Gismo and the Inigo Montoya Hilarity*.

*This should have you covered. If it doesn’t, go and watch The Princess Bride. Now. Seriously.

Because my moods have given me a short fuse of late (mainly turning my hyper-aggressive, it’s a symptom of high functioning depression) and Guide Dogs’ party line involves a frankly spineless response to dealing with unwanted human, I suggested our little group try passive-aggression instead. This mean we can be snide but not rude and express our annoyance without using the f word (which is a huge no no).

It also might prevent me from throttling half of Norwich.

See people annoy me; they talk to me as the non-blind communicator. Don’t ask me about a dog which is clearly connected to my friend. He’s obviously blind and known for sarcasm but he’s neither deaf not stupid. Oh and they like to barge into our conversations ad nauseam. Because apparently we need the non-blind to invade our privacy or we just cease existing.

What’s worse is that this happens All. The. Time.

Take out the guide dog and you’d never randomly insert yourself into another person’s conversation. EVER. It’s the hight of rudeness. But not when there’s a dog. That nulls and voids everything. Thus is it apparently okay for non-disabled people to do that to blind folk.

No it’s fucking not. Stop it.

Paul and I were in Waterstones having a cheeky coffee (actually cold drinks) while we waited for our respective buses to come in. I did the till run and got our drinks while Paul bonded sub-atomically with one of the rather comfy chairs. He does that. It’s okay. As the differently-blind, it’s sometimes easier for me to stand in queues or grab drinks and it was my turn to pay. Yay loyalty stamps!

Now it is widely accepted that all guide dogs are beautiful. Fun fact: there’s never been an ugly one. Even Labradoodles are pretty in their own kind of special way. So this gets commented on a lot.

Yes, we know, we live with them. No you can’t touch them, they’re working. Yes, even while we’re trying to chat.

Aka: piss the fuck off and let us drink our beverages and continue conversing.

ehrm

So Paul starts dealing with Husband, an elderly chap with issues of his own walking, who seems determined to pet Gismo. I’m in the middle of paying so I only hear about this later. Husband wants and tries to pet Gismo and Paul puts a stop to it.

They’re sitting next to us, so painfully close it feels more like sharing a table though there’s a clear partition. I return with our drinks and Wife is trying to get to pet Gismo, who just wants love but is otherwise sitting quietly as he’s supposed to. He’s in harness but he’s already had some affection today so he’s after it if opportunities and people present.

Wife is given a firm: No.

Subtext: Not going to happen. Leave us alone. No asking six times in various ways will not change the answer.

She sits next to us and tells her husband off for petting the dog whilst occasionally throwing questions at us, depsite the fact we’re mid-way a conversation of her own. The hypocrisy is real: he can’t but it’s okay for her, apparently. Paul is fielding because has more patience than me. Oh it must be so hard, they’re so pretty. How old is he? Is he good? Paul replies like a star and I try to move back into our conversation bubble. I think we were discussing how to, realistically, ensure his next dog is called Karma. Because GDO jokes are awesome.

Then Cute Scottish Girl turns up. This is totally left field for me and it’s a welcome distraction as I am beginning to get pissed off with Wife and it’s been ages since we ran into each other. CSG loves guide dogs, Gismo leaps on her and it’s fine. I say the magic nickname to Paul and he knows just who I mean. Cough. CSG loves Uni, was one of the people who got me through losing her. That’s essentially been all her guide dog exposure though, except maybe meeting Brams once, I think. Obviously, it’s not a great example but CSG apologises and Paul gives her the okay.

Gismo purrs like a kitten.

Wife sees an opening.

The pair of them stand to go and suddenly she’s there, next to CSG and I’m like ‘CSG is Mars, you’re Pluto, bitch’. Because we have rungs and strangers don’t rank anywhere near people we like. Also you already tried this.

Cue, to Gismo: I mustn’t pet you.

Meaning: cat butt face It’s not fair that she can pet you and I can’t. Why can’t I pet you?

Because Wife is grasping for him, Paul starts petting Gismo to pull him back into the safe zone. Gissy collapses into a fur puddle and dog rug mode. I think he was hoping this would make her lose interest. Husband was obviously getting impatient and I was trying to converse with CSG, or at least bring her into our little chat group.

And then Paul finds that nerve, the one which makes him go silly. I gently chide Paul for tormenting him in public, Gissy’s back leg is going and then, it comes:

Wife: Oh you found his G Spot.

I’m sorry? All the WHAT?

My brain: WTF????!!!!! Did she just?

I start at CSG and then at Paul, who is giving me his ‘I might be blind but WTF?’ stare. I’m sure I misheard but then, oh it continues:

Wife: I suppose it’s easier with bitches.

I stare at CSG, whom I have shamelessly flirted with. I like girls and she’s called CSG for a reason (Scottish is apparently a turn on for me; I blame Outlander). Wife might have said something else but I’m mentally trying not to piss myself laughing and Wife mercifully goes away.

The three of us howl so hard, I’m pretty sure books fell off the shelves downstairs. We all check each other to ensure this wasn’t a shared hallucination. Nope, Wife genuinely didn’t know what she’d meant. As we all have very, ehrm, adult minds and I’m known for my flexible sexuality, we all start assuming this very crazy lady was either genuinely unaware of what she said or really didn’t engage her brain.

Regardless, we don’t do THAT to dogs. Ew.

But, oh, friends, it was hilarious. A true moment I wish I’d had the foresight to record and put on YouTube. I haven’t laughed that hard in ages.

Definitely beats passive-aggression though.

But, seriously, people, leave a guide dog in harness alone. Leave their humans alone too.

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The State of Me: Anxiety Issues

It’s hard to say I’m anxious when this lovely—but bitey—little monster is curled up on my lap every morning. But I am and it’s crippling.

I have medication—personally reserved for the biggest shitstorms or when I’m triggered—to take but most of the time it’s a constant stream of noise in the background which breaks my brain.

To give you an idea of just this morning:

  • It’s sunny, should I go into the city?
  • I don’t wanna go into the city but, equally, I need to leave the house to keep my sanity intact. Will a walk to the garage sort that?
  • My friend is calling, do I make myself available even though I hate the city/going in late on a Saturday.
  • Will they take this personally? I just don’t want to go in.
  • Do I get up or stay in bed?
  • Do I nip to the garage and get a (free!) coffee?
  • Do I ‘stay local’?
  • I don’t need to go to the supermarket, do I? Oh, gods please no.
  • I need to do at least two loads of washing, including stripping my bed (which I hate).
  • Do I want that coffee? I have no chocolate in the house …
  • Fuck, I just looked at my credit card. I’m a failure.
  • Is D going to hate me if I move and disturb him?

Today wasn’t even a bad morning. It was just normal. Some of this is my actual anxiety, the rest my PTSD and autism. It’s not a nice mix, as mental illness cocktails go.

Fortunately, I was on the phone with one of my BBFs who quickly reminded me most of my credit card (well 1/3) was the shopping I needed from Sainsbury’s. Because if I don’t feed the cats, they will eat me, and I have MySupermarket set up to email me whenever their chow of choice is on offer. Plus I needed a bulk buy of other household stuff like bog roll, kitchen towel, bleach and heavy things I can’t carry.

I get stuck in a recrimination loop most days. Usually, due to being starved as a child, it’s food related and panicking about not having a specific item in the house. Today it was chocolate. Because female and PMS is near constant for me. The point re the food (plus any obsession) thing is that I’m literally unable to function until I’m reassured I have whatever it is in the house, the good thing is the garage has a much bigger selection now than it did pre-makeover.

Another example:

Last night I couldn’t find my emergency roller tip for my cane. I have a sneaking suspicion I bought three, changed two out and had the last one lurking somewhere. Except my memory’s so damaged I can’t remember half of the last two years from the medication. I had a flash of the tip in its little bag but it was in none of the places I normally put these things. I only started thinking about it because I’m helping New Friend who needs a new cane and wanted to give her one of my older, larger roller balls as a stopgap until we can get her a long cane she’ll actually use.

It doesn’t matter, not really. I have a spare cane but I need to order new balls, I just can’t afford to do it right now (they’re nearly £6 each from the RNIB). I was trying to work out, when we get New Friend a couple of special-order long canes from Canada, if it would be cheaper to add in some balls with the order for me and her. Sadly the exchange rate is in US$ not CAN which sucks so not really. I could get them locally but Sensory Support is a pain to visit and last time I was told to just order them from the RNIB instead of getting them for free. Double sigh.

Oh, and I’m still refusing to patronise NNAB, which was the last place I got the balls, because they cancelled archery on us. I’ll visit if I have to but I really don’t want to. Plus there’s no guarantee their equipment centre will a) have them and b) give them to me for free.

Stuff used to be free. It was a heck of a lot easier. I suppose at least I know where to get stuff. That’s not disabled entitlement talking, BTW, it’s a literal case of all mobility aids used to be free. You’d ring a number, give your registration details, and whatever you needed would be sent out by second class post. It was awesome. Except for that one time where they put two folded canes through my letter box and said canes unfolded.

My hallway is only about a metre square between door and steps. If that. That was a fucking nightmare.

That was a fucking nightmare.

I have what I call anxiety twitches. They’re random ripples that just set me off. Yesterday it was because I stayed home, because I lounged in bed. I have issues lounging because, in my head (not the best place, obviously), lounging means laziness which is the stereotype of the benefit scrounger. Again this bounces directly back to my disabled imposter syndrome and the non-disabled concept of what how a disabled person should behave. This is a lot harder for me and New Friend because both of us have more sight than most people put together. But we’re both still blind. Technically and literally.

And I am missing not having a dog which isn’t helped by my Husky fixation or BFF’s love of German Shepherds, though I do appreciate having daily lab/retrievers posted on my Facebook page. The lack of my own guide dog, however, it’s getting really bad now. I cried last night because I was on the phone to BFF and could hear Gismo in the background, chasing dream bunnies. He doesn’t yip, more grumble, but that noise, it still reminded me of Uni. Who used to gallop across the carpet and make tiny yip-barks of joy.

I’m still stuck on a waiting list and it’s been nearly eight months (unofficially). I know I need to wait, that compromising will just bite me in the arse for the next decade of my life. But I need a dog, Bramble hugs only go so far and I want my own. I have my friends and their dogs, but I’m not as fast as them, I’m constantly having to focus on where I’m stepping which means I feel slow which my anxiety translates to ‘I’m overweight ergo lazy’ as opposed to ‘I can’t see and have to slow down’. Friends are awesome but they have dogs so don’t have to worry about that. I also have to watch my cane in case I clip one of their dogs’ back legs.

I’ve always had anxiety, except it never bothered me because I was either busy or I could step around it: I had to go to London, because of work. Work was my shield. I could ring people because it was work-related because that was how stuff was done. Now I have a phone phobia and just seeing unknown numbers triggers me. I can make phone calls but it has to either be for someone else and in a capacity where my flowchat of answers is active (like ringing the DWP but always, in that context, for someone else) or it has to be a last ditch/no other option thing.

Oddly I’m perfectly fine ringing my power company …

Weird.

I prefer email/twitter/IMing because it gives me a minute to think before I reply. Ask me on the phone and I’ll capitulate and instantly guilt will set in because I’ve not had time to plan something out. I like planning. It keeps me sane. But, at the same time, my default is that while I have a plan, I don’t take precedence. All my friends know that if I’m not in the city, they need to factor in an hour for me to get to them. That alone stresses me because, in my head, I’m supposed to be psychically aware of everyone else’s plans, even though they’ve not told me. I’m supposed to spend my days sitting in cafes waiting for them to ask if I’m in for coffee.

And if I’m not, I feel guilty, because of my lack of foresight.

A couple of days last week I found myself with time and no one else in it. So I took myself to a boardgame night. I went in late, had coffee, did some writing, and then had fun. I got one of the last buses back, timing it with perfect precision. I was so proud of myself (especially as I’m never usually out past four pm). But then, a few days before that, I went to the movies on a Bank Holiday and, knowing the buses were on Sunday service, left the movie thirty minutes early so I wouldn’t have to wander Riverside or spend money in a bar while I waited for the next bus. Missing buses, even when I know there’s another one in x minutes, really stresses me out.

But then, a few days before that, I went to the movies on a Bank Holiday and, knowing the buses were on Sunday service, left the movie thirty minutes early so I wouldn’t have to wander Riverside or spend money in a bar while I waited for the next bus. Missing buses, even when I know there’s another one in x minutes, really stresses me out.

The point is, my anxiety is logical but still stupid.

Also, it doesn’t come with an off switch, not unless I take myself off the rails. Most of the time, unless it’s a calmly prepared but last minute thing I don’t have time to panic about, I just can’t. Not unless I’m very medicated and a Valium addiction is just not on the cards right now. I try to rationalise it, taking myself out of the picture or asking ‘What would Mhairi do?’ and then tone the answer down just a little. Sometimes it works but the contriction, it’s never going to leave me.

It is me.

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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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Unis’ Retirement (Working: January 2010-October 2016) and the Future

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Uni was officially retired on medical grounds at my request—and Guide Dogs’ agreement—on Monday morning. She’s currently in holding at their Redbridge facility in Woodford Green being medically assessed. She’s still ill (and blood was found in her faeces). After six very long weeks of continued gastroenterological problems, it was decided that, for her wellbeing, it would simply be the kinder thing to retire her, treat her illness (assuming it can be identified) and then see her rehomed with people who will love her until she passes.

As a courtesy Guide Dogs are keeping me in the loop about her condition, medical issues and her emotional wellbeing (she’s happy and settled in) but I need to say that retiring her, it’s not a decision I’ve made lightly and, oh fuck, it hurts.

Imagine having your heart ripped out and shown to you, it doesn’t even come close. Neither does putting down a beloved pet (at least you have closure and can reassure them as they go peacefully). Uni’s been my constant companion for nearly six years and not having her is … well, weird. This is grief; I know it is. I know it will go away but it takes time.

Uni was a character best described as ‘Einstein with a dash of Moriarty and a bit of Houdini’, she was smart and sassy, she took the piss. She knew things a dog shouldn’t know. Worse she loved people and that was a part of the problem, she wanted her cake and fully intended to eat it. It’s why becoming Asha was so easy, because she was the more recognisable and lovable of the two of us.

Basically here’s what happened:

  • She relapsed on October 7th. We were in Starbucks when she started giving me the paw and whining (Uni code for ‘something’s up) and she started shitting liquid as soon as I got her outside. I immediately took her to my local vet who took her in for observation and put her on fluids. At this point I was physically unable to look after her due to the stress so two days respite helped but didn’t solve the problem, even though the vet kept an eye on her over the weekend her, releasing her back to me on the Sunday. She was officially signed off work for at least ten days and the vet arranged for special food for her.
  • We’d previously had an appointment booked for the 17th to go down to Redbridge to discuss her case going forward. That was unable to be moved so I had to find compromise.
  • Because I’m autistic I need routine; it hurts when I can’t do things in their usual order or be at certain times. So I left Uni at home as much as possible for the maximum of four-five hours. She slept through most of it. I went out to run errands, grab a coffee, chat to new friends and old and do the minimum in a set amount of time to keep myself sane. I do not apologise for this.
  • After consulting with other GDOs, knowing it was a quiet week with a single event I wanted to go to (purely for selfish reasons of my personal sanity and needing interaction with friends in a dog-safe space), Paul suggested ‘half harness’ where you put on the neon bra bit of the harness but leave the handle (which is the bit which tells the dog they’re supposed to do stuff) at home. I then used my cane to get around and would therefore be able to take Uni out to archery, knowing she would be happy on a blanket with plenty of access to water.
  • On Thursday, she ate cat shit while I let her out to pee. She’d been avoiding the pen due to the associations with bowel movements and pain so I let her go where she wanted to, only realising later that she was actually after stuff in the garden. She was fine but on Friday morning I noticed her straining and knew the jig was up.
  • On Friday, after acknowledging she was still unwell, still exhausted, and on advice from trusted sources within Guide Dogs/my circle of GDO friends, I emailed my contact, making it clear I was unable due to my own mental illness and Uni’s continued suffering to give her the care she needed. She required a safe area, better eyes than mine and so I told Guide Dogs I would bring her down to Redbridge expecting them to either:
    • a) Retire her on the spot due to her age and the fact rest/food were making no difference in her condition. (My personal option).
    • b) Board her for an extended period while tests were carried out (which would still most likely end in option a).
  • I followed this up with an email requesting her formal retirement. Because formality. Also I wanted to make sure there was actual room for her at Redbridge. I also may have compared her to my Sightsaber and what I do when it breaks.
  • Friday/Saturday were mostly spent crying. Also packing Uni’s things.
  • Sunday: I decided it was only fair to take Uni on a short Victory Tour (again in half-harness) so people who cared about her could say goodbye. She got so many hugs and though it may seem cruel to take her out, we both needed to pretend it was just a normal day. We met a trusted friend who agreed with my plan and my motivations, as well as understanding the mental pressure this was all putting on me (remember: my bipolar is triggered by stress). We returned home and I had to reiterate (somewhat angrily) in an unexpected phone call that even though the vet cancelled, we were still coming down to Redbridge and this was in no way related to her pre-existing skin condition.
  • Monday: We got down to Redbridge, Uni slept most of the way. There was no coffee. She was however pleased that the vet wasn’t there, they normally poke at her and she, understandably, doesn’t like that. The forms were, thankfully, waiting for me and after I reiterated I felt it was unfair to continue in the current fashion (Uni is a guide dog which means she needs human interaction 24/7), both for her health but also for my mobility and state of mind. The papers were signed; I let them keep the 50p. Then we left, stopped for a drink in her honour and returned home.

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This is my last picture of Uni. Frank, that’s the nice chap who I’ve been dealing with, let me have some time to cry and hug her. She looks sick but also like the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulders. I like to think she’s happy because being a guide dog is stressful. On the way back I spoke to my handler (a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) and confirmed I wanted to be put back on the list for a new dog. We briefly discussed the details of what I need (a short haired lab or crossed bitch, must be white/gold, must be calm, good with cats and able to work with escalators and the Tube). He affirmed, though we’ve been quietly discussing retirement for a while now, that I’d done the right thing. Had Uni been a dog working in London, she would have retired by now anyway.

Validation helps.

I’m meeting him formally next month to fill in paperwork, because Guide Dogs love paperwork, and the plan is to pass me onto the London Mobility Team (because escalator-trained dogs are usually only for inner city blind people). I do go to London a lot, more if it wasn’t so stressful, and so it’ll be a simpler thing to just have them to class and find a suitable dog they feel will be compatible to me. Also, given the clusterfuck that was my previous class I don’t want to train at home or in somewhere I’m vaguely familiar. Norwich simply has too many bad memories.

So, that, friends, is what happens when your beloved guide dog retires. I miss her, I love her to bits, but I don’t regret a thing. This was always about her health, her well-being, but as her owner mine also had to factor in. We’ve always bounced off each other, it’s why we worked so well together. For now I’m trying to explain in as few words as possible to people why Uni’s not with me (someone actually asked me if she was dead!).

Short version: She’s ill and has retired. She’s being rehomed as soon as she’s well enough. I’m waiting for a new dog.

From a personality perspective though, it’s also going to allow me time to figure out who I am. Changing my name was easy because no one really noticed I was there, I was plus 1 to a gorgeous guide dog. Next Dog is going to be different, I’m going to be different and I have a six month wait (ish) to find myself and start my next relationship on the right foot.

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Uni’s Week Really Sucked

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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.

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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.

Nope.

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 …

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