Posts tagged Guide Dogs
So, where have I been?
I just haven’t gotten round to updating my blog in ages. I am not going to go into a week by week account of what I have been up too but I have had an eventful few weeks. I have been bowling again and I haven’t done that in years. I have also tried my hand at throwing a dart or two but Hmmm, well, that didn’t quite go to plan although I do have to say, I wasn’t the worst at that one. I have also been quite busy on the gigs front too.
Tomorrow fortnight the 9th of November will see me back on the box on Glor Tire on TG4 here in Ireland for the second programme that I will be doing for the show. There is one more pre-recorded programme that I will be featured on which will be shown on the 23rd of November and the week after that will see the start of the live eliminations where people will be voted off the show each week. There will be four of these shows with the winner announced the week before Christmas. All the details about the programme I have wrote about in an earlier post so I won’t go through it here again.
Today has been a mixture of a day for me. I had written before that Ralph will be facing into retirement very soon. Well, today saw the start of it with a visit from an instructor from Guide Dogs to re-interview me to be put back on the waiting list for a new dog. I was actually dreading this day over the past while as I found it a little sad to think that I would be discussing a new dog and what I wanted to have in a new dog while Ralph was still here and also, facing into the fact that Ralph would have to stop working soon and retire and that he was not going to just go on for ever.
Anyway, I met the person from Guide Dogs here at my house just after 1:00. I had decided this morning that I just had to face this and there was no point in being silly about it all and try to see it as a positive experience. I know that Ralph will be very happy in his retirement living with my parents. I suppose its just hard to think that he won’t be working with me any more and that I will have to put my trust in a new dog. I have to say though that the trainer was very nice and extremely understanding of how I was and am feeling about it all. She totally relaxed me and I found myself enjoying the visit and really being able to chat to her very much in an informal way about what I would like in a new dog and about my circumstances at the moment with work and my home life and my social routines and so on. Guide Dogs need to collect this information if they are to make a successful match with me and a potential successor for Ralph.
At the end of our walk which went on longer than I had thought it would we went for a short walk around the block here at my house. She asked me if I just wanted to do the walk with Ralph and she could see my walking pace from that or would I like to walk with her. My walking pace has to be measured so that the dog that I am matched with will have as similar a pace as I do. I chose to walk with her even though I hated having to hold on to a harness and walk with her like that. I would be just thinking of people walking past thinking, “what the fuck are they doing”? Anyway, we did pass one or two people but they didn’t even know me so it was all good. I thought she would get a better feel for my pace by walking with her than taking Ralph out. We finished chatting and she went on her way just before half 3 so it was a good meeting and very beneficial to me I felt. Because of commitments I have and stuff between work and music I probably will not train with a new dog till at least late February or March and Mr. Ralph will keep working with me till then.
There are a few people that read this blog that have been very supportive to me over the last while when I have bored them with questions or just talking about how I felt about it all and you know who you are. I would like to thank you for your support and really, its great to have friends like you. I am also being told of more people stumbling across this blog and its great that you are enjoying reading it. I update when I can or when I have something useful to say so do keep checking back and I do welcome all comments.
So, quite a bit to say about Mr. Ralph in this post. I was actually going to write this blog post last week but a lack of motivation and other things on my mind and stuff lead me not to bother till now.
Let me start off by talking about Mr. Ralph’s birthday. It happened on Tuesday. He is nine this year. I know the birthday thing is more my sort of thing. Ralph doesn’t really know its his birthday really but I like to remember it, especially as he is nine now and because this will probably be his last working birthday.
We arrived into work as usual and it was raining and pretty miserable in Carlow so my dad came in and drove me to the office. One of my colleagues remembered me telling her that it was his birthday and brought in some treats for him. I let her give him one and he was delighted with himself. He knew that something out of the ordinary was happening and he was nice and happy. I have kept the rest of them and will give them to him over the next while. I don’t want to be spoiling him with treats and having him getting too use to them either but it was very nice of Kerry to do that for him.
The rest of his day was fairly uneventful. Because of the wet weather we didn’t even get to walk home ourselves. We got out to stretch our legs at lunch time and for Ralph to do his usual important nature calls but another colleague gave me a lift home in the evening. I have decided that in the next while I am going to have him washed and groomed again as it will help just clear all the dead hairs and stuff and have him looking nice and shiny again. I am sure he looks lovely but his coat feels fairly oily and stuff at the moment. Now, maybe its better when it feels like that? Some person more knowledgeable than me on this one might care to comment.
So, what has retirement talk to do with his birthday?
Well, last Wednesday I received a call from the Guide Dogs HQ and, as it happens it was from my instructer that trained Ralph and myself. He is now a team leader and I had mailed him to just see what the story was and stuff and would Ralph need any assessments given the fact he was getting on a bit now. He informed me that I would have an aftercare visit in the next couple of weeks and at this time I was going to be put back on the list for a new dog. Ralph will probably retire in the spring or early summer of 2012. Now, I do feel very strange at the way I am able to talk about this and write about it. I am not sad or anything at present. I don’t think that it has properly registered yet. When it does happen I know I will be very sad but I also know that Ralph will have a great retirement and I do want that for him. At least I know now what will happen in the lead up. While I don’t want to have to think about having to get a new dog I would like to think that enough planning will go into it all to ensure that I can get a good match next time like I was lucky enough to get with Ralph.
After a post that I wrote a few weeks back where I discussed Ralph’s prospects and wondering how long more I would have with him I received an email from Dominique. Dominique is currently on her second dog Opal and she shared with me her story of retiring her previous dog Holly and how she has adapted to life with Opal. She gave me an excellent account of her last working day with Holly and her immotions when she had to take off the harness for the last time but thankfully Opal came along very quickly and they have been a great match and Holly her retired dog still lives with them. Ralph will live with my parents when he retires but it was nice of Dominique to share her story with me.
So, its onwards and upwards hopefully until the middle of 2012 for Ralph. Unless something happens him in the winter with cold weather or something like that we will just take each day as it comes and hopefully he enjoys every minute of the working time he has left.
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.
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.
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.
Well, some people will know of my Guide Dog Ralph from my tweets. if you follow me on twitter but maybe some of you might not have heard of him, so I would like to write a post about him and also just tell you about something that is happening very soon concerning fundraising.
Ralph is my eight year-old Lab Retreaver cross Guide Dog. I don’t have a photo of him to stick up here but at some point soon when I am more sure how to do it and when I actually have a picture of him I will put one up for all to see.
In late 2004 I put the wheels in motion to purchase my house which I am still living in today. I was still rather young at the time and some of my mates thought I was mad to be settling down with a mortgage at that age but I was satisfied that I was making the right decision and I have to say that going through with it was one of the best things that I have done. I needed independence. Where I was brought up was out in the countryside. I loved the area and still do, but I couldn’t get from a to b independently on my own even with Ralph with me so the only thing for it was to move closer to town and to where I would have access to shops and pubs and restaurants and cinemas and other amenities like that which I could use and not have to depend on people to take me where I needed to go all the time.
The house purchase was completed in February 2005 and myself and Ralph moved in. This was when we just took off on our own adventure. We had been commuting too and from Dublin for work on a daly basis and were living at my parents house. This was a two hours round trip for us which started with my mother taking us to Carlow train station by car. I was now lucky in that I had purchased my home close enough to the station that I could walk there and back with Ralph and we had everything close at hand. He was still rather young at the time but he was very relaxed and mature and enjoyed this new challenge and loved getting out and about learning new routes around the town. Having grown up here apart from the time I went away to attend school I was delighted to learn more routes by myself and be able to get too and from places that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own before.
I can only use the word fantastic to describe what it feels like to me walking around with Ralph while he is working. He loves it and is so prowd and confident in what he does and he really shows it also. I just feel that I can see because I am guided around obstacles that I wouldn’t have known were there and because I am not walking along tapping a cane around to find things to bump into or make contact with before getting on with my journey again. I can go at the same speed as anyone else while walking and I am a quick walker. My direction also certainly is more acute with him also. I am not sure why this is. I think it is because we just walk around at a normal speed and also it might be something in how Ralph is trained to walk in a straight line and stop at the edge of a kerb when he can’t go any further and wait for more instructions from me.
At home he is also a great companion to me in the house and I never feel alone with him here. Our friendship is not like the human kind so people saying that he must be my best friend does annoy me at times. I have plenty of friends and some very good and supportive close ones. Just because a blind person has a Guide Dog doesn’t mean this dog is automatically their best friend in the world. I do love him yes and have some great chats with him but he can’t talk back. Now, if he could he would tell me to shut up I just know he would haha.
I am not going to go into the responsibilities of having Ralph and how he has to be looked after and stuff in this post. I wanted to just give you a sense of what he means to me and what its like for me to have the independence that he gives. My good friend Jen does a great job of topics Guide Dog related on her blog and I would recommend you all check it out. If you are a music lover like myself she might even interest you with her musical postings also. Her latest post at the time of me writing this one refers to Darragh and his post Thanks Freddie which he wrote about his retired dog Freddie. This post that Darragh wrote got great attention from people and when you read it you will understand why.
My main reason for writing this post came about over a week ago when I was asked to write a peace for Quinn’s blog to just talk about myself and Ralph. This peace is being used in a post about a head shave which is taking place in Kerry at the end of this month. Apparently one of Quinn’s owners is getting all his hair shaved off and all proceeds will go to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Do check it out and if you can at all give a few quid towards this very worthy event. A big Thanks must go to all Quinn’s Kerry family for their hard work and dedication to Irish Guide Dogs. As a Guide Dog owner I think I can say on behalf of other Guide Dog owners a huge thank you to you all and keep up the great work.
Well, I went to England on the 28th which was last Monday actually a week ago today as its after midnight now when I am writing this. I wasn’t sure how the roads were going to be for travelling to the airport and I had been offered a lift so I wouldn’t have to take the train and I was glad of that. I had a gig the night before and the roads were terrible trying to get there and coming back but we managed it.
The phone woke me at 9:00 and I was leaving at 10:00 so it was all go to try and get myself packed and ready.
Got to the airport nice and early and got myself and Ralph through security and down to the gate with plenty of time to relax before getting on the plane. For anyone reading this for the first time Ralph is my Guide Dog and I was taking him with me for the few days. He has flown before and doesn’t mind it apart from the take off and landing.
I was very impressed at Stanstead when the lady that was assisting me asked if Ralph might like to go to the toilet. I also found her to be very friendly and efficient and also the guy that assisted me on the way back was the same so I would have no problems flying in and out of there again as I think this is the first time Ralph has been in that airport with me. I was also impressed with Ryanair who, on this occasion apart from forgetting to put my assistance needs requirements forward to the airport assistance people didn’t give me any further hastle and I had a nice pleasant experience both going and coming back so fair play to you lads. I will fly again with you and Ralph will be happy to also.
You will remember in my last post I said that I didn’t have an idea what Louise had gotten me for Christmas. Well, the moment of truth came when I got to her dads place. She bought me an iPod Nano. I have to say its a lovely little thing and I am still getting use to it but I am excited as to what it will allow me to do now in terms of being able to buy and download music and even books. I would like to start reading more so hopefully I can start getting my hands on more audio books. I also have to thank my good friend Stuart Lawler for his assistance in getting it working. An iPod was something that I had thought of getting for a while but I always go on about things like that but never act on it so I expect Louise was fed up listening to me talking about it and thought it would be the ideal present and, I have to say I am thrilled with it now. I have to get myself familliar wit putting podcasts and stuff on it now but I expect it will all come in time.
The rest of the week just consisted of going to London to meet a friend and catching up with Louise’s family.
We celebrated the new year at home with her dad and a few beers and some food. It was nice. I hate the evening actually. Its always very depressing and if you are in a pub you get people coming up and hugging and kissing you and stuff and I just hate all that. There was a few bangers going off outside but it wasn’t too bad.
Saturday I got home to freezing conditions. I mean, it was cold in England before I left but nothing like what I experienced when I stepped off the plane. And, if that wasn’t enough when I got on the train home there was no heat on it and I am almost sure that it was blowing out cold air.
so, its all over now.
All the hipe and rushing around, and presents and then the waiting around for the new year and the crap movies and stuff on Tv.
Its back to work in a few hours and who knows what the new year will bring from here on. But, I am ready for it so lets go.