t be dodging teams of workmen when we ventured out for our first cautious foray on Friday.
What I hadn’t expected was how nervous I’d be about walking. Don’t get me wrong – I trust Fiji and her impeccable training. And it’s not like my fall was in any way her fault – I did it all on my own! but I still had to confront the disturbing question that kept nagging at me – what if I fall again?
I decided to take it one step at a time. And everything was fine. Until we stepped up onto one specific sidewalk.
I don’t know if other blind people experience this, but if something’s changed on a route I know well I have a momentary panic that maybe, just maybe I’m not where I think I should be. Which is scary. But then sanity reasserts itself and I know it’s only the spot where I’m standing that’s changed a little.
So, when I stepped onto that sidewalk and found soft, slippery sand instead of the grass surface I was expecting I had one of those moments. Then, as I moved past that panic and continued on my route, I found the drainage gutter I use as a navigational aid was MIA… well, it was covered by that same soft, slippery sand. So that was another of those moments. And by the time I reached the end of that seemingly interminable block I was a nervous wreck. In utter relief I stepped towards the down kerb to cross the road and leave that now-alien landscape… only to discover the entire sidewalk had crumbled.
Of course I made it safely to the end of my walk. And, of course, Fiji and I navigated that piece of sidewalk perfectly fine on our return journey – perhaps not with as much confidence as we usually do, but we made it just fine. And next time we walk it, it’ll be even easier. As will the time after that. Right up to the point that the company doing the fiberoptic installation come back and fix all the sidewalks and then we’ll have to go through the process of panic and perseverance all over again.
That’s just part of life!
As a guide dog I get to have lots of fun that my doggy sisters, Emily and Allie, don’t. Working with mom is one of them and visiting places along with the South African Guide-Dog Association is another.
I love going to visit community groups, companies and schools as part of the marketing initiative to help raise funds and awareness about my special work as a guide dog. I’ve done lots of these visits in the time I’ve been working with mom and each one is different. I’d probably say that my favourite places to visit are schools because the learners make such a fuss of me, but I’ve also met some wonderful adults who are keen to make friends.
Best of all, mom and whoever we’re working with from the SA Guide-Dog Association get to do all the work. All I have to do is wag my tail and look pretty, which is easy for me. And yet, somehow, I land up being the star of the show – every single time!
This month mom and I are going with Teagan from the SA Guide-Dog Association to a number of different Probus Chapters. We start tomorrow in Milnerton and I can’t wait!
I swear, whoever came up with the saying that it’s a dog’s life, meaning something bad, was crazy. I’m a dog, it’s my life… and I absolutely love it!
If you’d like me and mom to come and visit your company, or your child’s school it’s probably best to contact mom and chat to her – I’d love to do so and am sure mom would too! XXXXX
I was perturbed to read mom’s last article and see no mention of me in her intentions for the year. So I’m going to correct her oversight and hope she pays attention to my Wishlist for 2019.
You’ll notice my needs are a lot simpler than mom’s. it’s okay that she wants to achieve lots of different stuff in 2019 – writing books, challenging herself, and continuing to build her profile and her business in all sorts of areas. But me, all the things I want to do are easily achievable. At least, I think they are.
So, here’s my Wishlist for 2019:
- Walking with mom – go for 5 walks a week – if I were greedy, I’d ask for double that. So I think I’m being ultra-generous in just asking for 5, don’t you?
- Working with mom 01 – I know mom enjoys practicing the routes she knows regularly and that’s fine with me, but it gets a little boring sometimes. So, I’d like for us to learn at least 1 new route this year.
- Working with mom 02 – I think mom did quite well getting out and about with me last year. I want to challenge her to continue doing so, and to take me with her to lots of exciting new places as well as our old familiar haunts.
- Running with dad – go for 3 runs a week. I know my doggy sister Allie and I can’t always run with dad since sometimes he has to do LSDs (long, slow runs for those non-runners who read this), and we’re too fast for LSD. But it’s important for Allie and me to keep up our mileage and keep our trim waistlines, so 3 runs a week should be okay.
- Communicating – this year I want to do more Facebook posts and videos, because they’re fun. I’ll need to figure out a better way of stealing mom’s iPhone or laptop to stay in touch with my human and doggy friends on social media, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.
- Eating – I want to try to Persuade mom to give me 3 meals a day. I know this may be a stretch goal but I think we should all try to reach for bigger goals sometimes. Besides,, mom has 3 meals a day, so why shouldn’t I?
- Playing – in 2019 I want to play lots with my doggy sisters Emily and Allie. I know this is probably the easiest goal for me to achieve since we already play lots, but I’m including it for completeness’ sake.
There you go – my Wishlist for 2019. I realize I may need to retrain mom a little to achieve some of them. I also know some of them may not be easy but, like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
And I assure you I’m already dreaming about that third meal!
Last week I learned something about my mom that gave me paws for thought, and I’ll bet you don’t know this either – mom’s terrified of snakes!
Here’s how I discovered it. Someone posted on our local community watch WhatsApp group about seeing a snake where mom and I always walk. Mom got very, very quiet when she read it…
Later I heard mom and dad talking about the place where the snake was seen, and whether they thought it had moved on or had stayed there.
You must know I’m loyal to mom – always – but I did catch myself wondering why she was so scared. I mean, she’s walked that route hundreds, if not thousands of times with me, my older sister guide dog Eccles and my even older sister-aunt guide dog Leila. So surely she knows the routes safe. Not to mention that we’re always there to look out for her and we’d never do anything to put her in danger. Well, except for that one time I tried to cross the road when there was a car coming. But that was just one time, I promise.
Now, I know the weather plays a big part in determining whether or not mom and I are able to walk. It’s been very windy over the past week or two. When the wind blows it masks the sound of cars so it’s just not safe for mom and me to be out walking along the side of the road.
To be honest, most of our walk is okay, even when it is windy. Both mom and I know that cars can see us walking beside the pavement so we’re fairly sure we won’t be run down. But there are a few busy road crossings that are quite dangerous if we can’t hear approaching traffic. And there’s no way for us to avoid those road crossings. So I get it that we haven’t been able to walk much since the wind has been so strong.
But I wonder if there’s a tiny part of mom that’s been grateful for the wind because of the post about the snake…
Tomorrow is a very special day – it’s my mom’s birthday. She won’t tell me how old she is, but last week would have been my aunt Leila’s 161st birthday and I don’t think mom could possibly be as old as that. For those of you who don’t know, Leila was mom’s first guide dog. Though I never got to meet her I read all about her in mom’s book, “A Different Way of Seeing” and she sounds like lots of fun.
But this article isn’t about Leila. It’s about mom and what’s been happening over the past few weeks.
Just over a month ago mom went away for a week. Dad told me that mom was in hospital because she’d taken some medicine that made her very ill. So she had to stay in hospital,
whatever that is. To me it sounds like she had to go and stay in the vet’s dog kennels, but somehow I know that isn’t quite right. Even though I listened when dad explained it, it still didn’t make much sense to me.
Anyway, I was very sad while mom was away. My sisters Emily and Allie were also sad, but not as sad as me because I’m mom’s guide dog and I wasn’t able to look after her like I should have.
Even when mom came back she couldn’t take me for walks for a while. You won’t believe how happy I was when we were able to go for our first walk, more than three weeks after she went away. Even now we don’t walk as much as I’d like but at least we’re working almost like normal again.
I’m sure mom will explain what happened so all her people friends can read this and understand. Like I said, I don’t really understand. But I want to send lots of wags out to my dad who fed us, took us out for walks and looked after us while mom was away –it made me a little bit less sad.
But please don’t worry – everything’s fine now. Mom’s back home and is able to do all the stuff she used to do.
Like I said, tomorrow is a very special day. And all us doggies want to wish mom a very happy birthday tomorrow. No matter how old she’s turning, she’s our mom and we love her lots and lots!
Whoever said you can’t choose your family was so right. Yet my sister Emily and I totally fell for it when mom and dad told us we’d be able to choose our new sibling from TEARS animal rescue. Because, if that were the case, how did we land up with the dog whose first act was to snap at me?
Let’s just say that our first few weeks with Allie were a little tense. I mean, how would you react if someone just dropped a brand new person into your fairly ordered life and said, “Hey, here’s your new sister – now everyone play nicely!” I’d bet you’d also be a little unsettled. So it took me and Allie a bit of circling round each other and muttering before we settled down to some serious play.
I’ll admit that everything became a lot less stressful when mom convinced me that Allie wasn’t going to take over my guide dog duties. And having an Allie-sister actually became fun when dad started running with both of us.
For those who want the details, Allie’s an 18 month old Labrador crossed with an alligator. At least, that’s how it seems since she loves to play-bite me on the legs. She’s full of energy and is intensely curious about absolutely everything. She’s somehow convinced dad that she’s allowed to sleep on the couch, which none of us other dogs have ever been allowed to do.
Allie used to cry when mom and I went for a walk, until dad bought her a toy that spits out pellets of food as she bats it around the house. Don’t tell mom, but sometimes I’m tempted to stay home to play with the toy instead of going for a walk. But I really love walking so I’m not too tempted. But maybe just once … just till I get one of those pellets!
Allie’s now so much part of our family that I’ll even let her drink out of my water bowl when I’m drinking, which I never let other dogs do. And it’s so much fun when Allie and me gang up on our oldest sister, Emily!
After a somewhat rocky start, I’m glad Allie has become my sister. Though there are times she can be a bit of a handful. Which is why I snapped at her last week – but just a little bit, I promise. And maybe that was just payback for her snapping at me the first time we met…
When it comes down to it, even though it’s true you can’t choose your family, I’m pretty sure I’d have chosen Allie to be my sister even if I had been allowed to choose.
Welcome to the family and lots of wags, little sister, Allie!
I can’t believe I turned four years old last week. And that mom and I have been partnered for 2.5 years already. As I lie here snuggled up against the cold, I’ve been reflecting on all that’s happened in my life so far.
I’ll admit I was a little worried when mom and I first met. I mean, she seemed a nice lady and I was sure I could train her easily enough. Then, one day on class, she burst into tears and nothing I did seemed to calm her down. Nowadays when we give talks, mom explains that she’d become dependent on family and friends since her previous guide dog (my sister Eccles) had retired and that she’d stopped using her other senses and instincts to guide her. And she was terrified that she might do something to harm me or her.
Of course, I already knew that. I’d noticed my new mom was slightly hesitant when we walked. And that she wanted me to walk a lot slower than I like. And that she was always extra careful about stepping off and onto pavements. I tried to tell her that I trusted her and knew I could help her get over her anxiety about walking with me. But she didn’t seem to understand. So I realized I’d just have to show her.
It’s been wonderful to see how far mom’s come in the last 2.5 years – she’s far more confident, and is totally fine walking at my preferred pace. She’s also happy to go places and do things that she wouldn’t have done in those first few weeks. And mom trusts me and knows I’ll always be there to help her, no matter what. Unless she ever wants to try bungee jumping – then she’s on her own!
When I was training to be a guide dog we often used to wonder about the people we’d be partnered with. And, the day I met mom, I discovered it wasn’t going to be just her and me – that I’d have a whole human and doggy family! I love having doggy siblings to play with when I’m not on duty and me and my sisters Emily and Allie spend lots of time having mock fights and pulling rope.
The other really great thing about my family is that I’m allowed to take dad running. I wrote about that last time, so you can go back and read my previous article if you want to know more. Since I wrote the article, Allie’s started joining us on our runs which is also fun – especially when she accidentally slips off the rocks when we’re free-running on Muizenburg beach.
Finally, I’m really happy I still get to see some of the important people from before mom and I started working together. I see my puppy-walkers, Jenny and Mike, at events quite often and they even came to visit me at my home once. Mom and I sometimes do talks for the SA Guide-Dogs Association so I get to see Avril, Teagan, Cheryl and Charne as well, though I always try to remember to show them how well mom’s doing now.
Sometimes when I meet young trainee guide dogs, I laugh at how young, naughty and puppyish they still are. But then I remember how mischievous I was as a puppy, and some of the antics I and my guide dog class got up to and I realize that even the naughtiest dog has the potential to become a wonderful guide dog one day.
I’ve added a few photos from my carefree puppy days with Jenny and Mike, one of the official photos from when mom graduated from guide dog school with me, and one of me and mom working together.
As I lie curled up at mom’s feet reflecting on my four years on this earth and the time I’ve spent as a working guide dog with my wonderful family, all I can say is wag, wag, wag, wag, wag, wag, wag!
I’ve lost count of the organisations, schools, community groups, and events that Fiji and I have spoken at on behalf of the South African Guide-Dogs Association since we started working together. Each event is special in its own way – from the pre-schoolers who will make a semblance of listening politely while desperately curbing their excitement till they can play with Fiji, to the recent 60th birthday party where the guests were asked to make a contribution to Guide-Dogs in lieu of birthday gifts. But I think the most memorable Guide-Dogs Association event I’ve been asked to speak at has to be the annual World Sight Day fundraising dinner in October last year. It was a glittering event and Fiji and I were proud that we were able to play a small role in helping to raise R800 000 for this amazing cause.
I suspect the Women’s Day lunch on 18 August will be another such glittering event. And, since Fiji and I will be sharing the stage with a woman whose work I really admire – Abigail K, The Confidence Crusader – I can only imagine what a fun and inspiring day it’s going to be. Avril, who’s organizing the event tells me there will be some exciting raffle and spot prizes and, from the few she’s mentioned, I agree they’re pretty awesome!
Details for the event are in the attached flyer.
I really hope you’ll be able to take a break from your busy schedules and join us for a relaxed and uplifting ladies luncheon for an amazing cause.
And, if that’s not reason enough, I’m sure there will be plenty guide dogs and guide dogs in training in attendance to make the whole experience just that little bit more special – I know for sure that Fiji will be there!
It’s always heartbreaking to lose a beloved fur-child. It’s even harder when it’s a retired guide dog who has given so much of her life and energy helping you live the independent life you want. And harder still if you happen to be on another continent at the time.
Sitting in our Airbnb apartment in Wroclaw, Poland on the evening my retired guide dog, Eccles, passed away, I found myself reflecting on the 12 ½ years she and I had spent together.
I smiled when I remembered our very first meeting when Eccles refused to acknowledge my existence, waiting patiently for her beloved trainer to rescue her from the total stranger she’d been lumped with. And at how quickly the bond of trust and love developed between us despite that inauspicious beginning. I thought of how many hundreds of times she and I must have traipsed from home, to the train station, down to the office in Simon’s Town, and back again at the end of the day. And how she would grab her squeaky toy and bounce round the office with it, squeaking joyfully to let us know it was time to stop working and head home. I laughed, remembering how she had hidden under the bed for the first three months we had Emily – desperately trying to avoid the savage paws and jaws of the young pup – until she rediscovered her ability to play.
I recalled how Eccles in essence retired herself when she was 11 years old, preferring to stay snoozing on her blanket rather than accompanying me to events. And I remembered her last final months when she seemed to find her inner naughty puppy –testing boundaries that had been out of bounds to her as a guide dog – and most often getting away with her naughtiness because her love of life was simply to infectious for me to chastise her.
Eccles was by far the gentlest of my 3 guide dogs. Where Leila tended to barge through people like an armoured tank (a trait shared by Fiji), Eccles would politely manoeuvre her way round people with a diffident but determined manner. She could also be a little scatter-brained – on one occasion she was so busy thinking about something else that she started walking in the opposite direction until I laughingly stopped her and turned her round.
Where Leila and Fiji would be quite likely to wander off and amuse themselves when they were off-duty, Eccles would prefer to sit at my feet until she was needed. Mind you, it was Eccles who pulled her leash out of my dad’s hand and wandered from one side of an auditorium to the other to find me when I was giving a presentation at a Toastmasters conference (you’ll need to get a copy of my book “A Different Way of Seeing” to read the whole story).
Though I have absolutely no doubt we took the right decision in letting Eccles go, I have to live with the feeling that I let her down because I wasn’t there with her at the end. I can’t express how grateful I am for the technology that made it possible for us to have a half hour WhatsApp conversation with our vet to really understand the options we faced. And I’m even more grateful for the strength and courage of our friend, Claire van Zyl, who was looking after our home and dogs while we were away – at least I know Eccles was with someone she knew and adored as she slipped into her final sleep. But it was inexpressibly hard not to be there and be able to say goodbye, and that pain will remain with me for a very long time.
Farewell, my beautiful Eccles, and thank you for the very many wonderful memories of our time together – I’ll treasure them always…
I know, I know, it’s been ages since I published an article. It’s certainly not for lack of anything to write about. After all, I recently got back from an amazing trip to Germany and Poland about which I have lots to share. I also need to gather my courage and write a final post honouring my retired guide dog, Eccles, who passed away after a short illness. Then I want to tell you about some of the exciting blind travel work I’m starting on, and a media interview I did recently.
So yes, I have plenty to share with you.
But somehow I’ve just fallen out of the habit of settling down to write…
Today I took the decision that it was time to fall back into that habit. so here’s just a short note to let you know that I’m back – back home, back writing, and back willing and eager to share more of my experiences living my ordinary life without sight.
I was startled to see that Fiji also neglected to write an article while I was away – clearly she was just having too much fun on her holiday from guide dogging. Maybe I’ll wake her up just now and ask her if she actually plans on writing a post this month. But you know what they say about letting sleeping dogs lie?
All I’m saying is watch this space…