Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
You know, sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way you expect.
I don’t think my expectations were totally crazy, do you? After all, I went with Dad to collect his race number on Friday afternoon. I was with Mom and Dad when they drove to Steenberg Estate on Saturday morning. And I stood with the runners as they gathered at the starting line. Of course I expected that I was going to run with them.
Which was why I started barking as the announcements began. After all, I always translate the human instructions for the other dogs at the parkrun. And there were several guide-dogs-in-training at the trail run, so I had to do my job. Even if Mom tried to get me to stop.
I listened carefully as they counted down to the start. And then I sprang forward as fast as I could. Except that Mom was holding my leash and harness. So I couldn’t go anywhere.
And the runners left me behind. I couldn’t believe it!
I did get to hang out with Aunty Jackie and my doggy friend Sid at the SA Guide-Dog Association stand. Which was a lot of fun. Just not what I had expected to do.
Then, as the runners began to cross the finish line for the race I realized what a fantastic spot we were in – everyone could see us and loads of runners came over to say hello. As did their families and supporters. I was constantly surrounded by friendly people all wanting to pat me and remind Mom how amazing I am.
There was even a young human puppy who bought herself a guide dog toy and came and showed it to me – I politely sniffed it and assured her she had made an excellent choice in her new puppy toy.
I also spent time chatting to the other learner guide dogs to tell them what a special job they are training for. Scout, Zakele, Luca and Goldie, the youngest and fluffiest Golden Retriever puppy who has just joined the team in Cape Town had lots to tell me as well, and it was great to spend some time catching up on all the news of what is going on at the training centre. And I also got to say hello to Aunty Cheryl, who taught me all about how to look after Mom as her guide dog. So it was a wonderful morning.
But still, I would much rather have gone with the runners. Oh well, sometimes life just doesn’t turn out exactly how you expect it to, does it?
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.
The past few weeks have been very strange for me and my doggy sisters. We’re all feeling a little uncertain and confused.
For one thing, mom and dad are around all the time. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Because they’re our people and we love having them with us at home. Especially since they’re always happy to pat us if we walk up to them such bliss!
On the other paw, mom and dad aren’t taking advantage of the time very well. I mean, I can’t even remember when mom and I last got to walk. And dad is only running up and down the wall in the garden, which isn’t half as much fun for us as going on longer runs. It almost seems like mom and dad have become scared of the gate out to the rest of the world, which is really weird.
Mom has even started giving me daily lessons on how to find the front door and a lounge chair, which she’s been able to find on her own for years. So I’ve no idea why she seems to have forgotten. She’s also started refreshing herself on some of my most basic commands like down and stay. And I’m pretty sure she mastered those ages ago.
I know it’s for a good reason. I mean, mom and dad usually have logical reasons for what they do… apart from when they go somewhere without me. And I’m not really complaining – life is still wonderful, and I have lots of fun playing with my sisters and running around the garden. It’s just not the same.
If mom and dad are actually scared of the gate, I might eventually have to ask the trainers from the South African Guide-Dog Association to come and retrain them. But I’ll wait a few weeks before taking that drastic step and maybe everything will go back to normal if me and my sisters are patient.
At least, I hope so. It’s just all a little confusing for us right now…
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!
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’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.
People who have known me for a very long time would have been surprised to see what I was doing recently – taking part in a 5 km fun run/walk as part of the Cell C Day of Races. I’ll admit I was fairly surprised myself – usually my husband Craig is the one doing the races… sometimes joined by my guide dog, Fiji.
To be fair, it’s not the first time that I’ve walked a fun run. A few years ago my friend Sarah and I did so and earlier this year Fiji and I did our first park run. But it’s certainly not something I do on a regular basis – my normal form of exercise is to turn up the volume on my rock playlist on my iPhone or iPod and dance. And of course I also get regular exercise when walking with Fiji, which I try to do at least 3 times a week. So it’s not like I’m just sitting around.
Anyhow, to prove that we actually finished the fun run/walk, here’s a video of Fiji and me crossing the finishing line:
So, while we’re unlikely to be lining up on the start line of next year’s Two Oceans half marathon, as was suggested by a friend who saw my post about the race on Facebook, Fiji and I may do a few more park runs and even the odd 5 km fun run/walk in the future.
You just never know…
A year ago if anyone had told me that I would be standing on my own on the side of Main Road handing out baby potatoes to the Peninsula marathon runners I would have shaken my head in disbelief and laughed uproariously.
And yet that’s exactly where I found myself at 08:30 AM on the morning of Sunday, 19 February this year.
To be fair, I wasn’t entirely on my own – I had Fiji at my side and we landed up chatting to a really nice lady photographer who was shooting the race. And besides, there were thousands of runners participating in both the half and full marathons, so I definitely wasn’t alone!
It’s the first time I ever got to cheer Craig on in person during a marathon. Seldom do the routes of his races bring him anywhere near home so it was pretty special being out there seeing him run past… okay, hearing him run past.
And, since I was there I took the opportunity of handing out some race fuel to some of the other runners who streamed past us. I couldn’t believe how fast the 2 kg stock of baby potatoes disappeared!
I certainly won’t forget the many words of thanks or the often humorous comments made by runners as they slowed down and reached for a potato –especially the marriage proposal I got. It’s amazing how marathon runners can find energy to crack a joke 26 km into a marathon! Yet lots of them do so
The photo is of Peter, a marathon runner who raises funds for the South African Guide-dogs Association through his running, who happened to run past as Fiji and I were there.
Talking of Fiji, I have absolutely no idea what she thought of the whole experience. Several times I caught her staring at the approaching runners in fascination and then turning to peer down the road as they disappeared off into the distance, twitching her ears in perplexity at this strange human behaviour.
I guess I’ll have to add it to the ever increasing list of times I’d love to be able to read my guide dog’s mind… or maybe not!
When I was young someone told me that if a dog was sitting half way between two bowls of dog food they would starve because they wouldn’t be able to decide which bowl to go to first.
I’ve always had problems with that story – I simply couldn’t believe that a dog wouldn’t just go and eat one bowl and then rush over and eat the other. But a few days ago I was astounded to see that story play out in reality – and, well, let’s just say I was startled by what happened!
On this particular day Craig was getting ready to take Fiji for a run. He takes her running at least once a week and she absolutely loves it! I usually try to feed the dogs early on the evening Fiji is to run because the trainers at the SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind warned us a dog shouldn’t be active for 30 minutes after they eat.
When I realized how late it had become I decided to simply feed Fiji when she got back from her run, feeding the other dogs while she was away. It seemed like the perfect solution!
As usual, Fiji ran to Craig so he could attach her leash prior to the run. Then she ran full speed back to me, whining for her food. She reached me, immediately turned round and ran back to Craig, now whining because she wanted to run. She ran back and forth several times again, all the time whining desperately. It was as if she couldn’t make up her mind which to sacrifice –her run, or her supper!
Craig finally called her and told her they were leaving. With a final glance and heart-breaking whine in my direction, Fiji dashed off for her run. Of course, Fiji’s supper was waiting for her when she returned so she got to have her cake and eat it, as the old saying goes.
The point is, I’m no longer certain about the story I was told when I was young – if it were Fiji she might just starve from her inability to choose. And before anyone yells at me, I promise I’m not going to put it to the test – I’d never be that cruel to Fiji!
Watch the video to see and hear how excited Fiji gets when she knows she’s about to be taken for a run…