Asha’s Adventures in Getting a Guide Dog: Attributes = Time

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I am Gismo, you must love me.

This week has been all about getting me back, officially, on the list for New Dog. This would probably been a tad easier had I not had surgery the proceeding week but when is my life that simple?

This blonde 40kg battering ram is my friend Paul’s dog, Gismo (he isn’t too be fed after midnight and for the love of all the gods do not get him wet). Gissy loves leaves, he also really likes me and could probably knock me over if he tried. However he is the perfect example of the colour dog I want.

This is important because when I met my GDMI earlier this week, I had my list to hand. The thing you need to understand is there’s a process in all this, a reason for the madness. There is paperwork to be filled in and boxes to be ticked off.

A came prepared with the standard paperwork which interested me as it’s been at least eight years (I had to wait 18 months for Uni) since I last did this. The form covered everything from my home environment (including things like the fact I live alone and have cats) to suitable spending areas (Uni’s pen is still there) to the important bit: What kind of dog did I need.

A and I had a very frank conversation about my matching with it essentially boiling down to extrovert dog plus introvert human equals ‘never again’. We have those a lot though this is the first time we’ve openly admitted to each other that Uni, while awesome, was never a good match for me.

A’s been my GDMI for almost as long as I had Uni, taking over from his similarly named arsehole of a predecessor who, thank the gods, no longer works for the organisation. I fired his predecessor but it did mean that while I qualified, I had to learn the ‘advanced’ stuff on my own or with the help of Mhairi and Paul.

Before we got to the ‘choose your dog’ adventure though, there was a little practical stuff to do. To be fair, it was quick and I explained I was in a post-surgery place of pain, also it was cold and drizzling. Basically, GDMI’s pretend to be a dog, giving you a harness to hold and seeing how you move and respond.

The thing is anyone who’s had a dog will tell you it feels all wrong; the level of the harness, the weight, the gait, the pacing. It’s not meant to emulate being a dog, just make sure you can move with the ‘dog’ and to assess pacing (mine is normally slow but due to my wound I wasn’t quite hobbling but still much, much slower than usual). Most people hate this bit because it’s embarrassing; you would through a crowded place with a human, harness and potential-GDO and have to use commands and reprimand the ‘dog’.

But, this time, I didn’t care. This was a momentary thing, done thankfully in a quiet corner but it’s one of those things you do in order to get back on the list. Mainly I was just cold and wanted to get back inside. A is well aware I do not do winter, indeed one of my specific requests was not to do Class during the winter period. I hate ice, snow and sleet and my SAD is my worse enemy.

Having a harness in my hand again, though, was weird. I’ve just gotten used to my cane again. It feels wrong but when you walk with your potential match, well it just feels like flying. There’s a freedom and it’s natural, like two pieces of a puzzle slotting together. I still remember how magical my first walk with Uni felt (character-wise we were a bad match but she and I always worked brilliantly together).

I made clear my desire for a ‘calmer’ dog which instantly excludeds Shepherds, retrievers and labradoddles (they’re weird, end of). I wanted something a bit more like Bramble, Mhairi’s dog, a labrador who is Uni-sized and calm (the cat thing is key as I’m not having the guide dog versus cat discussion; Isis and Ceri are fine but Dion would lose). At ther same time I won’t say no to a darker dog, my preference is simply for a lighter coloured one as, due to my specific brand of visual impairment, dark is hard to see.

One other disturbing thing I did learn about however (to the disgust of myself and every GDO who’s heard about it) was that someone (ansd I know precisely whom) sent a poison pen email anonymously to Guide Dogs giving them a list of ‘reasons’ why I shouldn’t be allowed another dog.

The disciplinary proccess for GDO’s works a lot like employment; you get unofficial warnings, official warnings and the last resort ‘stop fucking up’ written warnings. Taking a dog from their human is a last resort and is only ever done for the welfare of the dog. Sometimes it’s a temporary thing (in cases of, for example, over-feeding) but other times there are other reasons. If the dog is young (around 2), they might be able to be re-matched but any older than that and it’s a flunk and the dog is retired.

This is general, by the way, it’s a lot more complicated and situation specific as well.

The sheer fact I heard about it at this juncture shows how seriously the Mobility Team were taking it. Anonymous stuff is seldom given credence and every guide dog owner breaks ‘rules’, or rather we bend them as far as we know we can go. There are no perfect GDOs and there are some situations (my personal favourite is the four pram plus guide dog plus trolley on the bus situation which was the fault of the bus driver and forced me to put Uni onto the seats because that was the only room for her).

Anonymous listed stuff, I never saw the email but it was enough for identification. Fortunately, because I’d been very open with my GDMI, they were already aware one person now no longer in my life took Uni’s retirement very badly. This is purely because of timing and the fact it happened so fast. The irony is, had they bothered to actually identify themselves rather than using a burner email, then it might have been taken more seriously.

Some of that stuff is true but all of it was minor; I’m known for bending rules but I know how far I can go. And yes, I fed my dog, but we all do that. Big deal. My friends, even the non-guide dog owning ones, were all outraged when I told them. It’s the equivalent of trying to take away a person’s wheelchair or ringing up the DWP and dobbing in a disabled person because you saw them doing something stereotypes say they shouldn’t.echnically, a disability hate crime.

Technically what this person did is a disability hate crime.

Yep and actually I don’t think that one note occurred to the writer. That they were not only being malicious but also committing a crime. I confronted the person, I don’t expect anything to come of it nor do I care.

I’m on the list and that’s all that matters.

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D is taking the dog-free zone rather well.

The one thing we have been trying to do in the mean time is remind the cats (specifically D) is that the lack of a dog in the house is a temporary thing. Isis and Ceri are fine, the former ignore everyone bar me and the latter just loved Uni so I’m hoping New Dog will find a similar place in Ceri’s heart.

This comes from a cat who, for the last six years, has met us when we come home at the end of the day. Ceri has little fear of dogs but she’s also smart, she knows just how far away to sit in case an unknown dog tries to go for her. Plus, despite being rotund, she’s also fast and good at running under cars.

Isis … well, she’s just a ninja and a fan of high places and dark corners.

D on the other hand, well he’s confrontational. This is why we’ve been using Gismo toi put him in his place. Gissy is basically a wuss but he’s also a typical male dog (aka not a genius). If the cats sit still then he ignores them entirely.Him and D have had a couple of showdowns, all carefully choreographed with the right amount of enthusiasm and hissing. Oddly, even when he has an out in the form of a cat flat, D would still rather wait for a human to open the door.

Maybe he’s not as smart as I’ve been giving him credit.

The upside of all of this is the sheer amount of cat love I’ve been getting. Ceri and Isis were pre-Uni. D came about six months after Uni and so the two grew up together.I know Ceri and Isis will basically chill, acknowledge New Dog, and get on with business. D has one choice and I get to be the one who acts as New Dog’s protector. I’m assuming eventually equilibrium will be reached and all will be well because that’s the only option.

Dogs and cats can live together and quiet happily too. It’s all about time.

I’m hoping the London list is short (rumour has it that it’s one of the shortest in the country). I should find out in a week or so but I’m going to assume it’s six months. If it’s shorter then it’s a bonus. Generally speaking, though, rematches are a higher priority than first timers and I’ve tried hard to keep my wants and needs down to a minimum because, as previously discussed, the rule of thumb is the more things you ask for in a dog, the longer it takes to match you.

So, for now, with all the medical forms done and the paperwork filed, all I can do it wait and watch lots of movies and survive the winter.

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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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