Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.
The most amazing thing happened to me last weekend – I had a visit from one of my cousin guide dogs, whose Dad had human stuff to do and couldn’t take his guide dog with him.
Guide dog Billy is great. He is a black Labrador, and is lots bigger than me. In fact, he’s even bigger than my oldest doggy sister, Emily. Billy is only 3 years old and still loves to play. Billy, my sister Allie and I turned the garden into a high speed racetrack and spent much of the weekend chasing one another around.
Billy came with us when Mom and I went to try adaptive golf, which Mom will tell you about soon. In fact, I think Billy had most fun trying to catch the balls that the humans were playing with. It certainly kept him busy while I sat and whined encouragement at my mom.
Unfortunately, my doggy brother Onyx didn’t like Billy and Mom and Dad had to be creative in finding ways to keep them separated so Onyx wouldn’t snarl at Billy. All of us girl dogs thought Onyx was being silly because Billy is such fun.
Okay, I have to admit that I also barked at Billy when he first arrive. I wanted to make it clear that Mom is mine and I’m not sharing her with another guide dog. But as soon as Billy told me that he already has a fulltime job guiding his dad, I was okay with him coming to stay.
So, if Onyx wanted to sulk and not get to play with Billy, well, that was his problem.
Now that Billy has gone home, life at our house has gone back to normal. Which is why I’m writing this post rather than chasing other dogs round the garden. But maybe I will go out and play now that I’m done here.
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.
Can you believe that Mom and I have been partnered for six years? I can’t. In some ways it feels like she has always been my mom. And in some ways it feels like it was only a short time ago that I walked into that room at the South African Guide-Dog training centre and met her.
We’ve had so much fun over the last six years, and have been to lots of interesting places. And met lots of wonderful humans. And, of course, we’ve written a book together, based on my life and thoughts as a guide dog.
I must be honest and say that I still don’t always understand the things that humans do and why. So I’ll keep being curious and let you know when things don’t make sense to me. And thank you to those who have replied to my questions in previous blogs – your answers have really helped me.
Of course, along with all the fun and exploring there have also been a few not so good bits – like vet visits, Mom going places and leaving me at home, and yucky anti-flea medicine that all us dogs have to take every now and then. But, on the whole, my life with Mom has been wonderful so far. And I’m sure I will have more new and exciting adventures as we continue working together.
Like the other day when Mom accidentally dropped a peach on the floor. I quickly grabbed it and watched as Mom scanned the floor looking for it. With me holding it gently in my mouth the whole time. Eventually Mom gave up and I ran back to my bed to gobble down my prize. I’d never tasted a peach before and it was yummy. Of course, it would have been even better if it had been meat, but Mom is a vegetarian so that wouldn’t have been possible.
Last week I took Mom to get her booster COVID vaccination, and everyone said I was lovely. I wagged my tail the whole time we were there. But I have to admit that Mom was much braver than I am when I have injections – I usually cry. I was very proud of my mom.
I want to say huge wags and celebrations to me and Mom for our sixth anniversary. Overall I think Mom has been well behaved and has maintained the high standards of training that she got when we first met on 28 February, 2016. Here’s to many more years of fun and adventures together!
PS: If you’d like to find out more about my book, it’s available from Mom’s website or on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09FGYPYP4?ref_=pe_3052080_397670860
Or you can get the first chapter for free at https://www.loisstrachan.com/paws-for-thought/
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji,
I’m jumping up and down and bounding around in ecstatic circles to tell you that my book has finally been published.
Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog is full of stories about me and my human and doggy family, from my puppyhood right up to the present. Although, to be fair, it’s not entirely up to the present because we had to stop writing so we could get the book ready to be read by you. So we decided to make the end of 2020 our cut-off. But let’s be honest, what with the pandemic and all, not much has happened in 2021 anyway. Except that we’ve been busy with the book.
You may be wondering why you should read my book.
It is full of stories about me and my doggy siblings, lots of stories about the many different ways I help my mom, information about the work a guide dog does, and explains why I think humans are sometimes strange. And it’s fun.
Maybe I should let you know what someone else thinks of the book. Because I admit I’m a little biased because I wrote it… with a little bit of help from my mom. Here’s a review from Amazon.
“Fiji the Labrador retriever is a witty little blond that shares her adventures with her owner in a fun and educational way. It is a fun and easy read about the challenges Lois and Fiji faces together. It would be a great gift for dog lovers or a book for the family to read together for young and old.”
I’m so happy that people are reading my story. I’m going to buy lots of dog treats with all my royalties… And maybe I’ll even share them with my doggy siblings, Emily, Allie and Onyx.
Oh, I almost forgot, here’s how you can buy the book for yourself:
South African paperback: https://www.loisstrachan.com/order-form/
Date: 2 February 2021
Hi everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
The most exciting thing is happening! After four years of procrastinating, mom and I have finally started writing my book. In fact, we’ve finished writing it and are just busy doing other, clearly less important, stuff like spell checking, editing, proof reading and formatting the book now. Even though mom keeps telling me that these are all very important parts of the writing process, I just can’t see it – surely writing my story is the important bit?
I guess mom and I will just have to disagree about that.
Anyway, while we’re busy with all the stuff that mom has to do on my behalf, we’re also busy with other things. We’re discussing the cover design, and are playing around with a number of different titles and sub-titles for the book.
I don’t exactly know how we’re going to distribute the book. We have a few ideas but nothing has been decided yet. I’m sure we’ll let you know as soon as we have all that in place.
In the meantime, just to whet your appetite, here’s a sneak peek into a bit of the story. Mom told me I ought to warn you that this hasn’t been edited yet, so it might change before the book is published.
“I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 30 August 2014, one of a litter of eight puppies. My mom is a Golden Retriever named Fiesta and my dad is a black Labrador named Jay. My dad lives in America –I still don’t know if I’m eligible for a Green Card because of that fact. I’m a bit confused about the whole process since I don’t think my dad came to South Africa to meet my mom. But I really don’t want to know about the details – there are just some things I don’t need to know.
Actually, I’m a bit confused about the whole mom and dad thing. Because I have had several moms and dads through my life – with my forever mom and dad being the humans I live with now. Especially mom, for whom I work as a guide.
But, if they are my forever mom and dad, does that mean the other people I thought of as mom and dad should have been called something else? Because there have been quite a few of them. First, as I said, there were Fiesta and Jay. And the human who is mom to Fiesta, too. Then I went to stay with Jenny and Mike in Johannesburg and they taught me lots of things, played with me, took me places and also took me to puppy school. They also gave me lots of toys – ropes which I chewed to pieces and a fluffy sheep toy that I didn’t, which was my favouritest toy when I was little.
I have lots of wonderful memories of the time they were my mom and dad – like playing in the garden and chewing my way through the stems of the strelitzia plants, grabbing the garden hose and pulling it through the house to put it in my bed with all my other toys, and going to wake mom up carrying my tennis ball in my mouth. I still do that sometimes, bringing my tennis ball with me when I want attention from my forever mom and dad.
This was also when I first started being called Fiji. Mom-Jenny and dad-Mike called me Fiji because they said my coat was the colour of the sand on the beaches of the volcanic island of Fiji. Though my forever mom also sometimes tells people that she believes it is because I have something of a volcanic personality.
I was very sad to say goodbye to mom-Jenny and dad-Mike and move to Cape Town for the next phase in my life. It all seemed very strange to me at first. But then I was introduced to my new mom and dad – Beata and Piotr, and I soon adjusted to my new place and my new routine.
That was when I started proper training to become a guide dog. I would go to school every day – well, every weekday – and Aunty Cheryl and Aunty Charne would teach me all sorts of exciting lessons I would need if I wanted to become a guide. I was surrounded by lots of other dogs who also wanted to become guides, as well as lots of friendly humans who worked with the South African Guide-Dog Association for the Blind, getting us ready for our exciting futures.”
So that’s a little of my story – you’ll have to read the book if you want to know more. After we’ve finished with all the bits we’re busy with. I promise either mom or I will let you know when it’s ready to go.
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
A very happy New Year to you all – whether you’re my friend or my mom’s, I hope you have a wonderful 2021, filled with walks and lots of delicious food! And lots of play with your family. Because that’s what I hope is in store for me in the year to come.
Talking about family, I got to meet my doggy nephew during the holidays. Obi is my sister Faith’s pup and he and his human partner came to Cape Town over the holidays. So we got the chance to sniff noses and spend a bit of time together.
I heard mom and Anel – Obi’s mom – talking about us and comparing us. It certainly sounded like Obi and me have lots in common – we both get upset if someone else is sleeping in our bed, we both work well as guide dogs, neither of us suffers from significant dog distraction, and we look very similar, as you can probably see from the photograph included with this post. For ease of reference, I am the slightly bigger dog in the image. Obi is a very little dog, especially for a boy.
We also are different in many ways. Obi loves to sleep on the couch, which I only got to do after he had been to visit… and I wasn’t totally comfortable since I was sure mom or dad would tell me to get off. But they didn’t. But I’m still only going to jump on the couch when mom invites me to do so. Just in case.
Obi also got trapped under the dining room table, which has never happened to me. He just stood there and waited for someone to come and rescue him, where I would simply have pushed the chairs out of the way so I could escape. And Obi also doesn’t play with tug ropes – his brother Loonie does, though so we did get a chance to play with him.
I really hope I will get the chance to see my litter sister Faith sometime, so I can tell her all about how her pup is doing. I’m sure she will be very proud of the wonderful guide dog he’s become and how well he looks after Anel, his human partner. But, with all the strangeness still going on in the world, who knows when that might happen.
It was wonderful to meet Obi and Anel, and Gavin and Loonie, here in Cape Town. And it was a good end to 2020.
You know, I forgot to ask Obi what he thinks of squirrels… and if he’s even met a squirrel. But I’m sure he’ll share my aversion to the pesky things!
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with other dogs. On the one hand, there are my doggy sisters and other doggy friends. Then there are dogs I’ve never met and who I encounter when mom and I are out and about.
When it comes to my doggy sisters and other doggy friends I know I am allowed to be a dog. I can play fight with them, chase them around the garden and be chased in turn, or just snuggle up with them and sleep. And I love being able to do that – after all, it’s part and parcel of being part of a family of dogs.
But, when it comes to dogs mom and I encounter on a walk, well, that’s a little different. Because I know I’m working and need to focus on what I’m doing so mom and I can be safe. Sometimes those dogs try to distract me by barking or by trying to run up to me, even if they are on leash. And that’s okay. I know I just have to maintain my focus on what I’m doing and mom and I will soon be past them.
I wish it were as simple when it comes to squirrels. But somehow squirrels just engage my chase instinct and I have to struggle against the compulsion to abandon my guide dog training and just run after them. It’s really hard for me to fight that instinct and mom can obviously feel the battle that goes on in my body, making me shake with restrained excitement as we walk past.
Mom is very understanding when this happens. She ensures she has a firm hold of my harness and soothes me with gentle words. And that really helps me. But sometimes it feels like an eternity before we’ve walked past that squirrel.
So, basically I wish squirrels were just like other dogs so I could easily ignore them when we walk. And then get back to my doggy sisters so I can have a rowdy game!
Hello everyone! It’s me – Fiji!
Some of you already know that mom’s releasing her new book later this month. It’s full of stories about me and my doggy sisters… Well, it’s full of stories about mom and her life as a blind person as well. But I know the stories about me and all my doggy sisters are the best ones!
When mom’s back was turned I sneaked a look at the book and thought I’d share an extract with you – about me, of course. So, here it is…
“When my previous guide dog, Eccles, retired, I hesitated about applying for a new dog. I had just started working from home and wasn’t sure how much I’d be out and about or, in other words, how much I would need a guide dog.
When I was asked if I wanted my name to be added to the application list, I said no. The next few months proved what a bad decision that had been. So I added my name to the list. Or so I thought.
Then my niece Megan started raising funds for a guide dog as a school project. And when she and my sister-in-law, Sally, went to the training centre to meet some dogs in training, they asked how my application was going. The trainer was confused. Which resulted in a panicked phone call from me to the training centre.
Then Craig and I went to Greece and visited the ancient site of Delphi, where the Delphic oracle foretold the futures of many legendary ancient Greeks. As we wandered around the ruins, a stray dog ran up and started tugging at my white cane as if trying to steal it. I jokingly told Craig that maybe the Delphic Oracle was trying to tell me it was time to pack in my white cane because my new dog was on the way. We both laughed.
Imagine our surprise when I got a phone call shortly after we returned from Greece asking if I was available to train with my new dog?””
I especially love this story, because it sets the stage for the first meeting between me and mom. As you can imagine, I’m just about to enter the story – but you’ll need to buy the book to find out what happens next!
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like people to know about my life as a blind person – things that I wish were more commonly known that would foster greater inclusion of the visually impaired community into society and the workplace. Because they would help people to understand my world a little better.
I thought it might be useful to share some of the things I wish people knew about blindness in general, and my blindness in particular. This is the first of a series of articles in which I’m going to do just that.
The first thing I’d like you to know is that we are not all the same.
I understand how tempting it is to assume that all blind people are the same – that we all use the same techniques, can do the same things, and have the same preferences. But it is just not true. We are all different. While we may have blindness in common, we are individual people with individual strengths, skills, likes and dislikes. And we may use different techniques to accomplish a task. I have blind friends who can do things that I cannot. And visa versa.
Let me give you a few examples.
I am a guide dog user. I love having the ability of navigating the world around me with my beautiful Fiji walking beside me. Many of my visually impaired friends prefer to use a white cane. Both are effective ways of getting around. Neither is better than the other. They are simply different.
I am not a braille user. I know how to read braille, but prefer accessing information on my computer using a screen reader, which is an audio programme that reads what is on the screen. That’s just my preference. Yet I know of many blind and visually impaired people who prefer using braille to access information. They have a braille display for their computer, read books in braille, and use a braille keyboard on their smart phone. Others may use a combination of audio and braille. It depends on each person’s preference.
A few months ago, my husband and I went to our local Mugg & Bean. I was presented with a braille menu. Which would probably have taken me a month to read – while I know the alphabet, my braille reading skills are almost non-existent. At the same time, I think it is commendable that the Mugg & Bean chain have braille menus for those who need them. Because many visually impaired customers will appreciate them.
I feel I ought to repeat the point of this article – to show that each individual blind or visually impaired person is unique. Some of my visually impaired friends will probably disagree with some of the articles I write in this series. And some will agree. Because we are not all the same.
So, while I would love for you to join me for this whole series of articles, please don’t fall into the assumption that what is true for me is also true for any other blind person you encounter. Chances are that they will feel much as I do – but it’s always better to take a little time to ask them about their own experiences and preferences.
Any idea what I’m going to write about next? Why not join me next week and find out…
My previous article was about the non-fiction books I’ve been reading this year. Today, to show you that I haven’t been neglecting my love of fiction, I want to share a very special book with you: Guiding Emily, by Barbara Hinske.
I don’t often get to read books about people becoming blind as an adult. I guess it’s not really a popular subject for authors unless, like me, they have a personal connection with visual impairment. Yet, this is what happens to Emily, one of the main characters of Guiding Emily.
Guiding Emily tells the story of a young woman who loses her sight on her honeymoon – the impact it has on her brand-new marriage, on her family, friends, her work, and on the way she perceives herself. It’s also the story of Garth, a delightful young black Labrador who is determined to become a guide dog.
I found parts of Emily’s story hard to read because of the parallels with my own life. What Emily was experiencing emotionally, and the basic training she underwent, brought up strong memories of my own journey after I lost my sight. Emily’s journey is well researched and is credible – unlike some of the fiction books about blindness that I’ve read!
I’m sure I’m not the only reader who will find herself cheering Emily on as she triumphs over the mental, emotional, and physical realities of losing her sight and fighting her way back to independence.
I found the young Garth’s chapters of the story delightful. They were a tonic to brighten the more challenging parts of Emily’s journey. I laughed at his mischievous puppy self and the antics he got up to while being puppy-walked. He reminded me of my beautiful guides – Leila (who was also a black Labrador), Eccles, and Fiji. I could so easily imagine the puppy versions of my girls getting up to the same antics when they were being puppy-walked. Well, to be honest, I could also imagine them doing so after being matched with me. Which made the whole Garth part of the story even funnier and cuter for me.
Why am I telling you this?
My main reason for writing A Different Way of Seeing was to help people understand a little about the world in which I live as a blind person. I believe that we will only gain greater levels of inclusion in society and the workplace once people understand what we are able to do, and the tools and techniques we have at our disposal. Guiding Emily shows the way a visually-impaired person engages with the world around her. As Emily learns the techniques and tools, so too do the readers, even if they have had no previous experience with visual impairment. So, it is a great book for anyone who is interested to learn more about visual impairment. Not to mention that the book is simply an enjoyable read – with drama, betrayal, despair, triumph, and romance of a sort. But you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out what I mean.
Why not hop onto Amazon and get hold of a copy of Guiding Emily – I’ll bet you’ll fall head over tails in love with young Garth!
After almost six weeks of being confined to home during the Level 5 lockdown, I wasn’t sure how my guide dog would react to once again wearing her harness and working with me. Okay, I knew she’d pull like crazy, because that’s what she does after a few days without working. So I had no illusions about how much pulling a six-week break was going to warrant!
After working together for over four years I was fairly certain that the break wouldn’t impact on her ability to work. Or her enthusiasm for guiding. By now Fiji and I know each other pretty well. What did concern me slightly was whether her excitement would override her excellent training – would she remember what she’d been trained to do?
I decided to have back-up with me the first time we walked, just in case. So my husband joined us for our first time out. As did our youngest dog, Allie, who walked with Craig. At least, that was the plan.
What a bad mistake it turned out to be!
Allie is used to running with Fiji. And I really mean with her – they run side by side flawlessly. So, poor Allie didn’t understand why she and dad were walking behind Fiji and mom. She whined, and she pulled, and she did doggy star-jumps to try and catch up with Fiji and me. Which totally put Fiji off her game.
Fiji kept trying to see what was bothering her sister. At first, she tried turning around to see what was going on. When that didn’t work, because I kept her moving forward, she tried to walk into the middle of the road to try and catch sight of Allie out of the corner of her eye. In desperation we tried allowing Craig and Allie to walk ahead. Only then Fiji was the one pulling like a steam train to get back out front.
So we figured we’d just have to deal with two slightly crazy dogs. But at least Fiji and I got to be out front.
Apart from that, Fiji did well on her walk.
The second time we walked, Craig hopped on his bicycle and cycled round the neighbourhood, checking in on us every now and then as we walked.
Which was fine. Except that every time he cycled past us, Fiji wanted to dash off after him. When he was going in the same direction as us it wasn’t so bad – we simply walked a little faster until he was out of sight. But whenever he appeared in front of us and rode past, Fiji immediately tried to turn round and run after him. I didn’t know whether to laugh at her enthusiasm, or growl at her naughtiness.
Since then Fiji and I have been going it alone. And she’s working brilliantly. Maybe she’s burned off the initial excitement and she’s once again used to walking her routes. Maybe she was just distracted by Craig’s presence… and Allie’s. Regardless, Fiji and I have slipped back into the easy rhythm of working as a team. And I totally love the experience.
I’m grateful that Craig was willing to help me manage my anxiety on our first two walks. But it is immensely liberating to be able to walk on my own with my beautiful Fiji.