Poor Uni hasn’t had a good week.
It started last Friday during lunch out where my friend Marie got to see what life with a guide dog is really like (aka the abuse we need to put up with from cretins). Seriously: she genuinely had no idea that people still believed—erroneously, I might add—that assistance dogs are somehow forced into working.
Anyone who has a dog, particularly flatties, knows this is dog poop.
Uni loves working. Okay, specifically, she loves the fuss, attention and compliments, I’m just a sideline into getting those, though she hasn’t yet got me killed and genuinely does look out for me. We’re, collectively, one of the more open pairings and allow most people a chance to pet Uni, bonus points are awarded for those who ask/who have children who love dogs.
Uni’s tarty attitude is part of her charm, she’s aware of her specialness particularly when coupled by her ‘gorgeousness’ which is the one word everyone uses when confronted with her. This is also why most people remember the dogs’ names and not their humans’. I’m just as guilty as this but given a choice between spending my day with dogs or humans, I’ll take the hounds, especially if that happens to be Bramble, most beloved of all guide dogs.
Anyway, it was a good day until this woman—whom Marie nicknamed ‘the old hag’, I neither agree with nor condone this but she chose her words well—started making eye contact with Uni. She was behind me, as was Un. Marie and I were happily chatting over very nice lunches. I assumed Uni was begging as she’d moved so tapped on her nose, told her to go ‘down’ into a lying position and returned to my pork carvery.
I’m trying not to feed Uni as much, as I’m poor and not feeding her means a smaller portion/skipping a starter = less money spent. Plus she behaves better when she’s not expecting a side of meat or a Yorkshire. Most places we go into bend over backward for us though and Uni likes Jarrolds because it’s busy/she gets a literal bucket of water before we’ve even sat down.
Marie and I are chatting, mostly about my desire to learn to knit and we decide it’s time to move out, I turn around to put Uni back into her working gear. She’d been off-harness, as she is in the picture above, because that’s more comfortable but you can still tell she’s a guide dog as she has a ‘DO NOT FEED ME’ sign on her lead (which fails more miserable than I do). She was sporting a nice bandana and wanted for nothing but my dinner.
Woman as I’m bending down to clip Uni’s ‘neon bra’ (Marie’s idea; I love it): “When did you last give that dog water?”
Me, a tad confused, guestures to the bucket and ignores her.
“When did you last feed her?”
This, FYI, isn’t a good way to start a conversation with a guide dog owner.
Me: “Excuse me?”
“When did you last feed your dog?”
A bit shocked but trying to be polite. “I don’t see why that’s any of your business.”
“She looks so hungry.”
Stunned now, tired and sensing confrontation: “She’s perfectly fine, thank you. Does she look underfed?”
Uni is a 30kg flat coat cross golden retriever. She doesn’t look starved in any way shape or form. Except for those big brown eyes, of course. Plus her hair is growing back in so if anything she’s starting to look larger than she is. Uni wasn’t at fault in this at all.
“I suppose they don’t have any choice, being dragged out.”
The next table have noticed, murmurings beginning. Righteous anger is starting to flood my soul as I channel my terrifying and beloved friend, Mhairi (who eats people like this for lunch): “You cannot force a dog to do anything she doesn’t want to do. She chooses to do her job and loves it.”
I know this because Uni has spent all morning, in Marie’s company, wagging her tail and generally acting noble and showing off because there’s a adopted member of her pack around (other members include: Shannon and Beloved Niece).
Woman gives me a look, not believing a word of it. She’s decided I’m abusing my dog and there’s no changing her mind. I half expected her to state she’s going to call the RSPCA (newsflash: not the right charity) which someone declared they were going to do to me several years prior.
The neighbouring table say things I don’t recollect, bar that I wanted to hug them for being supporting.
I’m raging in my fury by this point but also calm. I know the accusations; I also know the answers.
I am calm in my righteous anger, tell the woman she needs to educate herself more about assistance dogs before daring to decide a working dog is in anyway being taken advantage off. Neighbouring table tells her she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I pat the elderly gent on the shoulder as I pass him and whisper: “Thank you!”
We leave hurridly but not after I speak to the staff, who apologise. I have no idea if they took it further.
I’m rattled; Uni knows this. Marie is absolutely furious on my behalf. I’m left, though, not with a sense of ‘I did the right thing’ but a pressing desire to ring Peterborough, which is GDO code for ‘speak to Guide Dogs for validiation/make them aware in case The Woman does indeed have enough brains to find the right charity and call them’.
I’m not doing for validation though, even as I know I’ll get it. I’m doing that because it’s me versus a complainant. I’ve been falsely accursed before, as have others I know because some member of the public’s decided a repremand was ‘harsh’. Mhairi, for example, seldom repremands Bramble but when she does she doesn’t shout, she goes Full Scottish and that sounds terrifying. It triggers me but I also understand the reason for it, which somewhat mitigates the terror. Mhairi has much less vision than I do which means Bramble has to work harder and her not paying attention could have much nastier consequences than simply walking into something.
Five minutes later they hug and all is forgiven but the repremand must be given or the dogs think it’s okay. It’s how the relationship works. Think small child and a fire but the GDO is the one who will get burned.
I sometimes shout but I can’t do low and menacing. I’m much better than I used to be, nor am I the only one to be accused of shouting at the dog. Indeed I was reminded a few weeks ago, after someone with a dog was reported (matching my description) swearing. Like full on f***ing and blinding at their dog. I will swear, but in conversation and never AT Uni. I also have an alibi and there are a lot of middle-aged, short, overweight women in Norfolk with black dogs. I’m reassured that I know for certain it wasn’t me and that everyone matching that description got phone calls that morning.
We moved to Caffe Nero and I ended up having to call my instructor, who is lovely and busy. I hate bothering him but couldn’t get through to Peterborough but he confirmed I acted in the right (yay!) and mentally logged the incident. Done. Uni was rewarded with fuss and even more water, as well as dog biscuits I use to bribe her. But it was Marie’s first taste at how we’re sometimes treated and she was mortified, both for me (I’m, frankly, used to it by now) and Uni.
Fast forward to Monday; thanks to running Uni and Brams at Eaton Park over the weekend, my anxiety about dealing with people had almost dissipated. The first few days after an incident always makes me anxious but today is a good day because Best Geek Friend Forever Shannon is down from London. I’m calm, despite the fact she’s coming on a replacement bus and it’s a Bank Holiday (never a good combo. Ever). This isn’t Shannon’s fault and I reminded her that it’s a sign of true Britishness if you know never to travel on trains on Sundays/Bank Holidays.
Shannon arrives, an hour late but ‘on time’ in terms of her bus, and we’re there to meet her. It’s a hot day, Uni has had all the water should could want, has been sat in the shade, in in full bandana-mode and I’ve just dumped a Venti cup of tap water over her to help cool her down. Shannon arrives, Uni goes into full on ‘OMVFGs it’s YOU’ mode. She dances, there is joy.
Then she throws up. Twice.
A woman gives me The Look but vomit it something I’m not legally required to deal with. We move away, I assume Uni’s just Excited (because she does it with a capital) so we head back into the city to meet Mhairi and Lorna and go to Wagamamas for lunch (yay!). Things are going awesomely; we have food and Uni is sitting with a bowl of water on a nice cold stone floor. All is well; then she starts making a noise all pet owners will recognise.
Mhairi assumed she was peeing and told me to her outside except it was all the wrong colour. Plus it wasn’t vomit; it was bile. There was nothing in her stomach at this point. I took her outside; she shakes, all’s well. We apologise to the lovely staff who come and clean up the biohazard mess in a packed restaurant. I’m filled with shame and starting to wonder if something’s up; Uni is still her excited self and being obedient so we finish our food.
Ten minutes later, more of the same comes out of her, this time in EE.
At this point I realise Uni is in fact sick. Common sense fled and (despite having her Vet Book on me, which would have allowed me to walk into any surgery in the city and get them to look at Uni), we decide to go home. I’ve specifically told Mhairi, if this happens again, to physically drag me to the nearest vet. I was assuming. you see, that it was heat stroke, for which a vet can do nothing, except make sure she has fluids, is drinking and has time to recover. Uni wasn’t dehydrated, she was drinking when water was offered and she seemed her normal self.
She threw up again on the bus, thankfully just before we needed to get off. I apologised, the bus driver was awesome about it and Uni seemed better by the time we got home. I put on the fan, open the windows, covered her in a wet towel and rang my vet, glad of out of hours. I got to talk to my vet but didn’t realise my surgery was actually open (I assumed it was like the NHS where the on-call surgery changes weekend to weekend so, for example, when I had toothache, I had to go to Wroxham instead of Aylsham). I assumed, even if they needed to see her, I’d have to take her half way across the county.
Frankly, I’ve never needed out of hours before. This sounds like I’m justifying but you have to understand I come from a background where things were either ‘treated’ (aka guestimated/diagnosed wrongly using a process of elimination and only then bothering a GP if the ailment persisted).
Vet was reassured that Uni was drinking like a fish, more than she usually would even in the heat, and I agreed to see how she was and bring her in first thing the following morning. No food would pass her lips until then which Uni didn’t seem too bothered by. She spent the afternoon being fine, obviously very under the weather and not vomiting. We went to Zumba, leaving her dead to the world and looking distinctly ‘ill’ (black dogs don’t do pale). She came and slept with me during the night but seemed okay; I had to do an emergency clean up because, being the angel Uni is, she doesn’t tell you when she’s ill and had thrown up on the mat by the door a couple of times (which is why I have a doormat/plastic matting combo).
I cleaned up and took her to the appointment. She was much improved by this point and the treatment was standard: an anti-emetic, a quick check of her backside to make sure it wasn’t colitis (which she’s had and even I can diagnose; it’s nasty as). We traded diagnoses and decided it was either heatstroke or she’d eaten something which disagreed with her (aka scavenged). I couldn’t remember her doing it but then she’s a sneaky bugger and I am blind. The point is, she was much improved and I got three tins of the dog food equivalent of chicken and rice for her.
Five minutes later, as we had to walk the mile home due to missing the bus, she brought up yellow bile and I was reassured. Green is bad, yellow is just acid reflux easily cured by giving her something to eat. Her stomach was empty, ergo the yellow nastiness.
We gave her the day to sleep it off and that was what cured her. No pressure, no undue exposure to the heat and a chance to chill out. The injection stopped the vomiting, she kept the food down and her body reset itself. Cured.
She’s now fine. We’ve taken her on another run, she’s chilled out and been her normally, happy self even as she’s been clingy. That’s a symptom of post-sick guide dogs, they’re like small children in that they need hugs and reassurance when they’re under the weather. She’s been voluntarily taking to the shade, content with large quantities of water and a ball stolen from Bramble. The run did her good as it’s the one time when she’s not working, can socialise and not be a guide dog. Watching her run with Bramble, especially, is like watching canine ballet and the day was made even more special by our first/last picnic of the summer.
Sometimes it’s the little things … and the dog biscuits.
I’m just glad she’s okay, frankly. She’s so seldom ill that when she is, it really hits home. Especially as she goes into ‘brave little soldier’ mode so you can’t tell until she’s Really Sick that she’s even under the weather. Between abuse and vomiting, it’s been one tough week for her so I’m pleased a new one is beginning and we can move on as fast as possible. Though I do still have to go into some places and hope they won’t remember us purely for the vomit.
One thing at a time …