Asha’s Adventures in Getting a Guide Dog: The Basics

This is how much a Guide Dog will cost me. Personally.
This is how much a Guide Dog will cost me. Personally.

Part of dealing with losing Uni is trying to focus on the future. Because if I don’t I’ll just cry again and that’ll get none of us anywhere. Plus the future sustains me.

Also, right now, I have one of these and Ceri is shit at guiding me anywhere:

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The point is somewhere, out there, is Replacement Guide Dog and I’m going to meet her one day soon. That instantly makes it real; she’ll be going through her final training, waiting for me. I have a 50p piece I’ll carry with me almost as a talisman until the day we qualify, at which point the money is handed over to constitute a legal contract between myself and Guide Dogs (I liken it to a ten-year hire purchase agreement).

This time around things are a little different and faster. I’ve already had one dog which means several things:

  • The wait should be shorter. I spent nearly two years waiting for Uni, having to fight for her. I’m hoping to be matched with her replacement in under six months.
  • I have a much better idea of what kind of dog I need, as well as the one I want. The differences between those two things are a key factor.
  • I actually have some idea of what I’m getting myself into.

This blog series isn’t just about charting the process, it’s about education. As a result, if you see bolded text it means a term I’m going to use frequently, we have jargon just like anyone else. Most people have no clue how this works, much less what goes into the period between training and qualification. At the same time, personally, I’m in a much better position than I was when I got Uni. First off I know a lot more Guide Dog Owners (GDO’s) than I did when I first got Uni.

This is important because it means I have a safety network of people I can go to if I’m worried or need advice (it’s easier to get ahold of a close GDO friend, for example, when you need a quick query answering). There’s also the social aspect of other dogs; freerunning (letting the dog run off lead and be normal for half an hour) is an important part of their social lives but also us as owners and nothing is more fun than going up to somewhere like Eaton Park with another GDO and watching your hounds do what amounts of ballet while running.

The other thing is, for me, certain dogs (primarily Bramble) help my mental state. Bramble has this thing where she looks at you with Unconditional Love, it can’t be recorded or photographed, it can only be felt. This is because she’s not my dog and is actually quite important. Guide Dogs love their owners but it’s a private kind of adoration, other dogs are required for the oxytocin hit I need to keep functioning. I actually, unexpectedly ran into Bramble yesterday and it really did lift my spirit.

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Right now, officially. I’m not on the Guide Dog list. I’m not even an entity. I’m just a blind person with a Sightsaber and lots of friends with dogs. There are assessments scheduled and paperwork to be filled in. Then I get officially placed on the list, the important thing is to now think about what I want and need in a dog so that, when asked, I can give a succinct answer. The unofficial theory is that every extra you add on to the sentence: ‘I’d like a guide dog please’ means an extra month to wait so I’m trying to keep it brief.

So what do I need?

  • A short-haired, white/gold bitch, Labrador/mix who is good with cats and escalator trained (aka able to work the Tube legally).

This is important as I never liked how much hair Uni had and neither did she; she was phobic about being brushed and so I had to personally fork out extra money to get her turned into a labrador three times a year. She was happier, I was happier. I’ve also realised, though I knew this when I applied for Uni that black doesn’t work for me. I simply can’t see dark colours well so I basically want a blonde version of Bramble, that means I’ll actually be able to see her on free runs.

I want a bitch mainly because they’re easier to control and generally calmer, more submissive (and therefore should be happier around the cats). I’m resolute on the gender and refuse to move. At all.

Escalator trained is the complicated one. I travel a lot (compared to most GDOs) and while I’m no longer working I do go to London a lot. I like to visit shops, exhibitions and do stuff, especially as London is also a terminus if you want to travel elsewhere (like Bath, for example). Taking a guide dog on the Tube is a pain in the arse. It’s been easier this last six months with TfL’s journey planner and the buses (which Shannon knows in her sleep) but there are still times and places when I need to use the Tube. With Uni I was limited to stations that had stairs/lifts where as most have some form of escalator.

And Uni hated escalators. Like HATED them. She’d do that thing where a cat affixes its paws to the floor and cannot be moved by any force known to nature … then she’d shit herself in terror.

So yeah.

The one thing I want is a dog with a multi-syllable name. My autism means I’m bad with tones (much of the communication between GDO and dog is tone via voice and I suck at it). I’ve improved thanks to Mhairi’s instruction over the last year but having a dog with a name that can be shortened makes my life easier. Uni and I also had our shorthand, oh and the blackmail involved in ‘do this thing for me and I will give you a milk bone’.

I don’t get to name the dog, though there is apparently a rarely invoked option to changed it for something which sounds the same (So ‘Sandy’ instead of ‘Andy’). Initially I hated Unis because it was weird and no one knew how to spell it. She was Uni most of the time, Un when I was in a good mood and Un-lamb when I really needed a hug). She was only ever Unis when she was in the shit big time.

The good thing is my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (aka a GDMI) is super supportive and knows my quirks, how my depression/bipolar and autism affect me, as well as my well documented hatred of navigating London. It’s one of the rare instances when I can do it far more easily with my cane than a dog. But I do actually prefer a dog. Now, officially, Guide Dogs only escalator train dogs who will work/live within London (which I and others call so many kinds of stupid you can hear it ringing across the nation). I know some GDOs who’ve taught their dogs but it’s still technically Not the Done Thing. I mean, I checked and my local shopping mall has like three escalators … it’s not as is London is the only place which has them. However there are escalators and then there are the Bastard 92ft Tube Escalators.

I’m too old to climb them anymore so a fully-trained dog is essential. The plan is, I’m going to do my training (called Class) in London and I’m going to take my time on it (last time I qualified in twelve days; the ‘norm’ is three weeks). Class was, for me, horrible and stressful, plus I never got to do the advanced stuff. I also did it from home so had to worry about extra stuff like keeping the house afloat, washing and feeding myself. I might have legally qualified but I missed out on a lot of stuff from how to work a dog at night to certain kinds of transport. London offers a dozen different ways to get around and I had to teach myself how to do a lot of them (the riverboat was fun; the London Eye was not).

I might have legally qualified but I missed out on a lot of stuff from how to work a dog at night to certain kinds of transport. London offers a dozen different ways to get around and I had to teach myself how to do a lot of them (the riverboat was fun; the London Eye was not). It’s got plenty of places for me to learn new skills and should also force me to get my head around the buses.

Doing Class somewhere else will relieve a lot of the burdens (as well as allowing me to stay in a hotel in a city with coffee shops on every corner and takeout on speed dial). I’m pretty sure, with a minder, the cats can survive the three weeks without me. Class is also the one time I can legitimately call in favours with friends and ask them to feed/water the Menagerie. All three can, technically, survive feral but I’d prefer they’re reminded where their bread is buttered. Especially if I come home with a new member of the family at the end of it. I’m mildly worried about it but worse-case, there are people in my life who will help me out on this one thing, especially as it’s not a daily thing.

But that can sort itself out later.

For now, it’s the initial stuff and paperwork. In my head, I’m looking at Winter solo and hoping due to the lists/priority status, to be qualified by May at the latest. It’s a ballpark but I’d rather have it, a goal, in mind than sit here panicking because I’m about to go through my most hated part of the year without a dog and just my own wits to sustain me.

So, here we go again.

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