Friday, 8 May 2009

Ooooh, guide dog news !

I called the Guide Dog people today. Probably because it's nearly three weeks since I heard from them and I was so fed up today that I was desperate for some good news. I also had my hair cut today and god know what my hairdresser was doing, but she has cut my fringe (bangs to you guys across the pond) so short that I look like a total mong. I don't need to be able to see myself to know this. I feel like a total mong. My hair isn't hanging in my eyes so therefore, to me, this equals mong-ness. I hate it when they do that - but they seem to want to tidy me up or something. Pity their efforts make me look so stupid ! They might as well shove a basin on my head and cut around it at the front for all the style I have when I come out. If I could find somewhere else to go that was within walking distance I would. Perhaps it's time to scour for a mobile hairdresser.

Anyway, the phonecall could have back fired on me big time if the chap in question had told me the doggy he had thought he had for me was a non starter, but luck was with me. Which was nice !

He said he was just going to get around to calling me anyway next week, to set up a matching visit. He feels the dog is the one for me, and the next step is to match her with me on a walk to see how we all get along. If all goes well I should start to train in the middle of June, at a hotel in Ipswich. He didn't have his diary on him at that point but he will call me back at the beginning of next week to set a date.

The dog in question is a girl dog called Quasia. All guide dogs in a litter get names beginning with the same letter, so I guess her siblings were puppies by the name of Queenie, Quentin, Quincy, and er ... yeah, other names beginning with Q.  She is a black flat coat retriever slash golden retriever mix. Apparently she bonds very quickly with her handler and needs consistent handling from someone who is very dog oriented, and who wants to work very much as a team rather than just to follow along. She has the bounciness and happiness of a flat coat retriever but can be abit stubborn like a golden retriever. They feel she's the one for me because although I've never had a guide dog, I am well known to them as a "doggy person" with lots of dog experience. My pet dog, Jalen, is full of personality and needs a consistent level of discipline to keep him in line, so I'm used to being the alpha dog.
She's what they call a medium sized dog, weighing in at twenty seven kilograms. To me that's a small dog, as my Jalen weighs nearly fifty and Bindi, who I lost last year, was sixty at his prime. But in guide dog terms, she's a medium. She has feathery legs and a longish coat, and of course I am in love already without even having met her.

The matching visit can be abit of a shock for first time guide dog owners, so I am told - and I can only imagine how true that is. I am well used to pet dogs, but being guided by a dog in harness is a whole new kettle of fish. How a potential first time guide dog owner is supposed to tell if the dog is right for them after a ten minute walk around the block is beyond me - they have no frame of reference (and if they do happen to pin a pet dog experience on the event as a frame of reference, in my opinion they'd be pretty unwise.)
The matching visit is to see is you can get on with the dog, whether the dog can get on with you, and presumably whether the two of you can walk down the street without getting killed or seriously injured - albeit in the company of the guide dog instructor.

I've talked at length about the matching process to my bf, Darryl, who has had five guide dogs. He agrees that even if you do have a guide dog before and have a frame of reference, it's pretty hard to tell if the dog is right for you after ten minutes unless you have a very definite criteria for the dog - for example, it must not sniff around at all, or it must not lick your hand, or something else very obvious from a first impression.
I have none of those criteria - I want a dog to guide me and have very little idea what to expect in that regard, despite having known Darryl (and Otto) for two years, and having travelled along behind them in all sorts of environments. Otto guides Darryl and I trot along behind in their wake with the stick - it's the safest place in town ! I make much better progress with them than I do on my own - with a guide dog, you sail by the bins, cars, people, etc - as you are doing the overall navigating and the dog is taking care of the immediate surroundings, for the most part - unless the immediate surroundings are unexpectedly hazardous or challenging, like for example, if some knob parks a huge truck on the path and you have to figure out whether to try and inch past it or go out into the road (what guide dogs call an "off kerb obstacle," and what guide dog owners call "the driver being a twunt"). 
With the stick, you're doing both the navigating and the immediate surroundings interpretation - usually in my case by bouncing off things.

I can't really describe how I feel about the prospect of getting a guide dog. I have never been a happy stick user - I just can't get used to the idea that people are watching me bounce off stuff and are  thinking, "Poor cow." With a dog, most people see the dog first, and then you - if they see you at all. They usually think, "Aww, look at the doggy..." and you're just incidental. Which can work against you if they are not savvy in the way of not distracting assistance dogs. But the dog is often a good ice breaker if you need help, or if people want to help you. And of course, you're never alone with your guide dog. Getting around with the stick can be a damn lonely process.

So to say I am made up as a made up thing is an understatement. I am also nervous as hell ! 

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I've just been reading what you wrote, and am so glad I found this article. I am getting my first Guide Dog too, but haven't had any notice of the matching visit yet. Do you know what the critera is for the matching visit?