Thursday, 21 May 2009
It is with a heavy heart that I am writing today. I had my guide dog matching visit on tuesday 19th of May as promised, with the lovely Quasia. My meeting the dog and the practise walk you do went extremely well. The instructor reckoned I'm a natural guide dog handler - he even started the basic training right then and there. It felt wonderful and right and me and Quasia hit it off right away. A perfect matching visit in other words.
The meeting of my gsd Jalen and Quasia did not go so well.
In the past Jalen has had issues with other dogs - he can be fearful and combative to some dogs, yet ignore others. He has been like that all his life, right since he was old enough to go on his first walk. However, when he met my fiance's guide dog two years ago, he fell in love immediately.
We introduced them - Jalen and my fiance's dog Otto - in my back garden, both on leashes, with Jalen muzzled, at either end of the garden. Jalen and I slowly approached my s.o. and his dog, over the space of fifteen minutes or so. Jalen needed to know that Otto wasn't a threat to him and to get used to his presense. Eventually we met in the middle and they sniffed each other, and all was well. When they were released from the leashes there was abit of posturing from Jalen, but Otto stood his ground and then they clicked. The muzzle came off Jalen and they picked up a tug toy and played tug o war - with my elder gsd Bindi (who had already met Otto, ignoring him completely as he always did with other dogs !) who I sadly lost last year. They've been best mates ever since.
The guide dog instructor recommended we let Quasia and Jalen - and Otto of course - meet off leash, which I was pretty doubtful about as Jalen can be unpredictable with other dogs off leash. I told the instructor this, but he insisted it was off leash or nothing as he didn't have the authority to do it on leash.
Jalen's got issues with human strangers too, the little (sorry, hooning great) love, but he's good at heart. He warms up eventually, but it takes patience. I had assumed that the instructor would have to come and meet Jalen and get to know him first, and be accepted by him - but he said it wasn't neccessary for him to know Jalen and that we could do this with him watching through the kitchen window. I was pretty surprised at this as I thought he'd want to be there, but hey - I wasn't in charge here.
Jalen is the sort of dog who needs to be told how to act in fearful situations, he sees me as security and wants to be close. He needs to be able to check in with me to see what to do, as these days he's without his moral compass, if you like, in dog form - Bindi. Some dogs don't like to be restrained on a leash when they meet other dogs, but Jalen reacts better if he is. But I went along with the instructor despite my misgivings - what choice did i have ? -, which proved to be a mistake.
Jalen ran over to Quasia. After a second or so he postured and barged her. He was muzzled so he couldn't nip her. I called him back and told him to leave her alone, which he did immediately when I gave him the command, so I made him sit a few feet from me and let her wander around. If he moved towards her threateningly I told him to "leave it", which he did - but the instructor said to let him go and see what happened. Jalen totally didn't know how to react without my guidance so he barged her again, and she squealed. From then on he either ignored her or rushed at her randomly, he just didn't know what to do. The instructor then said for me to give them some titbits, which Otto and Quasia could eat, but I had to feed Jalen his through the muzzle and he was frustrated, which made him even more aggressive to Quasia, and to Otto too, who got a telling off for picking up treats from the floor. It was a total disaster - Jalen was very confused and looking for me for guidance but the instructor kept telling me not to intervene. This was not what my fiance and I experienced with Otto and Jalen meeting - but that was done on terms we knew would be successful. I knew this approach would not work, and I had said so !
Eventually we called a halt to it, and the instructor told me that this was not good (I know this - I'm not dim). I was very upset because it was such a difference between Jalen meeting Otto and then meeting Quasia. I felt the instructor had got it wrong and should have done it on leashes as we did with Otto as we described to him, and the instructor admitted he'd got it wrong too. No shit ! Too late now though.
The instructor said we needed to see improvement in Jalen's behaviour towards Quasia in order for them to place her with me. I said I understood, so we agreed to meet again after he (the instructor) had asked advice from his manager. He could have just done what we said we knew would work from past experience of course, but the damage was already done.
He took Quasia off and left us, and I cried all afternoon, I was so upset and disappointed. My fiance blames the instructor for it failing - I just didn't know what to think.
The instructor called me back later that day, saying his manager had expressed doubts that it would work, but that they were willing to try again as long as my fiance and I followed some very strict instructions. I felt like saying, "Well, you method didn't work when ours might have !" but I didn't, of course. It's a learning process for everyone and I don't think the instructor had come across such a situation before. They can't always get it right.
So he brought Quasia back next day and we had our instructions given to us. We were to put Otto in the workshop out back so's not to complicate things. This didn't go down too well with Otto as he doesn't like it in there and he doesn't like being separated from my fiance, so he barked up a storm.
We were to have Jalen on a leash with my fiance in my front garden. I was to approach the gate with Quasia on a leash, and wait to see what Jalen would do. We weren't to give either dogs any commands at all, just let them bark or sit or stand, or whatever. Then I was to walk past Jalen with Quasia into the house, and sit in the front room. Jalen and my fiance were to follow, and sit in the dining room where the dogs could see each other but still on leashes. My fiance and I were not to tell Jalen to quieten down or to sit or to do anything - we were to let him do what he wanted, but restrain him from lunging towards Quasia if he tried.
So we did this - Jalen whined and barked in a high pitched voice as Quasia and I approached, but stopped when we stood still. He let us walk past without a word. I went into the house and sat down, my fiance and Jalen followed and sat in the dining room. Jalen barked and whined but eventually calmed down and lay down on the floor. My fiance said there was no tension on the leash - Jalen was not lunging or pulling towards us. He obviously felt better having the security of the leash - which we knew would be the case all along. Quasia just looked at him. Then she got up and sniffed the tv next to us, so Jalen got up and barked. She sat down again. He sat down again. I tickled her belly and Jalen whined in protest, or interest, one out of the two.
This went on for half an hour or so, with Jalen barking or whining on and off, but not showing any aggression towards Quasia at all, and in the end we said that it was time to stop for today. My fiance and Jalen went outside into the back garden and I took Quasia out to the instructor at his car. We were encouraged as the situation showed promise.
Now here's where it gets even worse !
My neighbors, as reported in other posts, can be total arseholes. As Quasia was getting into the back of the car, my neighbor drove up in his car, shouting my name at me. I ignored him, as he has been agressive to me in the street before for reasons only seeming to be know to himself and whatever I say to him doesn't help. He persisted - he kept on shouting at me. So I said, "Hello."
He then yelled, "You've got one dog in the house barking and one in the workshop !"
So I said I knew that and that we were doing some guide dog training today. He yelled, "Well I don't have to listen to it !" So I said, "Ok, thankyou - but can we not do this now ?" He then said, in a very threatening tone, "You don't want to go down that road with me."
I said, abit taken aback "Ok, but let's not do this now please." And turned to walk away. I know what he's like - I've experienced his intimidating behaviour before and quite frankly, there's nothing that says that in the course of being neighborly and listening to someone's complaints that says you have to stand there and take it whilst some aggressive man shouts at you from the safety of his car. The instructor followed me and we walked into my garden. The neighbor followed into his garden and kept pace with us, saying, "You don't want to go down that road with me !"
In the end I said, "Ok, whatever." I'd got to my front door by that time.
I was pretty unhappy when I got in. The instructor was very confused about what prompted the neighbor to be so aggressive and threatening. I explained that it wasn't the first time.
The insructor called me back the next day and said that guide dogs felt they couldn't add to a situation with my neighbor by placing a dog into a situation where there might be barking which could make the neighbor aggressive, for my sake and the sake of the guide dog, and my dogs. Basically, what I understood from him was that they wanted to call it off. I asked him what he would do if he were me, and he said he didn't think this situation was going to work with all the outside pressures on it, and that if it were him he'd give it up.
This neighbor has threatened me before - he once said if I didn't stop my dogs barking, there were "thing I could do to sort it, but I won't do them -- yet." His exact words.
I had been trying at that point, which was two years ago nearly, to come to some solution to make him happy as I want to be a good neighbor, but he has complained about every little thing I've done or any little barking the dogs do either in the house or even playing in the garden. Any barking seems to annoy him however little it is. But his own dogs are allowed to bark left at home all day, but he doesn't see that as a problem and dismisses it if I try to get him to see that it cuts both ways. I've only ever mentioned his dogs to him when he's complained about mine - my point being, we all have to get along and there is going to be noise from each other's houses when we live in a terrace, but we just have to live with it now and then. Jalen isn't a barker and Otto only barks now and then, so now and again surely isn't grounds to get a cob on. But he becomes aggressive if I don't immediately cave to his demands and nothing I do (and I have certain;y bent over backwards to accomodate him, however unreasonable he has been) placates him. I've done all I can to minimise my dog's barking and I'm at home most of the time anyway, unlike him and his wife (and noisey baby), who leave their two dogs barking all day long from about eight in the morning til late afternoon. Jalen doesn't bark at all when I go out - I know this because I have audio recorded him every time I've been out for the last six months (call me OCD but I want evidence on my side !) so this nasty individual had a problem with a couple of minutes on and off barking for only forty five minutes in one single day ! My perfectly reasonable and polite explanation wasn't enough for him, as he plainly sees life as one rule for him and another for everyone else. The irony of it is - if he hadn't been on holiday from work that week, he wouldn't have even been home to hear it !
He's also complained about the conifers in my garden being too tall (doesn't affect him as they don't overlook his house and don't block the light), about a walnut tree in my garden being apt to grow really large - which again doesn't block his light as it's far enough away from the houses not to do this and is actually on the other side of my garden to the boundary with his garden - which is incidentally full of trees too, not that I care. And he's also complained that I make too much noise "running up and down" my stairs because he knows (he says) I have no carpet on them (true). However due to the fibro I can't say I've run anywhere for the last few years - I may lump about abit as I struggle with stairs, but I'm in bed by ten thirty every night, for pity's sake. And it's not like I live above him - I live next to him ! And how many times can one go up and down stairs in one day, exactly ? I've got a bathroom downstairs so I basically come down in the morning, at about half eight (by which time he's gone to work), and go back up at about half ten in the evening. I might go up and down a couple of times during the day but - I mean, whatsamatter wiv yoo, you silly man ? He's not even there during the day - neither is his missus most of the time.
However - I can hear you thinking, "Surely there must be more to it than that." And I agree - and the more to it is that he treats his wife like total dirt, and his child the same. I have heard him shout at them in a manner that many people would feel is inappropriate. His idea of disciplining his own dogs is to pull their ears (I have witnessed this first hand, and even had his wife cry out in shock at him doing it to confirm I really did see what I thought I saw). He thinks all people a shade darker than white are dole scroungers and gamblers - he once told me, when I first moved in here and didn't know what an arse he is that he often drove to the coast and saw "these muslim benefit scroungers putting our money into fruit machines all day long. It shouldn't be allowed". He also told me that his step daughter (who doesn't live with him) who has severe learning difficulties and a mental age of eight (she's in her late teens) needed to "grow up - I don't cut her any slack."
What can you say about someone with views like that ?
I imagine he sees me and knows I'm on disability benefits and thinks I should be put out on the street or something. Never mind that this house was bought with money that my ex and husband I actually earned !
I don't mind admitting if I've done something wrong and making amends - and I don't mind not knowing if I've done something wrong and making amends when I am told about it - but what I do mind is aggressive tactics. I'm not there to be treated like dirt. If you want me to hear you, I'm all ears if you're polite. If not, I'm afraid I am not going to stand for it. I will walk away.
Coupled with the previous intimation that he'd sort the dog barking issue if I didn't in his own way and the fact that he's also trespassed onto my property to alter lighting to suit him without my permission, his method of delivering said threats - which is to scream up to me and whoever I am with in his car when I am out in the street (very scary for someone who can't see - for all I know the car could mount the pavement) I was concerned enough to call the police. As for the trespass - he had complained that my sensory support installed assistance lighting in my garden was too bright and that it reflected off my workshop and woke him up, so I said no problem, I'd get them back to reposition it. A couple of days later he came round, handed me the bulb and said he'd come into my garden and changed it for a lower wattage bulb when I was out. I said that he'd not given me a chance to get sensory support so sort it out and that I needed the brightness of the light due to being nearly blind (he knows this, though). He just handed me the bulb, said, "Well, it's done now." And walked off.
The police have been and logged his actions, telling me basically to ignore him and that I have a perfect right to have dogs barking at my house now and then - he would only have grounds for compliant if a "statutory nuisance" were proved, which forty five minutes on and off or so of barking for a very good reason plainly isn't. Ditto dogs barking when they play in the garden, or dogs barking at the door when someone comes to it. This is all that ever happens from my house - however his own dogs bark constantly when they are out, which is pretty much every week day.
The copper recommended I don't bend over backwards to accommodate this man as I had been doing - he said I should live my life, I'm doing nothing wrong. If my dog barks hello to me when I get home at half ten in the evening should I go out now and then - tough luck. If they bark when someone comes to the door - tough. It's allowed. If they bark in the garden now and then when we play, so what. Again, it's allowed. It is the nature of dogs.
A chat to the environmental department after the instructor from guide dogs left confirmed the same - they were very sympathetic and said I had nothing to worry about. I was within my rights and within the law. End of.
The police said that they would go around and have a chat with him and let him know that antisocial behaviour such as trespass and intimidation in the street was not acceptable however, but I didn't want them to. If anything similar happens again I will call them back and ask them to though.
A couple of days after this encounter, a letter from the local council turned up, informing me he has made an official complaint against me. Sighted help lady didn't have time to read it all (it arrived as she was leaving) so I phoned the environmental department up for another chat. They told me not to worry, the letter was only a formality that they had to send out when someone made an official complaint, and that I was totally within my rights and was doing nothing wrong, as they had said before. They told me the neighbor would have to keep a diary of when my dog/s barked and send it to them within five weeks. They advised me to keep my own diary in case he tried to make stuff up, and to keep a diary of his dogs barking too in case I wanted to make a counter complaint, as they felt his dogs may actually be causing a statutory nuisance - due to the regularity and constant nature of the barking from them when the neighbors go out - where mine (by which I mean Jalen and Otto when he is at my house - Otto isn't mine, but he's my responsibility when he's here) aren't ! I said I'd keep the diaries but didn't want to counter complain - it would be petty.
I asked if a letter from guide dogs to support that the barking was only for forty five minutes or so, under their instruction and part of the process involved in my getting a guide dog would be appropriate, and they said a letter would be great but it wasn't essential, they were happy with my information as it stood. They said that when he wouldn't be able to turn in a diary that showed a statutory nuisance - by which is meant a constant barking for long or regular periods, not just one offs - , the file would be promptly closed and any further complaints he might make to me or them could be used as evidence of harrassment of me by him, in view of his previous actions. They were very sympathetic and said this sort of thing happens all the time - a neighbor gets snotty and complains in during a hissy fit, only to have their bubble deflated pretty quickly when the law shows them that they have no cause for reasonable complaint. They recommended I tell him, should he say anything to me in the future, that I could just as well complain about him too if I liked with likely more success - so to "grow up and live and let live" was the chap on the phone's words. ;) But they also recommended I take care if he roared up to me in the street in a temper again, and log anything like that with the police.
So the upshot of it all is this -
Guide Dogs wrote to the environmental department supporting me and saying the barking was their fault and only for forty five minutes or so on one day.
My fiance's guide dog instructor has since said she felt that introductions off leash between new dogs do not work, and she would not have done it that way. She can't say alot I guess but I get the impression she thinks she would have been successful where this instructor wasn't. She said, rather cryptically, that "things had been learned" by us all as a result of the hoo-haa.
I have suspended my application for a guide dog at this point - this whole trauma of it has been too much for me. I am going to let the dust settle before I think what to do next.
So - there you go. A years and three months worth of waiting for a guide dog was brought to naught in the space of 48 hours. Sens-fucking-sational. :(
I have thought long and hard about posting this - I am aware that some might say I am slagging guide dogs off and blaming them. Not true - I am just saying what happened. It was a shitty thing for all of us, instructor included. I imagine he went home at night doubting himself just as much as I doubted myself (and Jalen too). Sometimes things just don't work out. No lasting harm was done - nobody got bitten, Quasia didn't seem bothered by Jalen after it all happened and the instructor said she seemed fine with other dogs afterwards, if a little more aware of them. She'll be placed with someone else and go on to make a great guide, I'm sure. And Jalen forgot about it all come the next morning. So the only one to lose out of it all was me, and I can wait. I've been fucked up in the eye department for the last thirteen years without a guide dog - if I waited a few more years until Jalen was no longer with us rather than try again, for example, it wouldn't matter too much to me. I'm disappointed, yeah, but I can live with it.
I am also ware some might say I am being indiscreet about my neighbor. However I haven't said anything here that isn't common knowledge if one knows the man in question (his step daughter, his opinions, etc are all known about the neighborhood so anyone reading this who knew me would already know about all this. Slander and libel only apply to untruths, I believe).
And I am entitled to my opinion that the man is an arse - just as he is entitled to think I am an arse (as I'm sure he does). And he can complain to the council about me all he likes - I know my rights and so do they. No harm no foul. If they told me he had cause for complaint I'd do something about it. But they haven't said that.
What he isn't entitled to do however is try to intimidate me, so I will be keeping tabs on this situation and keeping in touch with the police.
Apologies for the length of this post - if you've read this far, I salute you !