A few days ago, I had two meetings at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. For various reasons that aren’t relevant to this post, I wasn’t able to take my guide dog Fiji with me. Instead I used my white mobility cane.
I have many blind and visually impaired friends who prefer to use a white cane as their primary mobility aid and they’re superb at it. But me, well… Let’s just say that because I generally use a guide dog, my cane skills aren’t that great.
Both rely on effective O&M skills – orientation and mobility for those who don’t know our jargon. Orientation is the ability to know your location using your other senses, and mobility is the ability to get from one place to another.
Here’s what I mean. I’m not used to walking into obstacles. Fiji usually walks me round things that are in our way. When using a white cane, I feel that life is much like a full body contact sport. I only know obstacles are there when I hit them with my cane tip, bounce off them, or fall over them. Also, I think I missed out when they were handing out senses of balance since I don’t have one. It’s okay when I’m with Fiji because she helps to balance me, especially when walking down stairs, which is probably my least favourite part of getting out and about. This absence of a sense of balance is magnified wen I’m using a white mobility cane – I simply don’t feel steady on my feet. And finally, I seem to battle to find straight. Again, that isn’t a problem with Fiji since I can leave it up to her. But when using a white cane, it’s up to me and I seem to spend my entire journey tacking from one side to the other.
I know my cane skills would improve significantly if I were to use them more often, especially when travelling on my own. Because traveling independently with a cane leaves me feeling anxious, incompetent and unable. Which I hate.
I recently decided I needed to do something about that.
I’ve already contacted the O&M Instructor from the Cape Town Society for the Blind to set up a lesson so I can brush up on my obviously rusty cane skills. I also want to get a new, longer white cane since I’ve started walking faster since working with Fiji and a longer cane will give me a slightly longer reaction time when I encounter obstacles. I’ve also set myself the goal of becoming braver about using my cane independently so I can practice the skills I need.
Does this mean I’m going to use Fiji less? Absolutely not. Fiji will always be my first choice as a mobility aid. But it will definitely be valuable for me to be more comfortable using a white cane for those times when I can’t have Fiji with me.
To go back to the start of the post and answer the question, I firmly believe the winner will be me…. Because any way I can improve my levels of independence will help me be more effective in what I do.
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!
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…
Tomorrow is a very special day – it’s my mom’s birthday. She won’t tell me how old she is, but last week would have been my aunt Leila’s 161st birthday and I don’t think mom could possibly be as old as that. For those of you who don’t know, Leila was mom’s first guide dog. Though I never got to meet her I read all about her in mom’s book, “A Different Way of Seeing” and she sounds like lots of fun.
But this article isn’t about Leila. It’s about mom and what’s been happening over the past few weeks.
Just over a month ago mom went away for a week. Dad told me that mom was in hospital because she’d taken some medicine that made her very ill. So she had to stay in hospital,
whatever that is. To me it sounds like she had to go and stay in the vet’s dog kennels, but somehow I know that isn’t quite right. Even though I listened when dad explained it, it still didn’t make much sense to me.
Anyway, I was very sad while mom was away. My sisters Emily and Allie were also sad, but not as sad as me because I’m mom’s guide dog and I wasn’t able to look after her like I should have.
Even when mom came back she couldn’t take me for walks for a while. You won’t believe how happy I was when we were able to go for our first walk, more than three weeks after she went away. Even now we don’t walk as much as I’d like but at least we’re working almost like normal again.
I’m sure mom will explain what happened so all her people friends can read this and understand. Like I said, I don’t really understand. But I want to send lots of wags out to my dad who fed us, took us out for walks and looked after us while mom was away –it made me a little bit less sad.
But please don’t worry – everything’s fine now. Mom’s back home and is able to do all the stuff she used to do.
Like I said, tomorrow is a very special day. And all us doggies want to wish mom a very happy birthday tomorrow. No matter how old she’s turning, she’s our mom and we love her lots and lots!
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!
A few weeks ago Fiji and I were walking to the Lakeside station when a Rottweiler got out of her yard and made as if to attack us. In hindsight I can see that she had every opportunity to attack and didn’t do so. But at the time I was terrified for Fiji’s safety and that terror petrified me.
Thankfully members of the community rushed to our assistance and managed to get the Rottweiler back into her yard and then contacted her owners who fixed their broken gate. Ultimately, no harm was done – at least not to Fiji.
The truth is that now when I walk past and hear the snarling Rottweiler leaping up at the gate I wonder if … just maybe… she’s going to get out again. And now I find myself rushing away as fast as I can which could be dangerous since it’s on a busy corner where we’re forced to walk in the road since the pavement is blocked by rocks to prevent cars parking there. So far we’ve been lucky… but I admit it’s not something I’m comfortable doing.
The Rottweiler incident has affected me in other ways as well – when we walk past other houses with dogs I find myself wondering if they’ll get out… and yesterday, when one of the dogs in my street did manage to get out I overreacted and yelled at him… despite the fact his owner leapt to the rescue and grabbed the dog before he could get anywhere near us.
I know the only way for me to work through this fear is to keep walking with Fiji and prove to myself that nothing is going to happen. And that’s what I’m doing – as often as I can.
But I do find myself smiling wryly when people tell me how brave they think I am to be out walking in the neighbourhood since the streets aren’t safe… because I doubt they’re referring to dogs!
I guess you’re probably wondering how Fiji reacted to this traumatic experience. She hasn’t shown a sign of concern – she’s perfectly relaxed about the whole thing – it’s just her mom whose currently a nervous wreck!
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…
Here’s another Fiji video – this time of when she and I went walking in Tokai Forest.
It was a beautifully warm morning. In fact, at over 32 degrees Celsius it was verging on being a little too warm! The sky was clear and there was a gentle breeze keeping it from becoming stifling. It was a beautiful day to walk in the forest.
I did have an ulterior motive for wanting to walk there – I wanted to assess Fiji’s dog and squirrel distraction levels in a safe environment. Occasionally I’ve noticed her being a little too eager to go and play with other dogs and with squirrels… though I’m not sure that chasing squirrels counts as playing – at least, not if you happen to be one of those squirrels!
Naturally, Fiji behaved perfectly when we were in Tokai Forest. Yes, she may have looked at a few dogs and noted when two squirrels sped past her, but at no stage did she veer off course or pull towards them. I was really proud of her as I know it must be hard for a dog to so totally ignore what their instincts are telling them. Well done, Fiji!
Hope you enjoy the short video of Fiji and I walking down the forest path…