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Guide Dogs – Maria Dod

When Happy, my second guide dog retired at the age of ten, after eight years of loyal work, I applied for a new guide dog and Happy retired to my husband, David. Some of you know David as he is one of the volunteer drivers for Hunts Blind. Going out stopped being a pleasant walk and became a chore.

 

Something which is not obvious is that not every guide dog, is suitable for everyone. Your dog has to suit your walking speed and lifestyle. A dog which suits a young man who is six feet tall, walks quickly and frequents noisy pubs would not suit me, an elderly woman of five feet four inches, who needs a dog who walks a little more slowly and who is happy to lie quietly for two hours at my chess club. And parents of young children have their own special needs. Luckily guide dogs come in various sizes and with different characters to suit the differing needs of their prospective owners. 

 

In February the phone call came, and Yosie, a black labrador came to stay for a sleepover. We took to each other at once, and Yosie and Happy got on really well. Yosie is a sweetie, eager to please, and loving. However she is also very friendly so I have to ensure I do not allow friends and strangers to pat her. As well as making it difficult to get to my destination this could prove dangerous. If Yosie spotted such a friend across the road she could be tempted to cross over to receive a friendly welcome.

The next stage after the sleepover was two weeks of training at a hotel. There, we trained the basics. This is called being on class. Six of us were on class with two trainers and we shared the highs and lows of training together. Our trainers were friendly and supportive. We were all surprised how quickly the two weeks went by and were impressed at our progress in such a short period.

 

Our first lesson was how to enter and leave our hotel room without closing the door on our dog’s tails! We learnt about dog welfare, grooming, how to start and stop, turn corners, cross roads safely and more. As well as guiding skills, we practiced the social skills guide dogs need; which means appropriate behaviour in restaurants, meetings of Hunts Blind, going to church, and so on. We practised getting on and off buses and trains, going up and down stairs, and using lifts.

 

Back home, training continued for another three weeks. Each route I use had to be learnt. The residents of St Neots got used to Yosie and myself being closely followed by our trainer. We would then stop at strategic points to be given advice on how to handle difficult situations, such as cars parked on pavements, how to handle pedestrian crossings, road works and more. Safety is always paramount. Yosie and I learned a new route each time and between visits practised what we had learned. Gradually we learned how to get to the supermarket, my hairdresser, the Priory Centre, my G.P., the cinema and more.

Guide Dogs are free, as is their food and all vet bills. This means that no one is deterred from having a dog. As well as the initial training guide dogs users receive full ongoing support. If any concerns arise help is only a phone call or email away. If you think a guide dog may help you, don’t hesitate to contact them. Many partially sighted people have been delighted to be accepted. You don’t have to be registered as severely sight impaired, although I am.

The first time Yosie guided me to town I felt an enormous weight lift off my shoulders. I now have the same freedom to live my life as before I lost my sight. I regained my independence. And what’s more I have a delightful companion whether at home or elsewhere.

You are never alone when you have a guide dog, and this helps you to face up to sight loss. You will also become the recipient of admiring remarks, so helping to break the ice with strangers. My only regret is that I hesitated for some years before contacting Guide Dogs. Contacting them was the best decision I made after I started to lose my sight, and one which changed my life for the better in every way. In my experience Guide Dogs have not only made my life much easier, giving me independence, but much happier too.