Archive for August, 2011

Saturday and a bad Guide Dog experience

Ok, so a lot of my posts lately have been about Ralph or experiences with him. This is not a Guide Dog blog particularly but mainly to record personal stories or observations that I encounter. I like to see it as a way for anyone that reads it to just be able to get to know me.

Anyway, I decided to travel to Kilkenny yesterday. I wanted to try and catch up with a friend that I don’t get to see too often and originally I was not meant to be around here this weekend so I thought that I would give him a text to see if he was going to be around.

I took a train to Kilkenny shortly after 12:00 from Carlow and met up with my friend at the train station. It was nice to see him again as I think its probably been a good few months since we had a proper chat face to face. We went for a quick lunch time pint where I met some people that have worked with him in the past that I would have met before and one or two people that I wouldn’t have met. One of his former colleagues retired on Friday so they were having hangover pints to celebrate his retirement. I had a drink with them and it was decided that we would head for lunch.

I won’t name the restaurant that we went to but what happened and the way both myself and Ralph was received by the member of staff working there when we entered really bothered and angered me. Immediately the lady told us that we could not take a dog into the restaurant. I explained calmly at that point that Ralph was a Guide Dog and that she would have to permit him to come in with us. She then said she would go and check this and went into the kitchens. She came back out and said no, she would not be able to allow him to come in and that the staff in the kitchen had a huge problem with him being there. I told her again quite firmly that he was a Guide Dog and that she had no reason not to allow him to be there and that equal access legislation makes the laws clear on these situations. I then told her I would call the police and have them come and explain the situation to her. one of the people in our party was apalled by her treatment and left. I couldn’t leave. If I walked out it meant that I was accepting what she was saying and I was wrong. Whether I chose to eat there afterwards was not the point but the problem had to be sorted. She then went back into talk to her colleagues as I was pressing to talk to a manager and came back out to inform my friend that Ralph would be allowed to stay. He then had to point out to her that it was me she neded to talk to and really, it was me that had been talking to her previous to that so why she felt the need to talk to someone else about my situation when I was standing beside then I have no clue.

We did end up staying and having a meal there but then my friend told me that he knew this lady from being there before and that really everything was ok now. Sorry, no it wasn’tand no it still isn’t. I won’t take this any further as she did appolagise but there was no reason at all to have to treat me that way. People may read this and think, everything worked out so get over it or something like that but let me give another direction on this. I had to stand and be asked to leave the restaurant in front of other people that were there having meals. I had to explain myself in front of those people and be treated like some second class citizen just because someone is ignorant of the access laws in this country which permit Guide Dogs access to all public places and service providers. There are precedent cases that have been won in this regard at the Equality Tribunal so I am not looking for any special accommodation for Ralph. If he wasn’t looking well or was dirty or something that lady would have been perfectly within her rights to ask me to leave with him on those grounds but this was not the case either.

I suppose writing this post is just my way to allow people see how distressing or angery a situation like this can make me or even any other Guide Dog owner. These incidents don’t happen every day and are few and far between but sadly they still happen. Its strange how something like that can focus your day much differently and take some of the enjoyment out of it. Will I go back to this particular restaurant? Probably not. If I am not made feel welcome from the time I walk in the door even though the food was lovely I still feel that they don’t deserve my business. No gesture was even made as far as I am aware to us in the form of a discount or something to show their appolagy. My suspicion is that another Guide Dog owner has the potential to be treated that way again if they visit that restaurant but I hope I am wrong.

A little bit reflective

On the 6th of September next which is only literally a few weeks away my dog Ralph will be nine years old. Why is this such a big deal you might say. Well, there are a few reasons why it is. Some friends that read this blog will already be aware of them but I just thought I would write about it here and allow others to comment and I am interested in what people will say about this.

I was matched with Ralph when he was 17 months old. I remember it all well as if it was last week. My god, so much has changed in my life since then apart from getting him but that is for another day. I can just remember hoping that this time round I was going to have a lot more success with this new dog than I did with my previous dog Richie. I did a guest post for Jen on her blog about Richie and some of our little problems and adventures so hopefully she sstill has that archived and you might just pop over there to her blog and read it.

I arrived in Cork on a Saturday afternoon to stay at the centre for three weeks residential training. We just did the usual pre class stuff like familliarising ourselves with the building and talking about the next day when we would be given our new dogs. There were four of us on that class. Some classes can be bigger now but that was the usual size for a class back then. Sadly, one of the people that trained with me on that class died in May. She was still a young woman with many more years to live and I am sure lots of more things that she might have wanted to achieve but it wasn’t to be for her.

Anyway, not to drag this out too much I will continue to the next day which was a Sunday and the day that I took charge of Mr. Ralph. We had just been doing some last minute preparations in the morning and just quick harness walks with the instructer and of course I was getting into panick mode and thinking and saying to the instructer that this was probably not going to work out and could he promise me that this experience for me would be totally different and maybe I could have a completely successful partnership this time. I have to say that from the very beginning he was brilliant with me. He knew the difficulties that I had gone through and was very supportive and quite confidently told me that this was going to be different and that he couldn’t 100% promise that I wouldn’t have problems but this dog was a very good dog and he was satisfied that I was the right person for to have him. I am happy to say that what he told me about Ralph was spot on. His description of Ralph’s personality and his confidence about Ralph’s standard of work were also on the mark.

Unfortunately after having Ralph at the centre for a few hours he became very unwell. Infact, it was during the night it all started. He had a very bad bug that attacked him everywhere so, without going into too much detail we had a few interesting accidents to clean up. This meant that he had to rest up for a few days so I was on me tod with nothing to do untill the Wednesday while the rest of the class started their training on the Monday morning. We quickly settled back into it all when he was better and the few days we lost out on made no difference to us. He just wanted to do everything we told him and he just had, and still has this willingness to work well while in harness. He is by no means the perfect angel. Give him an inch at times and he will take a mile if I am not there to correct him but that is just around the house and if he thinks that he can get one up on me.

It wasn’t till Ralph was five that we moved back to Carlow for work. As I have said before we use to have to travel from here every day before that by bus or train nd that round trip from house to the office would take about two hours each way. He adapted very easily to the change and I think at first he was expecting us to jump back on the trains again and start getting up at the usual early hours that we would have had to be up at before but settled into his new routine and loved all the attention he got from my new colleagues. It was a really good time for us to make that move also as he was in a working sense, a lot more mature at that time and while he had a nice few challenging and busy years in Dublin he could now relax and get to know this small quiet little town a lot more. I say quiet, as that is what it must appear to him to be when you take into account what he would have had to deal with in Dublin.

So, bringing this nicely around to how I started, he is going to be nine on the 6th of next month. Had we been still working in Dublin every day and doing the trains and busses going too and from here I believe that he possibly might have been retired by now. Its in my head so much now about how long more we might have as a partnership. I hate the questions from people now about his age.

How old is he?

How long more do you think you will get with him?

I don’t know how long more truthfully we will have. At the moment he is in brilliant form. His pace hasn’t really changed much unless he is walking for quite a long way and then he will slow a little. I think at times he gets a bit bored but that is cause he tends to do repetative routes around here. I see him totally change when we go to Dublin and he loves going up there and can remember every single place we use to visit when we worked up there. I don’t even know what to look out for. I know I can’t work him completely to the end either as in to the point that he is totally exhausted and I want to give him a nice quality of life for when he retires and allow him to just be a normal dog. I also have to take care not to be selfish either. Of course I want him to work for ever. I trust him completely. I love working with him. I love taking him away with me when I am going places. I love letting kids say hi to him as he is so quiet and it just makes his day for someone to acknowledge him. Now, for anyone here reading this that thinks its ok to just come up at any point to pat any working Guide Dog its not. I will make the decision if someone can talk to him. Some handlers have to discourage any interaction as some dogs get far too excited and can be hard to handle.

So, that is it. I didn’t mean for this to be as long but really, any comments or advice welcome. I know its probably the last few months of our working relationship now. I could not expect him to be still working when he reaches ten. I will consider us lucky if he sees out the winter.

Guide Dogs and fundraising

Ok, so I have talked here before about my dog Ralph and what a difference he made to my independence. I thought that I would just tell you a little about my volunteering with Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Last week I had a lunch meeting with the CEO of Irish Guide Dogs. For little over a year now I have not been actively fundraising for Guide Dogs due to some personal reasons that I am not going to go into here on this blog. People that know me well will know why and really, there is no need for me to go into it all anyway.

Only a few weeks ago the lady that founded our local branch here in Carlow sadly died. For the past 5 or maybe 6 years I was the chair person of the branch and had a number of committee members with me to take over other roles such as secretary and tresurer. We took over the branch from this lady as we wanted to build up our profile here and also, she had done so much good work for the organisation over the years that it was nice to allow her to sit back and to attend events that we had organised or to come along and help us out if she was able. I am prowd of the work that we have done over the years and we raised much needed funds for IGDB.

Its funny, when I stepped back from it about a year and a half ago I felt sad but did think that I wouldn’t miss it too much. I suppose there are always times when you are involved in something that you just wish that you could just get a break or that someone else would take over and share the work for a change. I have to admit that it wasn’t long before I missed it. When I do something that I really believe in like playing music, or singing, or something like that I can really put all I have into it and it was the same about the fundraising. I particularly loved to be able to talk about Guide Dogs in front of people and just share my experience as a Guide Dog owner. I always have said to people that I can talk and talk all day but really I am actually standing beside the product of the hard work that IGDB do day in and day out which is to train dogs like Ralph to give me and others our independence. In returning to the fundraising this time round though I have decided to set myself some boundaries. I am not going to be chair person of our branch. I am going to be a committee member yes but will hold no post of responsibility. In a fundraising sense Ralph is a very vital part of the branch but also, we have our own activities other than fundraising that we want to keep up with also. I think its good to strike a balance so hopefully we can get back into the swing of things and not be too busy at the same time.

For information on the work that IGDB do or to get information about being a volunteer in terms of fundraising you can visit the Guide Dogs site and you can like them on Face Book also and even following them on twitter.

If people read this post or any of my posts that may be connected with fundraising in the future and you are in the Carlow area and would like to become involved with us in any way at all do feel free to get in touch with me for more details. We always love to have some people to help us out at the many events that will hopefully be organised. If we get enough people to help we may only require as little as an hour of your time in a year. For me personally its just all about making a difference and being able to give something back in return for the brilliant opportunity to be able to work with Ralph. It is costing at present thirty eight thousand Euros to support a working Guide Dog throughout its life. That is a lot of money but as any person that works with a Guide Dog will tell you, its worth every cent.

What have I been doing?

Well, I am a great one for putting things on the long finger. When I start writing blog posts I usually get into it but there are times when I really want to maybe write something and then I find I am busy planning for something or I get distracted by something else or just lose consontration so it just doesn’t happen.

Anyway, this week was one of those weeks. I meant to write on Monday night to just talk about my day on Monday but decided to chat on the phone with someone and well, when I get chatting its hard to shut me up.

I decided to take myself away for a day or two last weekend. My friend Darragh asked me to go up and see him if I was free and it being a long weekend I decided that I would do just that. I haven’t been to see him in a while. In fact, its been over six months since I was at his house as he tells me that he has his new Guide Dog Ike six months now. Visit his blog to read all about Ike.

I arrived in Drogheda in the late afternoon on Saturday and we just chilled and chatted over coffee. Darragh had cooked some food and I have to say it was very nice and I enjoyed that. We chatted some more while listening to some music and then went for a walk to a local public house which I have to say must be the warmest pub I have ever been in. My theory about these places is that they just want to have you drinking more and more and that is why they keep the place so hot. Now, of course I could be wrong. We were very good also and got back at a reasonable hour cause the heat just killed me in there so I wasn’t in my usual drinking form. Sunday was more of the same. We chatted and talked about this and that. I do have to say though that I was very impressed with a new CD that Darragh was involved in recording recently with a group that he plays with. I don’t know if they are on the web so if he gives me more info I will certainly mention them again here and put in a link. I was really taken with the singer and was very impressed with his different techniques. Each song he sang surprised me cause there was a different freshness to it and at one time I actually thought that there was another singer singing and not the same guy.

I headed back to Carlow later on Sunday. I wanted to get back as I wanted to get a few things done on Monday and was hoping to get to the Tinahely show in Co. Wicklow which takes place every August bank holiday. The show is an agricultural show with lots of machinery and also farm animals such as cattle and horses on show. It also has many different stalls displaying and selling art and crafts and food and yes, it wouldn’t be Ireland without the beer tent. I was not in there though.

So, on Monday having done nothing out of the ordinary on Sunday night I headed to the show with my parents. When we arrived I met up with my sister Audrey and ended up going around with her and her soon to be husband Hughie. The place had a great atmosphere with some bands playing and a good crowd in attendance although I have heard that they think the crowds are down on other years.

When we were small Audrey, my brother Jamie and myself rode horses. We had our own horse for many years and Audrey wanted to go look at the horses so I went with her. I was not sure if this would interest me much as I wouldn’t be able to see them. Well, it turns out that I was able to see some horses as there was a company over from Scotland doing a display with some horses. They were having them jumping over jumps with carriages attached to them and walking around fire poles and jumping through fire also. The company is called Chariots Of Fire and Amanda, the lady who I think owns the company was very nice to me and was only too happy for me to pat the horses and talk to her. She actually introduced herself to me and told me a bit about what her company does which you can read on their website. She then thought I might like to lie on the ground and have jumps put over me and allow horses to jump over me but I was not brave enough to do this. Audrey made the mistake of saying she would do it if I did so naturally when she knew she wouldn’t get me doing it and she was looking for volunteers during their show she picked her out of the crowd. Audrey had to lie on the ground with two other people while jumps were placed over them and a horse with a carriage harnessed to them would jump over them. I can’t describe the carriages but they were quite small ones I am told and would probably only fit up to two people. If I ever get the time and visit Scotland I may visit the centre and do a bit of riding with them. They even have a Bed and Breakfast there so people can stay. Getting the chance to pat the horses reminded me of the times when we had our own horse and when we use to go riding and show jumping. Its amazing the things that can trigger memories.

We ended up leaving the show later than we had imagined but a great day was had by all and resisting the urge to attack burgers and other such items which were being sold there we headed back to Carlow where I am afraid the urge for some fatty food got the better of us and we stopped at a local chipper and got burgers and chips.

Tuesday was back to normal and work. things have just been drifting along in there usual normal fashion. I just can’t believe that its August already. This year is just slipping away from us.

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