guide dog

Paws for Thought on My 2019 Wishlist

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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!

On Independence 03 – It’s a Poor Workman Who Blames His Tools

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Many years ago I met an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his sight. His family were trying to find ways to help him begin picking up some of the things he’d loved doing before. Yet, each time I offered him an idea of some of the tools he might be able to use, his response was
“I won’t be able to use it because I’m blind.”

There’s an old saying that it’s a poor workman who blames their tools. And with the remarkable range of tools that are available to help us access information and navigate the world in which we live, I don’t believe we, as visually impaired people, can in all honesty claim that a lack of usable tools stops us from living independent lives.

Whether I’m using my guide dog Fiji to help me navigate from one place to another, a screen reader to help me access applications on my laptop or iPhone, using image conversion apps to access written information, or using a simple coffee mug to help me measure out rice for a risotto meal, tools are an essential part of my daily life – and they’re pretty much everywhere I look.

But being able to access a tool isn’t enough on its own. Even having the knowledge of how to use the tool isn’t sufficient. Because a tool is only as good as the person who’s using it. And it’s only when we use a tool to help us accomplish a task that it increases our independence.

I know for myself that I’ll only start using a new tool if I can see the value in doing so. If a tool will help me accomplish a task faster, or more efficiently, or if it’ll help me achieve a goal. In other words if it’s adds to my life.

I currently have a few apps on my iPhone that I’ve never used. I downloaded them because they sounded interesting. But I’ve never needed to use them so I haven’t even opened them. Eventually I guess I’ll either find a use for them… or I’ll simply delete them and move on.

Tools can be an important factor in helping a blind or visually impaired person to achieve greater levels of independence, but only if we are empowered with the knowledge of how to use them effectively and if we can see the value they’ll add to our lives. I am truly grateful for all the tools I have at my disposal – with them I can do almost anything I want or need to do.

PS: Fiji asked me to assure you that she‘s far more than just a tool – she’s a companion, a source of hours of enjoyment and entertainment and a great exercise partner for me as well.

The photo shows me and my favourite tool walking down a road.

Paws for Thought – But not When I’m Running!

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I’m really missing mom right now. I miss having her around… and I definitely miss working with her and guiding her to where she needs to go. I’m sure she’s having a wonderful time in Germany – wherever that is – and that she’ll be home soon.

But I miss her and can’t wait for her to come home.

I also really miss dad… and being able to take him on a run every now and then. So that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

There are huge differences in working with mom and running with dad. When I work with mom I watch out for her every step, checking what’s happening in front, beside and above me as well as what’s happening right at my paws. With mom I know to stop at steps and how to tell her if we need to step off the pavement to avoid an obstacle. I also have special techniques for helping mom cross roads, go up and down flights of stairs, find strategic route markers so she knows where we are and go round cars that are parked by the side of the road (we often have to walk on the side of the road where we live). And I know how to find escalators, which might just be my favourite part of my job. And mom rewards my good behavior by giving me small treats – which I definitely deserve.

With dad we mostly just run. Sure, there are places we stop (like at the train crossing and main road) but generally we don’t stop running for other things. It does mean I have to be super-aware of looking to see if any evil squirrels are around, but we’re usually running too fast for me to pay them much attention anyway. With dad I don’t stop for steps or find strategic poles since he doesn’t seem to use his sense of touch to help him discover where we are. And when I’m running with dad I can simply be a dog, rather than a guide dog.

The only problem is that dad doesn’t give me treats…. Which I’m sure I could teach him to do if I really tried hard.

Oh, I wanted to tell you that the photograph shows me proudly wearing the race medal I got for completing the 5 km Day of Races with mom last year, which is the only medal I’ve been given despite all the running I do…and I got it for walking with mom, rather than running with dad.

Which only goes to show that humans really don’t make sense.

Pro’s and Con’s of Travel: My Personal Perspective

Cds 2016 11 26 08 38 08As I sit considering what clothing to pack for my imminent adventure in Germany and Poland I find myself idly constructing a list of the pro’s and con’s of travel from my own particular perspective.

the pro’s are fairly easy. I love experiencing new places and using my remaining senses to build a picture of the place we’re visiting. I know it’s a very different way to see the world. People often say they don’t understand why I travel, let alone how. For me there’s something special about experiencing a place using my senses of hearing, taste, scent and touch. And, of course, discovering the stories that surround the cities and sites we visit so I can use my (rather over-active) imagination to imagine myself into the lives of the people living there.

I also learn more about my own life and skills when I travel. Somehow, leaving my usual routine gives me new insight into what I’m able to do and often gives me a more objective way of seeing my own life.

Travel also teaches me about different cultures. While I’m privileged to live in a wonderfully diverse country, travelling makes it easier to observe diversity since we’re actively trying to experience the reality of a different place and people.

For me, those are a few of the pro’s of travel. So what are the con’s?

Let’s be honest, most of us love our home comforts – knowing where everything is in our kitchen, being able to arrange our clothing the way we like, and especially the comfort of our own bed. We don’t have any of those familiar comforts when we travel. For many that’s a decided disadvantage. And I’m no different – I like my own space and the way I’ve adapted it to serve my needs.

For me there’s also the challenge of leaving my beloved guide dog behind and being dependent on a sighted guide. Okay, I know that sighted guide is my husband and that he really doesn’t mind assisting me and describing what’s around me. But still, its hard to leave behind the glorious sense of independence that working with Fiji gives me. Besides, she’s so attentive and loving (and occasionally demanding) that it’s hard knowing I can’t simply reach down and feel her curled up next to me. I miss that when we travel.

These are the thoughts buzzing round my head as I prepare for my trip. And, while I can’t wait to head off on my latest adventure, there’s a small part of me that’s already looking forward to coming home.

Proposed New Accessibility Emoji

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I love using emoji – sometimes they so exactly capture what you’re trying to convey, where you’d need a whole bunch of words.

So I was intrigued when I listened to a recent episode of the Assistive Technology Update podcast and heard an article about some new emoji that are being considered – including emoji of guide and service dogs, people in wheelchairs, people with white mobility canes, hearing aids and prosthetic limbs.

I was interested to note that it is Apple who have put these new emoji forward for consideration – well done, Apple!

Here’s a link to the article about the new emoji from the Assistive Technology Update podcast show-notes. Why not take a look and tell me what you think.

http://bit.ly/2IQaIoq

Paws for Thought on the Holidays

Cds 2017 02 07 19 56 37Hello everyone and welcome to 2018 – I hope I’ll be able to get back to posting on mom’s blog at the same time each month now the holidays are over.

Talking… umm, barking… about the holidays, have you ever wondered what human holidays are like from the perspective of us dogs? Well, here’s my thoughts on the subject.

Mom told me that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of a special human puppy. I’m not sure I understand –isn’t the birth of all puppies a cause for celebration, especially if they’re going to grow up to be guide dogs. I’m just not sure why one specific puppy should cause the world to celebrate… but maybe I’m missing something.

I know lots of humans also put up trees and decorate them with pretty, chewable toys and lights. We haven’t had a tree in the two years I’ve lived here but maybe that’s a good thing – my doggy sister Emily believes Christmas trees are evil and should be destroyed, or at the very least barked at!

I do enjoy the concept of a big, scrumptious Christmas dinner – except that somehow we dogs never seem to be allowed to partake, no matter how loudly we ask. And I also love the gifts… especially the pieces of wonderfully chewable Christmas paper that land up strewn on the carpet for us dogs.

There are certain things I particularly love about the holidays. Dad is home from work so I get to go on more morning runs with him. I guess the downside of that is that I walk my routes with mom less often, but then again, we get to go to all sorts of exciting new places and see loads of human and doggy friends so that’s okay.

All in all, I really enjoyed the holidays and am looking forward to an exciting and busy 2018 – hope to see you all out and about soon!

Now I’m off to check with mom if we can go back to me sharing articles with you on the first Tuesday of each month – mom’s become a little slack about that in the last little while!

Snow and Wind, Sight and Sound

I love living in Cape Town. But I have to admit this isn’t my favourite time of year – yes, the summer weather is warm and everything… but it’s also the time that we are plagued with heavy winds. For many people, the heavy wind is something of an inconvenience. But for those of us without sight, it’s a significantly bigger problem!

As a blind person I rely heavily on my sense of hearing, especially when crossing roads – I need to listen to what the traffic is doing so Fiji and I can cross safely. Heavy wind distorts or masks the sound of cars and that makes it significantly harder for Fiji and me to navigate our immediate environment. Do you know what it’s like having a car appear as if by magic right behind you?

I’ve been trying to find a sighted equivalent and came up with the concept that it’s probably a little like a sighted person trying to find their way through a heavy snowfall, or perhaps a dense fog. The point is that to all intents and purposes you’re deprived of a sense that you generally use to find your way round. That’s what walking in heavy wind is like for me.

Not much fun, is it?

I admit that I was very pleasantly surprised on one occasion when we were waiting to cross Main road in heavy wind. A traffic policewoman approached and offered to stop traffic so we could cross. Of course, that happened to be the day I had someone walking with me so I didn’t really need her help. But it just goes to show that the saying that there’s never a policeman around when you need one isn’t always true!

So, the next time the wind starts howling, try to visualise yourself peering desperately through a snowfall or impenetrable fog… and spare a thought for Fiji and me standing on the side of a road straining to hear the growl of car engines between the gusts of wind.

Oh, how Life Has Changed!

I met my guide dog, Fiji, just less than 11 months ago. You know, I can hardly believe it – in some ways it seems like such a brief span of time … And in some ways it feels like she has been an integral part of my life forever!

Here’s a few of the things that have changed since I got Fiji:

  • I’m going places and doing things I’ve never done on my own before – like walking to the local Woolworths, catching Ubers, and getting out and meeting people from our community as we walk around in our neighbourhood. I can now even arrange to meet friends and colleagues at our local coffee shop… without having to ask them to come and fetch me. It’s great!
  • We’re getting more exercise – having a young, energetic, and somewhat demanding, guide dog means Fiji and I are out walking at least 3 or 4 times a week. She also joins Craig on a run once or twice a week, and due to Fiji’s boundless capacity for play, our Golden Retriever Emily also gets a lot more exercise. Maybe Fiji’s secretly in cahoots with Discovery Health!
  • My levels of self-confidence have grown hugely – this has had such a profound impact on my life that I’m going to write an entire post on it in the next while, but let’s just say that the self-confidence I’ve developed through working with Fiji has touched virtually all aspects of my life and leave it at that for now.
  • My dress sense has changed – I know this may be hard to believe. I mean, how on earth could a dog impact on the clothes I wear? It’s actually fairly simple – before I got Fiji my only requirement was that clothing had to be comfortable. Well, that’s not strictly true –the clothing also had to fit me and look okay, but I don’t think those should count as criteria as they are pretty obvious. However, since working with Fiji, I’ve also had to ensure that I can attach a treat-bag to my clothing, and that means either wearing a belt, having a defined waistband, or accessories that I can clip the treat-bag to. Sometimes I’ve even had to clip the treat-bag to the shoulder strap of a handbag, which isn’t ideal, but at least it works. So this has become another of the criteria I use when shopping for clothing.

It seems crazy to think how much my life has been changed by a 2 ½ year old blond Golden Retriever cross Labrador who weighs in at less than 30 kg, but it’s true… and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world!

Back to School for Fiji and I

14100239 10153934659728391 7571944690567485886 nRecently I’ve done a few PR visits with the South African guide-Dog Association for the Blind. Fiji and I both love being part of these PR visits, especially when we’re asked to visit a school.

We recently went to one of the local primary schools. When we got there we were delighted to find we weren’t the only ones there –service dog Burlesque and puppy-in-training Cosmo met us at the gate with exuberantly wagging tails. The dogs had a wild romp around the school grounds before we entered the school hall –a chance for all of them to burn off a little excitement and energy before we went to talk to the learners about how guide dogs and service dogs work with their owners.

Of course, even when we were in the hall, the dogs didn’t realize that playtime was over and spent much of the school visit trying to entice each other to continue playing… much to the delight of the learners who giggled as the dogs tried to leopard-crawl across the floor to continue their games.

When it was my turn to speak I told the learners what a help Fiji is to me. I explained a little about how we work, how she shows me where steps are and how we avoid obstacles. The teachers told me afterwards that the children were wide-eyed with wonder at all that Fiji is able to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that Cosmo stole the show by insisting on adding his voice when his puppy-walker was speaking. With almost delicious irony he started barking just as Jhanet was explaining that one of her tasks is to try and keep him quiet.

The photograph of Jhanet and Cosmo, Burlesque and owners Gail and Craig, and Fiji and myself was taken after all the excitement was over, and the dogs had calmed down enough to pose for a photograph.

As an aside, just after this picture was taken Fiji decided she deserved a treat and stuck her nose into the doggy treat bag Gail kept for Burlesque… and stole several pieces of biltong! Luckily we caught her before she ate too much.

If you’d like Fiji and I to come and speak at your children’s school please make contact with us on my website: www.loisstrachan.com

Blind-lines and Bubble-wrap

Cds 2016 08 29 12 05 18Have you ever considered what it is like catching a train when you’re blind? Not being able to see the edge when you’re walking along the platform, and trying to find your way around a large and busy station with the sound of trains screaming in and out of platforms.

For 12 long years I caught the train to work in Simon’s Town and the fear of accidentally falling off the platform was never far from my mind. Okay, the fear was made worse by two bad experiences I had, one when I fell onto the platform, and one when Eccles fell off it. Thankfully, Craig was with me so he jumped down onto the tracks and tossed her back to safety but I can still recall the panic as if it were yesterday.

In Poland they have very simple and effective solutions to how to keep visually-impaired passengers safely away from the edge of the platform and also to help them find their way round train and metro stations. I don’t know what they’re really called, but Craig and I refer to them as blind-lines and Bubble-wrap.

The blind-lines are raised lines on the floor that guide people to and from key places in a station – from the stairs to the platform, from the ticket office to the elevator and so on. A blind passenger can follow the blind-lines with their white canes or with their feet when walking with a guide dog. The blind-lines help them to get from one place to another easily and quickly.

Bubble-wrap are also raised markings that look a bit like cobblestones. They are placed along the edge of the platform and give visually-impaired passengers clear warning that they are too close to the edge. As soon as you feel those raised markings you move back onto the platform to safety.

You may be wondering how Craig and I came up with these particular names for the markings. Well, they’re blind-lines because they really are lines that link places together for blind people. And we use the term bubble-wrap because it looks like someone unrolled the world’s biggest strip of bubble-wrap along the platform and glued it there.

I’m sure I’m not the only blind passenger who finds travelling on trains and metros something of a challenge, and these really simple and effective solutions go a long way towards easing those fears.

Hmm… I wonder what it would take to get them implemented in our railway stations in Cape Town…

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