SA Guide-Dogs Association

Celebrating Four Years

A dark-haired woman sitting on the floor with a blond labrador

Today is a special day – Fiji and I met for the very first time exactly four years ago, on 28 February 2016. I can hardly believe my beautiful guide dog and I have been working for that long. In many ways it feels like it was only yesterday that we met. Yet I can’t deny that our bond has grown much stronger over that time.

I thought it might be fun for Fiji and I to reminisce on that meeting. Here’s a transcription of our conversation.

Lois: I wasn’t certain what to expect when we first met. And I was a little nervous because I could still remember how dismissive my previous guide dog, your sister, Eccles, had been when she and I met.

Fiji: Well, mom, I was also a bit nervous – at least you’d had a guide dog before so you kind of knew what to expect. For me it was all brand new. So, when Cheryl brought me into the room, I looked at you and didn’t know what to think. Especially when you sat on the floor and watched me sniff my way around the room. I really didn’t know what you expected of me. So I eventually wandered over, as if by accident, and sat down hear you. But not too near, just in case.

Lois: I remember that. I was curious to see what you’d do. And I was glad you decided to curl up close enough that I could reach out and pat you.

Fiji: Oh come on, did you really think I’d pass up the opportunity of getting patted? You know how much I love it!

Lois: Fair enough. But I didn’t know that back then. I also remember that the first time you made me laugh was later that night, when Cheryl and I came into the room and found you curled up on my bed, with your head on my pillow. It was just so cute! So completely naughty. But so cute!

Fiji: Would you believe me if I said I was actually just trying to warm the bed up for you, Mom? Besides, it’s not like you were using it right then.

Lois: True. I really shouldn’t have left you in the room when I went to chat to Cheryl. No wonder you decided to try your luck.

Fiji: Exactly (Fiji wags her tail)

Lois: After that we got on fairly well. And we seemed to work well together.

Fiji: Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that you were already quite well trained and that I’d just need to work on a few small things to get you back into top form. Even though you did seem a bit nervous at first. So I think I managed to train you quite fast, with the help of Cheryl and Joel.

Lois: Do you remember when I went home to visit your doggy sisters during training?

Fiji: Of course I remember. I was very cross with you… And very happy when you came back the next morning, though I didn’t want to let on. I leapt up and grabbed your arm to tell you I wasn’t going to let you get away with behaviour like that again – that you were my mom and that I was to be there to look after you. And then you hugged me and I forgave you.

Lois: I think we’ve had a pretty good last four years, don’t you?

Fiji: For the most part. We’ve had some fun adventures and have met some lovely dogs and people. We’ve gone to plenty interesting places. But I’ve also been worried about you a few times -like when you tripped over that step and hurt yourself. And when you went away for a week because you got sick. And when you left me with dad and went to do something in Ghana. I always miss you when you go away without me. Because I love working with you and want to be with you always.

Lois: I know sometimes I go places without you. I always want to take you, but sometimes it’s just not possible. But I always come home, don’t I?

Fiji: Yes, you do. And then I grab your arm again to remind you that your place is with me and my place is with you. And then you hug me and everything’s fine again.

Lois: So, Fiji, what’s going to happen in the next four years?

Fiji: I think you’re going to walk me three times a day every day. And you’re going to start feeding me lunch as well as breakfast and supper. And you’re going to actually let me chase the squirrels when we see them.

Lois: Umm, maybe not.

Fiji: Oh. Well, I had to ask…

Fiji and I also want to send out a huge thank you to those who have been part of her journey to this point – her puppy walkers, Jenny and Mike, Beata and Piotr, all the wonderful people at the South African Guide-Dog Association for the Blind, the hundreds of adults and children that Fiji and I have been privileged to talk to, and of course all our friends and family – human and canine!

Thinking about the first day I met Fiji makes me realize how much independence she’s given me and how much I’ve been able to accomplish in the time we’ve been working together. She is a generous-natured and loving dog with a number of unique quirks – some of them totally endearing… some not so much. As I write this, she’s lying curled up by my feet, enjoying the cool air from the ceiling fan. With one eye and ear open, just in case I need her to do something.

You’ll be able to read more about our adventures together when the updated version of A Different Way of Seeing 2.0 gets released shortly – as an ebook and as an audio book. There’s plenty of Fiji stories in the book, I promise!

Happy anniversary to us, Fiji – and many more wonderful years of working and playing together!

Celebrating a Mind-blowing Anniversary

Cds DSCF5911I know I don’t usually post on a Wednesday, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me when you hear my reason for doing so – today is my and my amazing beautiful clever guide dog Fiji’s second anniversary!

“Wow,” I hear you say, “Two years?” And I know exactly what you mean. In some ways it feels like it was only yesterday that I found my brand new guide dog curled up asleep on my bed on the very day I met her – as an aside, I was chatting to one of the trainers in the kitchen of the training centre at the time, and had no clue that Fiji was making herself so at home in my room. At the same time, we work so well as a team now that it feels like we’ve been partnered forever.

In the two short years we’ve been working together I already have so many stories about Fiji and the things she and I have done… that I could probably devote and entire book to her, instead of the mere chapter I dedicated to my previous dogs, Leila and Eccles in A Different Way of Seeing. I don’t think Fiji’s done more than they did, but I’m living the adventures with Fiji in the here and now, where those with Ecce and Leila are drawn from my memories.

Here’s just a few special moments from my time with Fiji: there was the time I got back to the training centre after leaving Fiji there overnight and was met by a young blonde ball of lunatic Labrador- in one short week we’d already bonded that much. Or the time a pesky squirrel tormented Fiji by throwing twigs at her thus initiating a state of all-out war between Fiji and squirrels. Or the windy day I was trying to take advantage of a lull in both wind and traffic so we could cross Main Road , only to have Fiji flatly refuse to move because I had forgotten to give her a treat for finding the crossing.

From the way she constantly glances back over her shoulder when we’re walking to make sure I’m still there, to her bouncing down the hallway to pounce either her doggy sister Emily or me just prior to one of our walks. From the complete and utter exuberance with which she greets each morning to the contentment I sense from her as she curls up and falls asleep next to me every night. , From the intense focus she brings to both her work as a guide dog and her times of joyful play, Fiji has become an integral part of my life. Nor do I think I’ll ever lose the sense of wonder with which I contemplate our partnership as guide dog and human partner – she’s simply that awesome!

Happy anniversary, precious baby girl! May we look forward to many more years of discovering the world together!

My Second Cape Talk Interview – This Time In-Studio

Ten days ago I posted the audio recording of my first interview with Cape Talk 567 Radio during the week leading up to World Sight Day on 12 October 2017.

Here’s the second interview, this time with Pippa Hudson on her daily lifestyle show.

There were a few things that made this a memorable interview for me – first that Pippa invited Fiji and I into the studio which was a lot more fun than sitting on a phone and, second that the interview seemed to develop a life of its own – it seemed to flow seamlessly from one topic to the next.

And it appears I wasn’t the only one who felt it went well – from what I’ve been told, not only did Cape Talk replay the interview the following day, but it was also picked up by their sister station in Johannesburg, 702.

And, if that wasn’t enough, this was the interview that led to a journalist from YOU Magazine picking up on my story and contacting me to ask for an interview for their online magazine – but more on that in a future post!

I won’t be posting an article on 2 January – everyone needs a few days off to see in the new year – but look out for my next post on Friday, 5 January 2018.

Thank you for all your support over 2017 and I look forward to sharing more of my experiences and observations with you in 2018.

The Other Side of the Story – The SA Guide-Dogs Association World Sight Day Dinner

Cds 2017 10 14 17 46 26I’m not sure if you knew this but mom is currently somewhere in Greece… wherever that is. She managed a create a few posts before she left but I decided I’d fill in for her while she’s away.

I know mom already posted about it, but I wanted to give you my impressions of the SA Guide-Dogs (aka me) World Sight Day Dinner.

Of course there were lots of dogs there – it was a Guide-Dogs dinner after all so there should have been. And while we didn’t get to play as much as we might have wanted, at least we had a fun pre-dinner playtime. Yes, we were all on leashed (well, most of us were) but you’d be amazed how much you can still play when tethered to your human. You’ll note I said most of us were leashed – my friend Leo managed to escape briefly and had a good run around, and my other friend Ascii not only got to run but even managed to leap right over a hedge in his excitement. But the rest of us had to make do with a good play-tussle with those closest to us.

Naturally I went up on stage with mom when she went to speak. Everything looks a bit different when you’re a meter off the ground on a stage rather than under a table. I was really proud of mom being asked to speak but I was amazed to discover that she also suffers from dog distraction, just like I do! At least the other dog said something complimentary about mom’s speech so I didn’t have to go and snarl at him afterwards.

There were two things that confused me. If it was a guide dog’s dinner, why didn’t we get any food? Deep down I guess I didn’t really expect to be fed, especially since mom fed me at home before we left, but still…

the other thing that confused me was why mom changed out of the perfectly sensible jeans, T-shirt and running shoes she wore for the doggy play pre-event and instead insisted on wearing a silly long dress and high heels for the actual dinner. Too add insult to injury she told me I couldn’t go and meet the cute 12-week old puppy, Andy, because she was sure I’d pull her over in my excitement. Honestly, if she’d stayed in her running shoes rather than those stupid pointy heels it wouldn’t have been a problem!

Overall , it was a fun evening and I’m really glad I got to play with some of my friends like Leo and Jody while mom was still dressed sensibly. And I did get to meet some nice people who were sitting at my table, including someone called The Premier. And because of the dinner they’ll be able to train 8 more guide dogs in Cape Town, so I’ll have even more guide dog friends to play with. If you’re a dog lover, I’d definitely recommend attending next year… and maybe mom and I will see you there!

Oh, I almost forgot, I’ve been sniffing around to see if I could dig up any information about the recording of mom’s speech, but nothing’s turned up yet. But I’ll keep digging…

Oh, What a Night! – the SA Guide-Dogs Association World Sight Day Dinner

Cds LoisGD3
What do you get if you put close to 200 dog lovers and approximately 20 cute, beautiful, adorable dogs (can you tell I’m one of those dog lovers?) into the ballroom of Kelvin Grove, in Cape Town?

You get an amazing evening of fun and inspiration that results in sufficient donations to train 8 more guide dogs in the Cape Town area. Sure, you get a little chaos with that number of dogs, but they’re all under the watchful eyes of their humans and the trainers so it’s fairly constrained.

The SA Guide-Dogs Association receives no government funding, nor is it able to benefit from the lottery since… apparently… it is considered an animal charity rather than a human charity. So this kind of fund-raising event is key to the continuing good work being done by Guide-Dogs.

I was privileged to be asked to be the guest speaker at the dinner and loved every second of the event. It’s certainly the first time I’ve ever been heckled by a dog while speaking. But that added to the fun!

Fiji really enjoyed socializing with the many other guide dogs and guide dogs-in-training that attended – from Andy, an adorable 12-week old Labrador who managed to fall asleep while he was making his stage debut, to the more refined gentleman, O’Reilly who is a lot older but still a fine working dog and is a dedicated member of the Guide-Dogs PR team, as is his human Pieter.
and, of course, Fiji loved being able to greet all the young, boisterous and energetic guide dogs of around her own age.

I want to commend SA Guide-Dogs Association in Cape Town for this marvelous event. I was truly proud to be a part of it and of the guide dogs community.

With thanks to Margaret Hirsch for the photograph of me speaking!

PS: There are rumours of an audio recording of my speech… but Fiji and I will need to investigate so don’t tell anyone yet

Paws for Thought – Me and the Chicken

As a guide dog I meet lots of different animals. I often get to meet other dogs when I’m walking with mom –  okay, maybe meet is too strong a term since mom usually makes me walk straight past them without even having the chance to be sociable – but at least I can wag at them as I trot past. Once I encountered a guinea fowl who was wandering along the row of trees and bushes beside the railway line–it wasn’t there when we returned from our walk so I hope it found its way back to its other guinea fowl friends. And, of course, everyone knows that squirrels are Public Enemy No1 in my life so I won’t let myself get distracted to chase that topic again. Basically, I consider myself a cosmopolitan dog who can deal with almost anything I encounter.

But nothing could have prepared me for what happened one day when mom and I went to give a speech in the centre of Cape Town.

I mean, who would have thought that a venue in the centre of Cape Town would be infested by chickens? And I really do mean infested – they were everywhere I looked. Admittedly I’d never met a chicken before and wasn’t sure what they were. So I didn’t really pay them much attention at first.

Until one scuttled up to me and started clucking in my face. I did what any sensible dog would do – I leant forward and gave the chicken a big sniff.

Imagine my surprise when fine feathers whooshed up my nose and made me sneeze!

I’m still not sure why mom and the ladies from the SA Guide-Dogs Association found it so funny when the chicken fluttered away in such consternation. I’m not even sure why the chicken got so angry – I mean, it was just a sneeze!

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again – sometimes humans just don’t make sense to me!

More Peculiar Human Behaviour?

Cds IMG 9866You know, it strikes me as peculiar that both this and my previous article are about sport – after all, the closest I usually get to sport is walking or dancing. But I guess sometimes that’s just the way life turns out.

Here is a photograph taken when I was guest speaker at the recent SA Guide-Dogs Association golf day in Cape Town.

Fiji and I spent a fun day meeting and chatting to other guide dog owners and their wonderful companions – from some of the young Z-litter German Shepherds who are being puppy walked, through to a 2-year old Labrador named Leo, who will be on class with his brand new human partner by the time this article comes out, as well as working guide dogs ranging from 2 to 9 years. It was a wonderful day of sharing stories and laughing at the often bizarre situations we find ourselves in with our dogs.

At the prize giving that evening I was invited to share a little of my story with the golfers. Knowing the golfers had spent a long, hot afternoon on the course I decided to keep it short and to the point. The golfers loved my story of how profoundly my life has changed since getting Fiji.

After the prize-giving several golfers shared with me how hearing my story had made the day more meaningful for them – it made them realize that, not only had the day been about playing a fun round of golf, it had also been about helping to make a difference in someone’s life!

As for Fiji, I suspect the day may have been another of those “Peculiar human behaviour” experiences for her. I can imagine she must have been totally perplexed about why she and her new guide dog friends were being kept off the grass while those strange humans walked up and down hitting little white balls around even though no one was chasing the balls and bringing them back.

I would have asked her what she thought, but she was far too busy playing with her new friends Leo, Ascii and Doobie.

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