Tag Archive for Guide Dogs for the blind

As the world begins to reopen – why does it feel less accessible ?

Selfie photo of me wearing a floral face mask and dark sunglasses with the pole for the bus stop behind me

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the use of face masks has increased. It has been compulsory for most ‘front-line staff’ from the very beginning.

Then government officials suggested members of the public wear face coverings or masks when going into enclosed spaces where social distancing may be difficult, such as supermarkets, garden centres and medical appointments.

And I will admit, when this recommendation came in I also took this to mean to wear a face mask or face covering when using the bus.
Whixh as of tomorrow 15th June it will be compulsory to wear a face covering on all public transport. (Unless young, have certain health conditions and certain disabilities)

so, one afternoon earlier this week I thought I would road-test my floral cotton facemask for the bus journey and while I did some essential shopping.

Having not been on a bus for about Eight weeks I was initially a bit concerned about my journey, but the bus driver soon put me at ease. Our local buses have had clear screens to protect the drivers for many years, so this was nothing new, however implementing social distancing on a bus was definitely something I was uncertain of.

The driver explained to me that each of the seats in the aisle were taped off with yellow tape, as were both of the seats in every other row to enable passengers to sit two metres apart beside, in-front and behind.

For me, my sight enables me to see the bright yellow tape on the grey seats, however not to read the words. So the drivers instructions were very clear and descriptive; as you can see from this photograph that I took once I sat down.

Side on view of grey seats on a bus with many have yellow tape explaining about social distancing on the aisle seats and on both seats every other row

The bus seemed fairly empty and as I went to get off at the bus station, the bus driver again explained that social distancing was implemented inside the station. If I am honest, my guide dog was a little hesitant when we got into the station, but I gave her the command to turn left and out the station and she soon found her feet and walked with confidence.

As i have said previously, I have found it easier to shop for many of my essentials from my local Wilko and Poundland stores as they are smaller and generally have been quieter.

So, on this visit off to Wilko we went. I tried to scan for a queue outside the store and as I couldn’t I approached the door and asked the staff member if there was a queue to join, when she explained there was no-one else waiting so I could come straight in. She explained where the freshly wiped down baskets were and off I went to get what was on my list.

I walked down one aisle and at the end it appeared that they had put extra shelving in, so the pathway around to the next aisle was rather tight for manoeuvring me, Fizz my guide dog and the basket that was sat i the crook of my arm.

Shopping picked and off to the till. Here we hit a slight snag.

The store layout had altered. The additional shelving at the end of the aisles were actually there as the store had implemented a system similar to Tesco where you had to wait while socially distancing at one point before moving forward to the next available till. Which a kind shopper explained to me from the other side of the shelving.

So, after a bit of trial and error, we found the queue. With a light floor colour and the dark red Wilko signs marking each 2m space I was able to ensure I kept my distance. Then it was our turn to be at the front of the queue.

Again another snag…….

With no member of staff on queue control I patiently waited to hear a clue as to when it was my turn to go to a till. However the queue placement meant that we were at the customer service end of the tills with maybe five or six tills off in-front of us. When a couple walked very close beside me on my right, huffing as they did.

Another kind shopper who was now behind me (at a social distance) apologised as the couple that went passed me had got fed up of waiting as a till had become clear and I had not seen it; even though from their position this couple who jumped the queue did have a very clear view of my guide dog by y side. Thankfully at the next till to become free, the staff member had called out to me.

After hitting my basket off of the clear screen that had been put in place the staff member was kind and clear with her explanation and she even took my bag to pack my shopping for me.

Shopping done, back to the bus station, here is where I discovered the social distance implementations. I just want to add at this point, I am in full support of social distancing and of businesses and service providers who are taking care to ensure the safety of their staff and customers.

Fizz appeared to be walking right up against the metal benches, a place I try to move her away from as this is often where food has been discarded. Yet when I asked her to move in and walk more within the centre of the path she refused. I count in the large boards to get us to our stand. And then gave the command to find a seat. Fizz did this time move me to the right and to a seat by our bus stand. It was when I sat that I could then ‘see’ the issues that had caused Fizz to struggle; both when we left the station and as we returned.

Photo of the inside of Fareham Bus Station, a large metal timetable board is on the left and infront is a orange cone with red and white tape and a sign pointing left to state that this is the direction to walk.  In the background past the tape is a metal bench.

There is a gap between the tape to enable people to get to the right bus stand, there also appears to be a yellow line on the floor, but as can be seen the space on each side of the tape is not very large and is why Fizz had found it a struggle both when leaving the bus station and when we returned.

Sadly, after the ordeal of our shopping trip a bus driver explained that I had over an hour to wait for the next bus. (As they are running a very different service, which is understandable) So I gave fizz the command to leave, and I decided we would just walk home, as that would take us about 40 minutes.

This whole experience had exhausted me mentally and I just wanted to get away from it all. My shopping was (if I am honest) a little too heavy for walking home; however I felt vulnerable. My confidence was thrown, especially as I was in what I would consider ‘familiar territory’, although with all the additional safety measures the whole thing felt alien to both me and Fizz.

So, tomorrow as more stores open I think I will actually be less likely to be visiting my local town. Because with these additional MUCH NEEDED safety measures I don’t feel that the routes and places that were so familiar to me prior to the Covid-19 will remain as such until social distancing is a distant memory…. Which I am well aware is not going to be the case anytime soon.

So for me, as the world re-opens I feel it is much less accessible for me.

And I am pretty sure that I am not the only one. I would love to hear your views and experiences. Please comment below.

Take Care and Stay Safe.

Do you like being Blind?

Sounds like a rude or harsh question; yet it was asked without any malice intent. It came from a little girl while I was visiting her school and doing and giving a talk about living with sight loss.

The teachers within the room took a sharp intake of breathe (I think it worried them slightly) However as this hadn’t been the first ‘curveball question’ I had received from the group I was already half prepareD for it. I started by thanking her for her question (while buying myself a little time to answer it)

“I wouldn’t say I like it….. But I wouldn’t say I hate it either. Because with my sight the way it is I have had the opportunity to do so many things that I am not sure I would have done had I been fully sighted.

But when I did I gave this answer (in a round about way-not sure I used these exact words)

I only took on the challenge of climbing because without being able to see my feet on the ground I knew that being high on a wall or mountain wouldn’t be an issue, as one of the ‘blind perks’ that lead to me trying it was that a fear of heights wasn’t an issue. The chance to pre-plan a route wasn’t there either. I climb mainly by feeling my way up the wall. And my feet often follow where my hands have already lead the way.

As my working life reduced. I began to work with different charities; through which I have gained so much, so much more than I could have achieved in my working life. I have also been fortunate to be there for my children more, and although I can’t see them as clearly in their school productions. We have had much more time together than I would have had had were my sight not decreased.

Yes there are times when I have dark moments. But anyone with or without sight loss has those, so I don’t think I am any different.

I have gained so much more enrichment to my life as my sight and now hearing has demisnished.

Being blind and hard of hearing is who I am and I just have to make the most of it.”

Maybe this was much more detailed and deep than I expected to share, but as I sat there with the class of children before me; I had a moment of reflection on my life and all the good things that have come from the small fact that I am loosing my sight and hearing.

The 1st of the withouts

Yesterday marked the beginning of it.

Today compounded it even more.

What am I talking about?

I am talking about events and celbratitions about my first leading lady, the ‘original guiding girl’ Vicky.

On 15th October 2009 I met her for the very first time, she came with my GDMI Caroline to see if she could be the dog for me.  And it wasn’t known to me at the time, but today 16th October is her birthday; or rather WAS her birthday.

And as such today is the first time since she came into my life that she hasn’t been with me to celebrate this day.

Good Olde Facebook has reminded me of today with lots of photographs and happy memories.

And it is some of those I feel I would share with you in this post.

Vicky gave me so much and it is about remembering her today; not being sad that she is no longer here, rather be grateful that she came into my life.  Photgraph shows black flat tie x lab dog sat with a grey hat and scalf in front of a red sofa

Photograph shows Guide dog Vicky sat in harness in the lounge in front of the sofa, she is wearing a smile on her face.

 

Time to go home

The story starts here The start of an adventure… 

The final part of my Scottish adventure; following on from Menacing about in Dundee it is now time to travel back to Glasgow once more to get the sleeper train back to London and call an end to this wonderful adventure.

With weekend engineering works London’s Euston Railway station my train will be returning to London’s Kings Cross instead. Meaning that as this is not a terminating station there will be just 10 minutes to depart before another train will be need the platform. And it also raises the issue of finding The flowerbed again for Fizz after the 8 hour train journey! But before that, we have one last walk along the river in Glasgow on a Friday evening to accomplish first.

This time of adventure in Scotland as a solo traveller (who just happens to have a guide dog) has shown me how much I am still able to do, how much I have grown as a person and how much I need to plan more things like this MORE OFTEN !!

‘Have dog will travel’ has been my mantra for some time now, but theses past few days have showed me just how much I am able to use my wonderful guide dog Fizz to give me such freedom and independence. As I can say categorically I would not have done such a trip with only a long cane.

Each day has been a new environment, a different routine, but she has stepped into her harness each time with a strength that I am sure other guide dog owners can relate to.

The train from Dundee to Glasgow was busy; filled with people finishing work and other travellers, so the guard kindly moved me, Fizz and our luggage into first class, where although still busy there was more space and nobody standing in the aisles.

Glasgow was wet by the time we arrived, but it was the refreshing kind of rain. So we enjoyed walking along the river, Fizz was out of harness to give her the time to sniff and check for Pee-Mails and great the other dogs we met along the way (I wasn’t brace enough to let her off her lead as I had visions of her jumping into The Clyde!)

We returned to walk around town, last grass stop and then we were back in the station…. By this time it was dark and Glasgow was very different with people out for the evening, groups of friends and sadly more people getting cardboard out to sleep in closed shops doorways.

I grabbed my last coffee and headed for the train.

The journey back wasn’t as enjoyable as the train out, we were on an older train and with a long delay on them finding a room for us we were sat in a very loud, busy buffet car.

It was almost 1am when we were shown to our room. It was not an accessible room (not that this in itself was an issue) which made for a walk along a narrow corridor.

Our berth was similar in layout, but all I really cared for was my bed.

Fizz settled quickly too and before I knew it there was a knock on the door to say we half an hour before we got into Kings Cross.

First stop …….. FLOWER BED!

Then coffee for me.

I made notes of my travels while I was away, but wrote these blogs after. But for ease I have posted them on the days and dates they actually happened.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about Scotland as much as I enjoyed my adventure?

Watch this space for more adventures to come……

Sleep tight baby girl

This post has taken me several weeks to write and I must warn you that it may cause you upset, tears are most certainly in my eyes as I type this.  But they are tears of great memories, of funny stories and of achievements.

On January 2nd, after a struggle with an illness I said goodbye to my original guiding girl; my first guide dog Vicky.

Three years ago today (19.01.15) Vicky wore her guide dog harness for the final time.  She walked beside me as I took the children to school in the morning.  We took a longer walk home that day.  She then sat wondering what I was upto when I took this photograph of her sat in the lounge wearing her harness.Photograph shows Guide dog Vicky sat in harness in the lounge in front of the sofa, she is wearing a smile on her face.

And the reason for this final photograph?  It was because in less than 30 minutes a GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) would be coming to start my training with a new guide dog, my second leading lady Fizz.

I wrote about all that she had enabled me to do in The end of a (half) Era

When Vicky retired it was agreed that she would enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children, the home that she had moved into in 2009.  The home that she had been such an import part of and had help to instigate so many changes within.

Most of all (among others) when she guided me both literally and metaphorically through my pregnancy with my son.  When she ensured that both of us were safe while he was inside my tummy and while I carried him in his carrier.  She had also allowed me to go out and spend time with my daughter (who was just 4 1/2 yo when Vicky arrived)  So it goes without saying that she had captured an extra special part of my heart, that no other guide dog would be able to replace.

As my first guide dog, working with Vicky was scary.  But also exhilarating!!

When I applied for her in 2008 my list of ‘wants’ was to be able to go to the local shops alone, to take my daughter safely to pre-school (and then school) and to be able to go back to getting the bus to work and being able to not have to rely on someone to drive me.

When ‘murmurs’ of Vicky retiring began in 2013 my list of ‘wants’ was so very different.

Althoigh I no longer, I now had a son.  I now went horse riding.  I now volunteered with various charities and had such a busy schedule between the children, volunteering and hobbies that it took 16 months to find a guide dog that could follow in the huge paw prints that Vicky had set out.

It was also at this time when I started training with Fizz that I discovered just how much Vicky had had me wrapped around her dew claw!

I had thought it was ‘usual’ to work in circular routes, not being able to just turn around and walk back the way we had come (in the supermarket for example) like when we had walked upto school, which was LITERALLY in the road next to the house, we had to walk up on one side of the road and back down on the other!

It was when training with Fizz I discovered that this was a ‘retriever trait’ and one that I had been allowing Vicky to get away with.

Anyway….. I digress …….

In September last year Vicky had a cyst removed from her hip, it was nothing of any consequence, it had just been a source of discomfort.  So just weeks after when I noticed a lump on her side I took her straight back to the vets.

They weren’t overly concern.  She had just turned 12 yo and when tested with a needle prick the results showed it was a fatty lump.

So, with the agreement of both the vet and guide dogs we would watch and measure the lump.

In November Vicky went off her food, the lump was measured and there was  a sizeable change in it.  Vicky was put on pain medication and further tests were agreed.

When I took Vicky in Forbes her X-rays in early December it was felt that actually she would benefit from specialist investigations that my vet could not offer.

Vicky was starting get tired.  She was beginning to show her struggle.  She was still very playful at home with Fizz, but our walks had become considerably shorter.

She was noticeably loosing weight and her coat was loosing its gleaming shine.

Her pain medication was increased and every hope was placed on her appointment with the specialist.

That was until she took a turn on New Year’s Day.  It was heartbreakingly to watch her.  The vets were brilliantly though. They put her on a drip and made her comfortable.  They even managed to change her visit to the specialist.

So after staying with them overnight I was amazed to see a much brighter bouncy girl bought out to me the following morning.

She was still weak, she was still in pain, but she was also relieved to see me again.

So we went to the specialist.  Where we were joined by GDWO (guidebook dog welfare officer) Vicky was so placid that they were able to X-ray her without sedation.

It wasn’t good news.

Although the X-rays didn’t tell them EXACTLY what was wrong with her, they did tell them enough.

The consultant was so kind.

The GDWO was so kind.

We could investigate more.

We could reduce her pain.

But the one thing we couldn’t do was to stop the end result.

Vicky was 12 yo and as a Flatcoat cross Golden Retriever I already knew she was older than most.

The growth on her chest was too big.  Whether it was a fatty lump or cancer, there was no option to remove it.

The consultant talked about this and that.  I remember asking is guide dogs needed it investigating further (they didn’t)

It was then that I looked down at Vicky.  I had sat down on the floor with her by this point.  I could see the pain in her eyes, I could feel the tension in her body.

Through tears (just like those that are escaping now) I asked the consultant if we could let her go to sleep and take her pain away?

He was amazing.

He told me he would give me time with her and if when he came back it was too soon I was just to tell him to bugger off (his exact words!) and he would give us more time.

The GDWO went to get Vicky a comfy bed as she was laying on a hard floor and kept banging her head each time she lifted it.

The nurses bought a beautiful white fluffy fleecy bed and we got her comfortable on it.

I spoke to her and thanked her.

The consultant came back and I agreed it was time for her to go.

I stayed with her and held her tight.  She was so peaceful, she was no longer in pain…..  But she was gone!

My friend that was with me supported me throughout, even though she too was upset.  The GDWO told me she would stay with Vicky, make sure that she wasn’t left alone and take care of all the paperwork.

It absolutley broke my heart the minute I walked out of that room and typing his now I am feeling that pain all over again.

Vicky was so much, she gave me so much more than I could ever thank her for or repay her for:

She gave me the me that is here today.  There are no words to describe what that is.  I just know that the love I feel for her will never be replaced.

It was agreed that Vicky would be cremated and get to ‘come home’

The GDWO took care of all of this on my behalf.  She even bought Vicky home to me on 10th January.

The house hasn’t been the same.  Fizz hasn’t been the same;  I have sat and cried cuddled into her; I have explained it to her.  I know she is missing her friend.  The whole time Fizz has been with me, she has had Vicky to play with.  And now it is just her…….

Photograph of a pale wooden box with the gold inscription “Vicky” on the top sat on a grey sofa with w small dog bone beside it that was placed there by Fizz the dog who is looking sadly at the bone and the box.

We have plans to take Vicky for her ‘final walk’ and let her go.  Keeping all the memories, the photographs and a few simple keepsakes of her.

Along with the love for her.  And although I love Fizz (and wouldn’t change her for the world) Vicky will always have an extra special place that no other dog or human can ever replace.

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