It was my birthday on Friday. My 5th birthday, to be exact. And I celebrated in the best ways possible!
My celebrations started on Thursday evening when mom, dad and I went out for dinner. And the whole team from the Cape Town office of the SA Guide-Dogs Association were there to wish me for my special day. I know they said they were there for a work function because one of the alphas was visiting from Johannesburg, but I’m sure they were really there for me.
Then, dad took me and my doggy sister, Allie, for a run on the evening of my actual birthday. It was lots of fun and it didn’t even rain while we were running, which was even better.
And then I got a big marrow bone to chew on Saturday. My doggy sisters Emily and Allie also got bones. That’s because I was brought up to believe that sharing is caring. Besides, if they hadn’t also got bones to chew, they’d have tried to steal mine.
The only thing that would’ve made my birthday better is if mom and I could’ve gone for a walk… but when mom went outside to check the weather, she found it was raining. So I had a good play with mom and my sister Allie instead.
Mom asked me if I considered myself to be 5 or 35, which I believe is the human age equivalent. If it’s all the same, I think I’ll stick to being 5… from what I’ve seen of humans, 35-year old’s have far less fun than 5-year old’s!
When mom and I were in Makhanda the last thing I expected was to have an all-too-brief playdate with another guide dog. So, when mom, dad and I slipped away from the farewell meeting of all those involved in the Blind date Concert and disappeared into the depths of the SA Library for the Blind building I wasn’t certain where we were going.
Much to my joy, we turned a corner and there was a black Labrador – a guide dog named Vanilla. Well, to be exact, a recently retired guide dog named Vanilla.
And it was such fun to say hello and exchange quick nose sniffs and tail wags. I could tell that Vanilla wasn’t very well – mom told me later that she had cancer – so I was careful to be gentle while also having a good play.
Sadly, Vanilla has since gone to doggy heaven, but I know she’s having great fun playing there with all the other guide dogs, including my aunts Leila and Eccles.
I’m just glad I got to meet her, even if we had to rush off to catch the bus for our trip home to Cape Town.
The photo is of me and mom and Vanilla and her mom, Pasha.
There I was, guiding mom through the busy crowds at the V&A Waterfront when I got such a fright I almost tripped over my own paws. Which never happens… well, apart from that time I got startled by a bicycle changing gears right behind me and landed up splayed on the floor completely unintentionally.
The reason for my shock? Out of the corner of my eye I saw a lion…. Standing there in the middle of the Waterfront!
Now, I admit I don’t know a lot about lions. I’ve never met one, so I don’t know what counts as normal behavior for them. But it certainly looked like a lion, so I wasn’t going to get up close and personal in case it gobbled me up.
I was relieved when mom told me to walk past, though I did find myself checking over my shoulder a time or two, just in case the lion started to follow us. I wanted a little warning if we suddenly had to run for it!
Then, on our way back from our trip on the Cape Wheel, which mom told you about last time,
there were fewer people standing around the lion and mom obviously thought I might like to make friends. I’ll admit I was hesitant, but I do trust mom, so I thought I’d give it a try. But I was going to be really mad with mom if the lion gobbled me up, I assure you!
As I got closer to the lion I sniffed – I mean, if I did get out of this alive, at least I’d know what a lion smells like. But the lion didn’t smell like an animal at all – more like a wall, or a rock I recently found in the garden. Nor did the lion move so much as a muscle. It just stood there. And I began to think that maybe the lion wouldn’t gobble me up after all.
So, I decided to try and make friends. The photo shows me reaching up and sniffing the lion on the nose. Even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t a real lion by this stage, I still think that was very brave of me, don’t you?
But the lion didn’t seem to want to make friends. Even after I sniffed it on the nose it just stood there, as if petrified. And I know that’s the right word, because mom explained to me that petrified actually means to be turned to stone. She told me that when she explained that it was a stone statue of a lion and that I was never in any danger of being gobbled up.
So, I didn’t actually get to meet a lion. Or to learn how a lion smells. Or how they behave. And maybe stone lion’ statues just aren’t cut out to play. I just don’t know. But at least I didn’t get gobbled up!
Sometimes I’d love to be able to read Fiji’s mind. Like when we were 40 metres above the ground on the Cape Wheel carousel in the V&A Waterfront.
I wasn’t sure how Fiji would react to being sealed into a fairly small compartment and then seeing the world disappear from beneath her paws. To be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to react to being sealed into a fairly small compartment and knowing the world was going to disappear from beneath my paws… um, feet. Especially since I don’t have a great head for heights.
When all’s said and done, both Fiji and I were absolutely fine with the experience. Fiji peered out the window with interest while the carousel made its first circle, then lay down and went to sleep. As for me, I found the entire experience wasn’t too bad, although I did have a moment when Craig and Fiji decided to exchange places and the compartment started swaying wildly. At least, I felt like it was swaying wildly – it was probably only moving gently. Anyway, to get over my stab of panic that we were about to plunge 40 metres to the ground and be crushed in the first ever Cape Wheel accident I grabbed for a handhold and held my breath. And everything was fine.
I was impressed at how well Fiji dealt with the experience – far better than I did – and she stepped off the ride wagging her tail happily. I still think she was more excited when coming face-to-face with a stone lion a short time later… but I’ll leave that story for her to share with you herself.
I did want to note that the Cape Wheel has several compartments that can accommodate people in wheelchairs – I was impressed with how well they’re accommodating the needs of travellers and sightseers with disabilities. And guide dogs, too. Though I would have liked there to be the option of an audio description of the view as the carousel rose and fell – after all, since there are 4 rotations in each ride there’s plenty time to describe the sights.
Considering what mom said in her last post it’s probably a good thing that it’s my turn to share an article with you – it gives mom just a little more time to re-gather her energy.
Today I want to tell you about an experiment I tried a few days ago.
A few days ago I took mom and dad to Peddlers on the Bend, a restaurant in Constantia that has an amazing beer garden. It was a beautiful, warm evening with little wind, so we sat outside under the majestic oak trees. A few other dogs were there and came across to chat and drink from the water bowl the friendly waitress brought me. Much to my joy the water bowl even had some ice blocks in it, which I crunched happily.
You know how they say you ought to walk a few miles in someone’s shoes before judging them? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about squirrels and pondering the state of war that exists between me and them. I was quietly lying there in that beer garden, crunching away on my last ice block, when it suddenly occurred to me how I could try that whole walk in their shoes thing.
So I grabbed an acorn and started chewing it, just like a squirrel…
Then mom told me to stop. At least she seemed to understand the philosophical experiment because she asked me if I thought I was a squirrel and I tried to say yes. But I’m not sure she understood because she just laughed and patted me.
On the whole I’d say that I learned that acorns don’t taste very good. I also realized that squirrels and I are just different and that it’s unlikely I’ll ever understand the things they do and eat.
I have no idea whether that means my experiment was a success or not. Perhaps I’m just not cut out to be a philosopher.
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
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…
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…