Over the past few months I’ve become used to the strange things happening around me. I’m okay with mom wearing a face mask when we walk, even if the voice commands she gives me sound a bit muffled. I’m used to mom and me not going out to different places. I can accept that mom needs to spend most of the day working at the computer. I’m even used to dad being around all the time. But the one thing I just can’t figure out is social distancing.
Most of the reason I’m perplexed is that my guide dog training didn’t include a class on social distancing. Mom’s tried to explain it to me but I just don’t get it.
As a guide dog, I know I shouldn’t walk up to people and distract them. So that’s not the problem. But it doesn’t mean I’m trained to walk a specific distance away from them. Or that I’m comfortable walking far into the road if mom and I need to pass slower walkers – first and foremost I’m trained to keep mom out of danger, and I don’t think it’s safe walking into the road like that.
I’m really glad mom and I haven’t had to go to the shops, because I think it would be hard for me to remember to stop at the painted lines on the floor that keep people a safe distance from each other. But then, I’ve never been able to figure out why people stand in queues. Or how to do so – I’m trained to go straight to the counter. So shopping would be doubly stressful for me now.
At least mom is able to hear where other people are when we walk and take evasive action. Because it would be very confusing if my training told me to do one thing and social distancing told me to do something else. But, you know, even though I trust mom’s judgement, I’d still like to do something to help. Because I’m a guide dog. And that’s what I do.
If you have any clever suggestions on how I could help mom maintain social distancing when we’re out and about, I’d love to hear them.
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.
Like most South Africans, I was excited when we were allowed to exercise at the start of Level 4 lockdown. To be honest, the ability to get out and walk with my highly frustrated guide dog was wonderful. I didn’t even mind having to wear a face mask. Yet, when it came to our first walk, I encountered an unexpected problem
As I stepped outside my garden for the first time in six weeks, with a deliriously happy guide dog at my side, I realized the mask I was wearing was restricting my hearing. Not too much, but enough that I was aware of it and it made me a little anxious about walking.
I use my hearing as an important tool to help me navigate the world around me. Usually, I use it to listen for approaching traffic. Now, when we need to be aware of social distancing, hearing also helps when that traffic is made up of other people. Particularly with more people around due to the limitation on the hours we’re allowed to exercise.
Obviously, the most important criteria for a mask is that it must be as effective as possible in preventing me from potentially catching the virus. What’s the point, otherwise? It must cover my nose and my mouth adequately and be secure enough that it’s not going to slip off my face. Beyond that, I’ve learned that some designs work better for me than others.
If I can, I’ll prefer not to wear a mask with loops that hook behind my ears to keep them in place. Because that’s what affects my hearing. Rather, a mask that ties behind my head allows my ears to be free and my hearing is unobstructed. Although I need to be sure the mask is tied tightly enough that it won’t come undone when Fiji and I are out and about.
My favourite mask so far is the one I’m wearing in the image – not just because the bright colours make it beautiful to look at – yes, masks can be fashion accessories these days – but mostly because it is held in place by two pieces of elastic that I pull over the back of my head. It is secure and my hearing is unobstructed. So that’s the first mask I reach for when leaving the house.
Make no mistake, I’ll use a mask that is held in place by other means when that particular one is in the wash. After all, it’s more about managing risk than being comfortable. But it’s definitely my preferred mask.
I am grateful that I am able to have a selection of masks to choose from. I know many of our people are not so lucky. If I only had a mask that restricted my hearing, I would wear it. But I’ll admit I’m grateful to have masks that not only work well, but are also safer for me when I walk.
I think I’m the happiest guide dog in the world right now… I might even be the happiest dog in the whole wide world. Even though I know there are lots and lots of happy dogs out there.
The reason I’m so ecstatic is that mom and dad have both got over their fear of the gate to outside! I’m overjoyed that everything is better. It looks like I won’t have to approach anyone to come and retrain them.
I don’t know what changed to make them less scared but, to be honest, I don’t need to know. All I need to know is that we can go outside and do what we love.
On Friday and Saturday, dad took me and my sister Allie for a run. And on Sunday he took Allie for a run and then took my other sister Emily for a walk. I could have gone with them, but was feeling a little stiff – two runs after forever of no exercise is tiring, you know. So I stayed behind and looked after mom.
I was a very happy dog by the end of the weekend.
And then, joy of all joys, mom picked up my harness and took me for a walk yesterday morning. It was such a wonderful experience! Okay, it wasn’t exactly my most proficient walk. But that was because dad and Allie were walking behind us, and Allie kept on whining. Mom had to keep reminding me to focus and walk straight, instead of walking into the middle of the road so I could catch sight of what was bothering Allie. It looked like she was really giving dad a hard time, pulling, and doing vertical lift-off jumps. Turns out that she was trying to catch up to me and mom. When I realized that was what was bothering her, I stopped worrying about it and just walked like I ought to.
So now I’m not only a very happy dog, I’m an incredibly happy guide dog. And that’s how it’s meant to be.
I know I should probably keep an eye on mom and dad to make sure they don’t slip back into their bad habit of avoiding the gate. But, for now, everything is just about perfect, and I’ll deal with that if it happens again.
Over the past month or so, it feels like every time I hop onto social media or download my e-mail, I’m overwhelmed by the most amazing offers, urging me to sign up for an online event (now discounted), a webinar (also discounted), or an online course (ditto).
And I’ll admit I’ve been sorely tempted to take advantage of more than one of these fantastic offers.
But here’s the thing. Even though, like much of the world, I’m working from home, I’m struggling to find all this free time that the mails and posts tell me I ought to have. Because I can’t seem to find it.
I’m spending as much time at my computer as I was before the lockdowns came into place. And regularly find myself standing up at the end of the day wondering where the time went.
Admittedly, I’ve been taking advantage of the time to finish things that have been languishing on my “to do list” forever – things I really want to get round to but never seem to have the time. I’ve also picked up playing music again and am having vast amounts of fun sharing songs with friends and family on Facebook Live every week or so. And I’m finally starting to catch up on all the podcasts that have slowly been accumulating on my feed. Apart from the French language tutorial podcasts, which seem to have fallen by the wayside a little since lockdown started.
And then, of course, there’s my usual work developing my writing and speaking businesses – radio interviews, my regular blog articles, the international magazine I write for every second month, the travel podcast I host, and the ongoing work to update my book and convert it into an audio format.
Not to mention housework. And being a captive slave to the whims of my dogs, who are overly full of vim and vigour because they aren’t able to go for walks and runs like they usually would. I know Fiji’s frustrated that we haven’t been out and about as usual, though she’s hiding it well.
So, I’m perplexed about where to find all this spare time I keep hearing about. Any idea where I should look? I’ve searched around the house, checked in case it’s hiding in the back of a little used closet, and even looked under the bed (much to the confusion of Fiji, who was sleeping there at the time, but to no avail.
But I’m going to keep hunting, because I’d really love to take up some of those (very discounted) offers that keep coming my way!