A letter to Fable …..

Dear Fable,

Happy qualification anniversary my gorgeous girl! I can’t quite believe its a year since we qualified as Team Mable can you? So much has happened, we have done so many things together, there have been high and lows, good days and bad days, tears and laughter. But the one thing that has always been there and continues to grow every day is how much I love you.

Before you came into my life I thought I was quite happy, or at least content, with my life. I made the best of it but I had no idea just how exciting, rewarding and amazing life could be. I had always had the nagging feeling that my life wasn’t as good as it could be, something was holding me back and in hindsight I think I always felt slightly anxious and a bit resentful that I wasn’t able to be independent and needed to rely on friends or family or had to spend money on taxis for things like shopping, getting to work, visiting people, going anywhere new – I couldn’t even decide to just go and visit my mum and dad without asking them to come and pick me up. I use to spend a lot of time indoors just waiting for someone to come and get me. Now I know just has restricted and small my world really was before I met you.

Now, for the first time in my life I actually really do feel independent. I now have choices; I can go out when I want to , leave work when I’m ready and not have to wait for a taxi that is 45 minutes late, I even have a choice about the job I do; I no longer have to rule out opportunities that involve travelling.  I can remember chatting to someone on one of our bus journeys and it suddenly dawned on me that I had never actually been on a bus on my own before. With you by my side I have faced my biggest challenge and achieved one of my goals; we  went away for the weekend somewhere new on our own, we stayed in a hotel, went out for walks without knowing where we going and we nailed it! Fabes I couldn’t have done that without you my clever girl.

I don’t think words can really express how much you have changed my life; for the first time I actually feel that I am where I am suppose to be doing what I’m meant to be doing and I owe it all to you.

You are obviously the most awesome guide dog, and all things you are expert at (traffic work, avoiding overhanging branches and remembering routes we have done before) are the things I find hard,  but on top of that you are my mate; we look after each other and I love that you need me as much as I need you – its a true partnership and thanks to Guide Dogs and their incredible matching process, its a perfect partnership. Neither of us is perfect; when I get stressed I know it affects you and for I’m sorry and I am working really hard at letting things go, I wish I could be more like you and just have a shake and move on. I think sometimes I expect to much of you and then I remember you are first and foremost a dog; a very clever, highly trained, beautiful, sensitive  dog but at the end of the day still a dog. I love that when you’re on a free run or at home you haven’t forgotten that. Your obsessions with balls, food and water is both hilarious and exasperating.   I love that whilst I know you need me,  you are confident and sociable and love people (its one of the things I love about you the most but also one of the things I find frustrating when I’m trying to get your attention), but I wouldn’t change you. I love that your nickname is the hooligan; your excitement at life makes it hard for you to control yourself at times but in this way we are a perfect match – life is exciting and we both like to grab it and make every second as much fun as possible.

You have completely changed my perspective on life and taught me so much in just a year: I never thought I would let a dog lick my face and my feet (yes I do also love that you have a foot fetish – not everyone is so keen though, you need to remember that) 😉 You have helped me accept my disability in a way that I never thought possible; instead of hiding it until I have to tell people I am able to talk openly about my experiences which I hope might help others. You have shown me its ok to ask for and accept help, you have taught me to trust in you and in others and shown me that generally people want to help (although I often say that since becoming a guide dog owner I get to see the best and the worse in human nature on a daily basis).

You have brought so many inspiring, awesome people and dogs into my life and I am so grateful for all the opportunities we have had so far this year. You my girl are the inspiration and reason all our friends and family have helped raise over £3000 for Guide Dogs this year. I’m really proud of us and everyone who has helped and I’m excited to say that to celebrate our 1 year anniversary we are going to name our very own Guide Dog Puppy; Mable 🙂

I know you’ll agree with me too Fabes when I say thank you to everyone involved in Guide Dogs; staff (particularly our lovely GDMI and Mobility Instructor), volunteers of all kinds and fundraisers. I think you were very lucky to have such a good start in life; your mum Harvest and her human mum, and your amazing puppy walker obviously love you so much and are so very proud of you – we have a lot to thank then for too.

So Fabes what more can I say except THANK YOU; you really are my little life-changer and a Fable in your own right 🙂

xx

What a difference a year makes……

Well its a year since my fabulous fable moved in and a year since I started writing this blog during our training. Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun 🙂 Its really interesting reading my blog posts from this time last year; we have come a long way and when I was writing last year I had no idea how much better my life was going to be and how much I would love Fabes – I can’t imagine my life without her now.

There have been lots of Team Mable adventures since my last post and as always some new challenges and more lessons learnt thanks to my little Fable.

We have been gallivanting around the country; firstly visiting friends near Oxford where we had a lovely walk and free run in the fields. Fable was a star on the train and settled well staying in my friend’s house and enjoyed playing with her 2 lovely girls.

We have done a few fundraising collections and I have learnt that once again the advice from Guide Dogs about only spending 2 hours at a collection or event with a Guide Dog is spot on: After this time Fable does start to get a bit fed up and seems to try and move herself away from all the fuss the public are giving her. She enjoys it for a while but its important not to overdo it. Here’s a few photos of us at a collection.

I have also made my debut as a speaker for Guide Dogs; a friend asked me to speak for 10 minutes at a secondary school and tell my story, what she omitted to tell me until a few days before was that there would be about 700 teenagers in said assembly!!! Talk about a baptism of fire, but I really enjoyed it, I got some lovely feedback and the kids were fab. I think I’m going to enjoy this aspect of being a Guide Dog Owner, fable was a star and laid still on the stage while I spoke and then she enjoyed all the attention afterwards. To top it off this school are going to raise money to Name a Puppy of their own and they will be able to follow its training as it becomes a little life-changer for someone. Here’s a few photos of us at the school.

Since becoming a Guide Dog Owner I have been an active volunteer; fundraising and speaking to raise awareness of the work Guide Dogs do. For me, its really important to be able to give something back as Fable has given me so much and the service I have received from all the staff at Guide Dogs has been excellent and has really helped me improve my confidence and independence. With their help I have moved from a place where I went out of my way to hide my disability and the impact it had on me to a place where I accept that my disability is part of me, its ok to admit it and to even be proud of how I have managed it. I was honoured to be nominated for a local volunteers award in the category “Inclusive and Embracing”. This was mostly as a result of this blog; I’m so pleased it has been enjoyable to so many of you and that I have been able to share my experiences as a Guide Dog Owner. Here are Fable and I collecting our award with fellow volunteers.

Our biggest adventure so far has been a weekend away; we went on the train to Dorchester. This is the first time in my life that I have felt confident enough to go somewhere new on my own without relying on being with a friend or family member. We stayed in a hotel and met up with some friends. We had a great time but it was really stressful and I was exhausted afterwards. There were so many little worries; I have never arrived somewhere unfamiliar by train before without having the security of either being with someone or meeting someone at the exit, I have never had to move around a hotel on my own before (would I be able to find my room from reception etc), I have never stayed in a hotel on my own so I was concerned about whether I would find the plugs or would be able to operate the shower or TV or air con. I was also concerned that if I went out for a walk would I be able to find my way back to the hotel. I needn’t have worried as the hotel staff orientated me to the hotel, room and fire escape. Fable and I went out for a walk for about 20 minutes to orientate ourselves and once we had done this and I had found some grass for her to spend on, I said to her “find the way back”! Off she went, no further instructions form me, she found her way back to the hotel, to the lift and then to our room! That was a really important lesson for me; all the things I find hard she has in hand and does so well. I would never have been able to do this a year ago so thank you Fable and everyone who has made this possible. Here are some photos of our weekend, including a little free run with Fable’s friends….

A few days ago we went to the Guide Dog National Breeding Centre for a puppy experience day. It was brilliant; I learnt lots about the Guide Dogs breeding programme and we got to cuddle and feed lots of gorgeous puppies. Fable was so excited by all the smells and went we went to meet the pups she was looked after by the staff and apparently made herself at home in the bed of stud dog who wasn’t at work that day 🙂

After the puppies we were lucky enough to be able to visit Fable’s mum; Harvest and her owners, known as a Brood Bitch Holder. It was so lovely to meet them and to be able to show them what a difference Fable has made to my life. Fable was born in the home of the BBH and stayed there for the first 6 – 7 weeks of her life. Having 10 tiny pups to look after and helping your lovely dog give birth is a massive commitment and I would like to thank Harvest and her family; you should be very proud of how your little bouncy tiger has turned out – she is amazing and I love her so much. I really hope we get to see them again.

I didn’t know whether Fable and Harvest would recognise each other but I think the level of excitement and the amount of fun they had left us in no doubt that there was some kind of connection. It also become clear where Fable gets her craziness from 🙂

Amidst all the fun I have still be learning about being a Guide Dog Owner; having been to lots of new, unfamiliar places over the last few weeks I started to notice that Fable was quite frantic and very sniffy in new places. Her work was feeling a bit erratic, she didn’t ever put me in danger and whilst I thought she might not be fully focused she was still reliably stopping at steps and avoiding obstacles. However, it just didn’t feel right and I didn’t entirely trust her in these situations. I have been doing some long cane mobility training with my Mobility Instructor, just to try and find ways of making myself more confident in new places so that I can be calm for Fable. As I have said previously she’s a bit of a stress-o-meter for me! I often notice her being a bit distracted and then I realise I’m stressed – she’s such a sensitive soul underneath her confident exterior 🙂

Anyway, the sniffy, Frantic, erratic behaviour didn’t seem to be improving despite me making a real effort to be calm and confident, so I rang my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, who once again was reassuring and helpful She explained that its normal behaviour for dogs to be more excited in new places and given that Fable is towards the excitable end of the spectrum it will probably be more of a problem for us. So she suggested I give her a bit of time to sniff and get the information she needs about the new place but that I need to use the touch command to get her attention and focus back on me after a few minutes. Then she suggested that using the halti collar would give me more control without having to do too many firm corrections, it will also help to calm her down and make her a bit slower which will ensure I can take the time I need to orientate myself and maintain our safety. When we are in familiar places I don’t need to use the halti as Fable is calm and I don’t need the time to orientate myself.  Once again I am truly grateful to have the help and support from my GDMI; it continues to be invaluable and I’m sure its going to ensure that we keep improving as a team.

So I think that’s about it from me for now; I have been busy training for our tandem ride which starts tomorrow and is 85 miles. we are raising money for Guide Dogs so if you would like to support us please visit my just giving page.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ItTakesTwoTandemRideforGuideDogs

Fable also has her own Facebook page where you can keep up to date with how she’s doing.

Here’s a few more photos just because she is gorgeous…. 🙂

 

 

 

Fable’s first trip to London and a valuable lesson for me….

Its been a while since I have written a blog post so soon after the last one, but so much has happened this week I thought it would be good to reflect on everything.

The last time I wrote you will recall I had been feeling a bit frustrated as things weren’t quite going as well as they had been with Fable’s work. Well, my amazing Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, who obviously reads my blog, contacted me the next day with some advice that has made the world of difference. We talked about how I was getting stressed about some stuff in my life and she helped me realise that this might be impacting on Fable’s work. In fact she said that when they are being trained as Guide Dog trainers they are advised not to work their training dogs if they are upset or stressed as it can have a massive impact on the dog. We all know how emotionally intelligent dogs are but I think the harness and the very nature of our partnership, and how in tune we need to be means that my emotions are going to affect fable even more. So with this in mind the next day I made a conscious effort to forget about everything  worrying me or annoying me and I just focused on enjoying the walk with my girl. When cyclists nearly run into us on the pavement, or cars are parked on the pavement or people distract her I acknowledge it, correct Fable if necessary and try my best to educate the people concerned, but once the moment is passed I just let it go! I try to visualise myself giving myself a little shake just like fabes does when she gets a bit stressed and then just get on with it.

Anyway, you’ll never guess what happened on this very first walk to work with my new found calmness; yes that’s right it was the best, most focused, fastest and most enjoyable walk to work we have had ever!! I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I am about this and I have managed to keep it up since which has meant Fable has been a absolute star 🙂

Its so simple really but such a valuable lesson to learn and has stood us in good stead for the challenges we have dealt with over the last week.

Last weekend my parents and their friends ran a line dance to raise money for Guide Dogs. It was a brilliant night and we raised a massive £1,500 pounds (little Guide Dog Puppy Mable isn’t too far off now). I have a Name a Puppy Account which means if I raise £2500 I can name a little GD Puppy and if I raise £5000 I can then name them and get to meet the little future life changer. Its a great thing to do for individuals and for schools and organisations. There will be information on the Guide Dog Website if you’d like to name your very own little life changer.

Fable’s friend Guide Dog Bess and her lovely owner came to stay. These 2 are a brilliant team and I am very grateful for all the support Bess’s owner has given me over the last year; we have some exciting adventures ahead.

I also did my first little talk as a Speaker for Guide Dogs at the line dance. I’m not a fan of public speaking but when you have a story to tell that you feel passionate about its actually so much easier and even quite enjoyable. Fable had a great time with Bess and was a little star as you can see.

The day after the line dance Team Mable did their first collection. We were at a local garden centre and I learnt a lot about how to set up a collection with trading from my 2 fab friends who have a lot of experience at fundraising for Guide Dogs. I also learnt that Fable can be calm while enjoying all the fuss from passing children and adults. Although I can now see why Guide Dog Owners are advised to only do 2 hour sessions with their dogs; Fable did become a little unsettled after a couple of hours so we left. Its a tricky one for me this; I am co-organiser for our local fundraising branch so I feel a sense of responsibility to be there for the whole event but I can see that Fable can only cope well for a couple of hours. I think what we really need is lots more volunteers, both Guide Dog Owners and sighted volunteers, so that we can all offer what we can without the responsibility being shouldered by one or two people. If anyone reading this would like to get involved let me know; its brilliant fun and you can see what a difference Fable has made to my life.

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On Wednesday I had to go to London for work. I was travelling with a colleague but I was really nervous about how Fable would cope with the crowds and I hadn’t been on the underground with her yet so  I was a bit worried about how she might be on the tube too. I lived in London for about 10 years as a student and just after so London is very familiar to me, but I had only really ever done new routes with friends or family and familiar routes on my own and I certainly hadn’t needed to consider the fact that Fable isn’t able to use escalators and I would need to find a safe area for her to go to the toilet. I discussed my concerns at work and agreed that an extra hour of travel time would be helpful to avoid feeling under pressure and we agreed that on this occasion it would make sense to take a taxi so that I could try the tube with Fable after I had done a London Mobility training session with my cane and my Mobility Instructor which is planned for June.

So off we went. On arrival at Waterloo I asked my colleague if she could stand back and let me work Fable through the station and find the area for her to go to the toilet. Fable was incredible; I have never moved through that busy station so fast or with such confidence. We asked for assistance on where would be best to take her to the toilet and were shown the exit. It was pouring with rain so I decided to offer her a quiet gutter rather than walking too far in the rain. yes you guessed it; she performed on command and we were able to get in a taxi. Here we are in the queue and you can see Fable enjoying the ride.

Unfortunately there was a fire en route which caused the traffic to come to a stand sill so we had to get out of our taxi and walk to the nearest station which was on the DLR. Again Fable did a great job of guiding me through unfamiliar streets very quickly. Here is a photo of us on the DLR.

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After the meeting I decided to be brave and suggested we take the tube back to waterloo. We found fable some grass and once again she did a big and little busy which meant I felt more relaxed knowing she wouldn’t embarrass me on the underground. At the tube station I asked Fable to find the button and she took me to the information point. I pressed the button as asked for assistance. The chap came really quickly and escorted us to the tube via the lift. Some Guide Dogs are trained to use escalators if their daily work requires it but there is obviously a risk so for Team Mable its not something that would be considered necessary as I don’t do London very often. The tube train was packed, there was standing room only and I was worried about fable getting anxious or stepped on. I needn’t have been; everyone on the tube was lovely. They didn’t distract her but were happy for her to lie by their feet quietly. I have never spoken to so many people on a tube before; it was great fun. We were met at the other end by another Assistance chap who was also excellent and he escorted us to the main station. I was very impressed with the London Underground staff and Fable of course. Here she is lying down on the tube looking very chilled 🙂

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On Friday Fable attended her first conference. Again it was really busy and I found it quite overwhelming and difficult to work her in the actual venue but we were  looked after well by the hotel staff and I was very impressed by how she settled down quietly for the whole day after only a short walk in the morning.

So its been a busy week of firsts for Team Mable and once again my little Fable is living up to her name and teaching me some valuable life lessons. All this deserved a relaxing weekend and a lovely free run.

 

 

 

Nine months into our partnership and the learning continues….

I thought I should write this blog post as the last few weeks have been a bit up and down and I do have a tendency to only want to write about the good stuff but I think its important to acknowledge that sometimes being a Guide Dog Owner can be frustrating and exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, even on my more challenging days my life is 100 times better than it was a year ago but I have been feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed recently.

I think maybe I was expected too much from Fable  and I; other Guide Dog Owners keep reminding me it is early days and it takes about a year to really get to know each other and even then I don’t think you ever stop learning. After all Guide Dogs are highly trained, clever and amazing but at the end of the day they are dogs and I am only human.

Working full time in a demanding job, walking over 3km to get to work and 3km to get home (an hours walk each way), training for a sponsored 85 mile tandem ride to raise money for Guide Dogs and doing lots of volunteer work and fundraising for our local GD fundraising branch, which I now co-organise,  is I think taking its toll and I’m fairly sure that Fable is picking up on my stress when we work together which I’m sure has a negative impact on her.

A few weeks ago Fable started to refuse to move forward at kerbs; its a tricky one this because she is so good at traffic work and has stopped me walking out in front of cars and bikes on many occasions, so it was hard to correct her when she refused for no reason, I made the assumption she was right and paused to check again which I guess reinforces her refusal. When it started to feel like it was getting more frequent I called my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor who once again gave some excellent advice. My instinct had been to keep chatting in an upbeat fashion while waiting to cross the road to keep Fable’s attention. However my GDMI advised that I pause at every kerb for 30 seconds without interacting with Fable, then when it was clear give a very confident and upbeat “forward”, praise her lots and reward on the other side of the road with a biscuit. For someone who needs to get to work for 7.30am and is not a fan of being late anywhere, you can imagine how hard this was for me. Thankfully, Fable being a lab and hence being driven by food, it didn’t take too long before the refusals stopped and I felt really proud of us for overcoming this so quickly. I am now at the point of reducing the reward on the other side of the road but she is now in the habit of stopping for a biscuit so our walks are a bit slow and not as smooth as I’d like. At times she slows for no reason and I have to work quite hard to keep her speed up, which improves her focus and stops her sniffing. I might contact my GDMI as again I don’t want this to get worse but I think she may just be picking up on my stress and possibly testing me. Having reached this conclusion today after thinking about it lots I am going to make a real effect to chill out tomorrow on our way to work, after all there’s no point getting frustrated as it will only make it worse and there are so many variables that I can’t control like how she is feeling, whether she has done a big busy before we leave, if she is tired etc. The other things that really slow us down are obstacles like wheely bins, cars parked on pavements, dogs not under control, cars sitting in driveways or at junctions with their engines running and other people distracting her. I have to admit all of the above really do annoy me and I bet Fable picks up on this and it affects her confidence; I really must learn to let it go!

However, its not all doom and gloom, we have had a fun packed few weeks and I have to say I never thought life could be this exciting.

We have been Glamping in a yurt with some friends; Fable had a great time as you can see from the photos.

Now that we are becoming established as a partnership we are allowed to do fundraising activities together; Guide Dogs advice that you should only do about 2 hours maximum with your dog as they might get tired and stressed.

We have done a couple of events including attending a farm experience day which we decided to term “extreme fundraising” as it was so wet and muddy but we had a great time.

A friend and GDs Volunteer bravely abseiled down the Spinnaker tower to raise money for Guide Dogs  and we went to support her.

We have also attended a de-stress day at a local university where the student give a donation and they can spend time with the Guide Dogs and Puppies to help them relax during exam week. As you can see Fable was in her element being the centre of attention and loving all the fuss 🙂

We are continuing to get better at going to new places on our own and Fable seems to be able to settle down more quickly  on trains and buses. We went to Dorset and had a ride on a steam train with my family and we worked our way through the busy streets fairly well although I do still find new places quite tiring and I find it hard trying to work Fable when I’m with other people, especially when I don’t know the area. We had a lovely day though.

Fable has enjoyed many fun free runs and I’m really enjoying them now too. Expect for today; just as we were about to go home she decided it might be fun to roll in some fox poo. Now I have heard that the smell is particularly bad… well I can assure you its probably the worst smell I have come across! Fable had her first actual shampoo in the garden today, followed by a rinse off with the hose and whilst its come out of her fur I can still smell her!! Apparently this is my final initiation to the Guide Dog Owners Club.

I have also been training for a sponsored tandem rise that I am doing with a friend. Its much harder than you think and is really a test of communication, team work and trust; much like the relationship Fable and I have. I’m loving the freedom of cycling and being outdoors. So far we have managed 24 miles and we need to train hard to be able to do our 85 miles from 14th – 16th July. We hope to raise enough money to name our puppy Mable so please support us by clicking on the link. https://www.justgiving.com/ItTakesTwoTandemRideforGuideDogs

So as you can see the learning continues, and as the saying goes nothing worth doing was ever easy but the benefits far outweigh any of the challenges: I have just booked my very first weekend away on my own (well I’m not really on my own as I have my Fable). For me this was one of my goads as I have never been away somewhere completely new without friends or family. I’m a little bit scared but looking forward to it and I would never have even considered it before which just shows how much Fable has changed my life 🙂

 

 

Meeting Fable’s Puppy Walkers and other exciting adventures….

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Well its been a busy, exciting and awesome few weeks for Team Mable. I was inspired to write another blog post today as we met Fable’s puppy walkers for the first time. What a lovely couple; these amazing people looked after Fable from around 7 weeks old until she was about 15 months old. They loved her, cleaned up after her (I’m told puppy walkers favourite subject at dinner parties is big and little busies:-), they taught her obedience, recall and introduced her to traffic, trains, buses, shops and restaurants. Without their love and commitment Fable wouldn’t be the amazing Guide and fabulous companion she is today. Thank you to you both and to all Puppy Walkers.

Sadly, in my opinion, not all Guide Dog Owners choose to contact their Puppy Walkers when they qualify but for me it was really important as they played such a big part in turning Fable into a Guide Dog and it was lovely to receive some photos of her as a puppy and to hear all about her puppy antics, it doesn’t sound like she has changed much 🙂 I have to be honest I was little nervous before meeting them, I wanted Fable to remember them of course but I was worried she might love them more than me or be sad when they left. I needn’t have worried; she clearly remembered them and was more excited than I have ever seen her, she went to them for cuddles but was completely focused on me when we put her harness on and showed then how brilliant she was. When they left she didn’t seem worried, in fact she has been fast asleep since they left after her fun free run.

A few weeks ago Fable and I were invited to go to our local airport with Guide Dogs to look at access for Disabled Passengers. It was a really useful day for me as it showed me how it would be if I took a flight with Fable. I would need to get her a passport of course but during the day we went through security and were actually able to get on a plane. If you fly with a Guide Dog the seat next to you will be free  so that you dog can rest in the foot space of the seat next to you. I think this is something I would like to do with Fable but best not run before we can walk, a little UK mini break first I think.

I also attended speakers training for Guide Dogs a few weeks ago. This means that I can now attend schools, workplaces or other groups and tell them all about Guide Dogs and what a difference Fable has made to my life. I’m really looking forward to my first appearance…. At this training we met one of Fable’s brothers, Freddie, who was there with his owner. As you can see from the photo he is a very handsome yellow lab.

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As well as volunteering to be a speaker for Guide Dogs I am also co-organiser for our fundraising branch and I’m looking forward to taking Fable to her first event soon.

I am passionate about being able to give something back to Guide Dogs as I can’t put into words how grateful I am to everyone involved for giving me the best gift I have ever received; my independence and excitement about my future. So myself and a friend, who is a volunteer for Guide Dogs, are embarking on an 85 mile tandem ride in July. Its the 85th anniversary of Guide Dogs this year so we wanted to mark the occasion with 85 miles. We are raising money for Guide Dogs of course and if you would like to sponsor us then please use the link below.

 

We have just started our training and have so far only fallen off once (no major injuries sustained thankfully). For me riding a tandem is a similar feeling to working with a Guide Dog; its all about team work, communication and trust. I will of course keep you posted on our progress.

We have also been enjoying a lot of walks with fellow Guide Dogs and Guide Dog Owners; I am incredibly lucky to have met so many awesome people over the last 9 months. You can see from the photos that fable has also been having some fun, muddy free runs.

We have also been on trains (first class is so much better for Fable and me as she settles much better with less distractions), visited Fable’s early trainer, been out for dinner, collected an Equality and Diversity award at work for the whole team and had fun days out with family. You see my life really is exciting these days…. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

The end of living a lie and the begining of acceptance.

As I sit down to write this post I’m not entirely sure how its going to go but here goes….

I think its time to admit to myself, and other people what life was actually like BF (before Fable).

Its been an interesting few weeks with a lot of soul searching, some honest conversations and a few tears but think I’m finally able to put into words something which I hope will help everyone who is truly interested to understand why I decided to contact Guide Dogs just over a year ago and why Fable has made such an enormous difference to my life.

I’m not sure really what the catalyst was for calling Guide Dogs: A few weeks before a car had pulled in to ask directions, I had said sorry I don’t know and they threw a liquid out of the window at me. It turned out to be a sugary energy drink but obviously it was really scary. I can remember a couple of days later running into a friend just after I had done the same walk and getting upset as I felt I was already stressed enough about being run over, walking into people and things or falling over and now I have to worry about idiots throwing stuff at me! Around this time I had a conversation with a colleague who is also a Guide Dog Owner and asked what his dog did and how it helped. I then made that call and the rest as they is history.

I think the process of applying for a Guide Dog, learning to use a long cane, training with Fable and integrating her into my life has not only been a massive change for me but it has also affected those around me too. Some people have found  it difficult to accept that I do have a significant visual impairment, which previously I kept well hidden and now I have a very visible symbol of that. I think that this is probably hard for some people as they didn’t really know how I managed before, after all my vision hasn’t deteriorated; why do I suddenly need Fable now?

I don’t think I even realised just how narrow my life was and how many coping strategies I had in place in order to function. Now that I can go out on my own without asking someone to go with me, or go somewhere new without asking someone to do the route with me beforehand, or get help to cross roads instead of taking a leap or faith, or see which shops I’m passing while still walking safely as a reasonable pace, or not have to worry that the sun might come out making my sight virtually useless, or worry I might fall down some steps that aren’t properly marked,  or simply go out for a walk just because I want to; now I realise just hoe limited my life was.

When I had my first mobility assessment with Guide Dogs the Mobility Instructor asked me 3 questions which really made me realise that I wasn’t happy with the quality of my life;

  1. How confident are you to live independently on your own? My answer was I think 8 out of 10 (DIY is not my strong point but that’s what Dads are for) 😉
  2. How confident are you doing familiar routes? About 6 out of 10 I think (if its sunny, raining hard, icy or snowing then I wouldn’t do it as all of these conditions mean I can’t see very much at all, and every time I went out I use to worry about road works, crossing not working, basically anything different on my route);
  3. How confident are you to do new routes and go to new places on your own? A definite 0; I never have and never would.

If I were asked these questions again now question 2 would be a 9 and last week I achieved my objective and actually did a completely new route with Fable and google maps – that was an amazing feeling I can assure you 🙂

Looking back now I think I had done a very good job of constructing a life that meant I only ever did things I could do without help, or at least I only ever asked for help from very close friends and family, and I think I was very resentful and angry about this deep down. I didn’t want people to know I had a disability and I certainly didn’t want it to be the first they knew about me. That, I have to say was one of my biggest fears about becoming a Guide Dog Owner. Fortunately, for the most part, finally being able to be open about my visual impairment,  and the difficulties I have as a result, has been a massive advantage. I have leant that most people genuinely want to help but unless they know you need help how are they going to offer this?

There are some things that are perhaps slower with Fable or that I don’t absolutely need her for: For example I have worked in the same place for many years and know the building well but I have chosen to work Fable on harness when I move around the building as it does make me feel safer, (there are definitely less near misses with people). I’m also future-proofing my life; if I don’t give her the chance to practice these skills then if I changed jobs or locations for instance she wouldn’t be able to do it. Lets face it none of us know what the future holds and for me a little time and effort invested now is worth it for the assurance that I won’t be limited in my future.

I didn’t talk about any of this before because I truly believed I couldn’t change it; how wrong was I?! I had to get on with life and make the best of it, and I’m not one for moaning about stuff I can’t change.

So as well as all the other amazing things I have written about Fable,  I will always be grateful to her for enabling me to finally accept myself completely; my disability is part of me and it has helped make me the person I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the way I chose to cope in the past, in fact it was very successful, its just that now I have found a better way that will enable me to not only cope but to really enjoy life, now and in the future.

Team Mable continue to work hard and play hard; there are a few photos attached to prove it.

 

 

 

Our First Christmas

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Hello everyone, its Fabes here; Mum left her PC on so I’ve finally got the chance to post something on our blog (she has been hogging it until now)!

Firstly I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read our blog. Mum said there had been over 4,000 views! I guess this means you have been enjoying following our adventures and I hope that you have learnt something too; if Mum and I can help people understand how being visually impaired affects people and how working as a Guide Dog partnership can really improve lives then we will both be very happy. We also hope that some of things Mum has posted will educate people on how to behave around guide dogs so that me and my friends can look after our owners and do our jobs well.

Since Mum’s last post a few weeks ago we have been getting better and better. I think we are really getting to know each other and Mum seems to understand me better and listens more when I try to tell her there are obstacles ahead. I think I have done some pretty good things as she often gives me loads of praise, the occasional biscuit and tell people how brilliant I am. She seems most pleased with me when I ignore her when we are crossing a road when she hasn’t seen a car or bike approaching (I am pretty good at this part of my work even if I do say so myself) 😉

We have done a few new routes which I absolutely love; I do get a bit board going to and from Mum’s work every day, I know Mum tries to vary the routs for me but its still the same destination. I know we have to do it so I just get on with it, there might be the occasional sniff which I get told off for but generally I such it up and do my job.

I seem to be getting lots more free runs too which I think is because Mum is getting more confident and trusts me more. I’m glad I’ve been good and always come back when she whistles to get my cheese because I think that’s why I’m getting more fun runs and they seem to be longer too 🙂 Mum’s friends and family and great fun on free runs and they help her keep an eye on me in case I get distracted and run off a bit too far where she can’t see me. Mum has also discovered that I love water and mud (ideally  muddy water), she doesn’t seem to mind and basically just laughs at me before giving me a gentle hose off in the garden. We even went to the seaside yesterday with some other Guide Dogs which was brilliant fun and the humans seemed to have fun too. I wasn’t allowed to go in the sea though as it was so windy and rough that mum said it was dangerous and that I wouldn’t hear the whistle. Mum and her friend enjoyed showing off how fast me and my friend were as you can see from the photos, we worked really well together and I picked up a few tips about getting through crowds 😉

Just before Christmas we have a visit from our Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. This was our 6 months review (I can’t believe me and Mum have been together that long)!. Mum thinks I don’t know about these visits but I know that our GDMI phones mum when she is outside and then we set off on one of our normal routes and she follows us. I knew Mum was worried about my sniffing on our walks to work so I did a good job of doing all the naughty things I do so that our GDMI could help mum make me better at my job. I sniffed a lot, stopped a few times for no reason other than to get some fuss and got a bit distracted by a couple of dogs. Despite this out GDMI was really pleased with us; she said mum was dealing with my minor distractions really well. I’m a bit upset that she told mum to pause before fussing me when I stop though so that she can make sure I have stopped for a good reason, not just for some love. Although when I do get it right Mum is so pleased and happy, she often thanks me for looking after her so its not all bad.

The last week has been a bit strange but so much fun! We haven’t been to work for a while which is great and we stayed at Grandma and Granddad’s for a few nights, apparently that was because it was Christmas. I had a great time; lots of attention and I got some lovely new toys which I got to unwrap too. We walked to see Mum’s brother, sister in law, nephew and niece and I went to their house for the first time. I had to stay on my lead though because they have a cat and they think I might scare the cat. I don’t know why; I’m not scary, I just want to play 🙂 The cat didn’t seem too bothered by me and I behaved myself too so I think I’m invited back.

We spent lots of time with our family and I loved playing with the children; Mum was worried I might eat their toys but I showed her I can be well behaved. She also took me to another friends house where I could smell a dog but I couldn’t find him. I even took a sneaky chance to look upstairs but Mum got a bit cross, called me and put me back on my lead for a bit. I don’t think I’m allowed to go upstairs unless Mum says its ok.

I think I have been a really good girl as Mum said I make her really proud. What she doesn’t realise is that I love her so much, I’m so glad we were matched as her busy life and work-hard play-hard motto really work for me. I love my job and get a lot of satisfaction and pride from guiding mum safely where she want to go. I also really enjoy the fun we have on free runs and of course our cuddles.

Mum said I have made her life better in lots of different ways: She feels like she now has a choice about where and when she goes somewhere without having to rely on someone else. This makes her feel truly independent. She also said she loves being more active and outside for our free runs, I also think her friends and family enjoy coming too which is much more fun for me. Mum told me that since I arrived she has met so many lovely people through Guide Dogs and that we are going to do some exciting fundraising next year.

Anyway I had better go before Mum realises I have written our blog post (hehe). Happy new year to everyone; I’m really excited about what Team Mable have ahead of us in 2016!

Lots of love and licks from Fable x

I can’t belive how far Team Mable have come…

 

The last few weeks have been amazing; I keep catching myself thinking wow, I wouldn’t have been able or confident enough to do this a year ago. it feels like my partnership with Fable has had a growth spurt.

You may remember in my last post I was feeling like Fable and I needed some more time to do new things to challenge ourselves, well I am very fortunate to have a flexible employer and I have been able to trial a new working pattern so that I can have a day off every other week. This means longer days at work but Fable seems to be able to cope with this and we get a day each fortnight to do something different which I think will really help us improve and reach our full potential.

Since my last post the clocks have gone back and so our walk to and from work is in the dark. It surprised me just how much difference this made to my confidence with Fable; it almost felt that we had regressed a bit but it didn’t take long before we were flying again. Walking in the dark reminded me why I first contacted Guide Dogs last winter; I find it really stressful, especially when the ground is wet and reflecting all the headlights in busy traffic. It dawned on my one day that until now walking anywhere in the dark was another one of those things I use to avoid completely. The dark evenings have also meant that I have had to re-consider my routes a bit for personal safety reasons. Until recently I had been using a quieter route so that the roads were less busy but this didn’t feel very safe in the dark so we have found another route  which is busier but feels safer and is more challenging, exactly what I think we needed. Trying out even small variations on routes is again something I would never have had the confidence to do. I really do believe that the long cane training provided by Guide Dogs prior to becoming a Guide Dog Owner has been a huge component of how successful Team Mable have been.

One of the many things I find amazing about Fable is her ability to remember and indicate locations that we have visited previously. For example a few weeks ago I needed to find a different route to work due to works being carried out on the footpath. We had done the route in reverse only once before on the way to the dentist so Fable had never approached the demist from this direction and I didn’t really know where exactly it was located on the stretch of road. Nevertheless the Fabulous Fables slowed and stopped to indicate the dentist. It was one of those moments where I was sure I had the best Guide Dog in the world!

We have also had some really enjoyable free runs (phew, at last), including one with another Guide Dog  and her owner. We also had some sighted friends with us and the dogs and humans had a great time. I am beginning to feel more confident on free runs and Fable seems to be so much better when we find other dogs for her to play with. I really am enjoying this aspect of being a Guide Dog Owner now, being outside and active is fantastic, even in the rain!

Fable’s work continues to go from strength to strength; the thrives on a challenge but new things really do tire her out. This week I have been on annual leave and I wanted to do some of things that Fable and I don’t have time to practice on a weekly basic due to work and daily life. So this week we have been on trains and buses, to shops, out for lunch and coffee and even had a day out with other Guide Dogs and their owners. We walked into town to meet my mum, another first for me and she did brilliantly finding crossing she hadn’t come across before and she stopped me falling down some steps that were not marked so I hadn’t seen them in the bright sun. I really noticed that when we were shopping I was able to let Fable guide me through crowds and around obstacles while I looked to see which shops I wanted to go in; this is something I use to find really difficult. We have had a great week and I’ve done so much more without relying on friends and family than I would have previously done – its great feeling independent 🙂

Today we have been to gym being filmed as I have been nominated as November’s Gym Hero. Our local Guide Dogs Engagement Officer and my Mobility Instructor came along to support me and to make sure I didn’t say anything I shouldn’t 🙂 It went really well and Fable was so well behaved, she laid and waited at my feet during the filming. She is now fast asleep; I think she deserves a quiet day after our busy week.

Since my last post Fable has had her 2nd birthday and I wrote this to wish her a happy birthday;

Happy second birthday my beautiful, clever Fable. Exactly 4 month ago you bounded into my life and what a journey it’s been so far. I never thought I would love you this much; you’re great company and your work has exceeded my expectations. Even in this short time we have done things I have never done before without relying on another person. In those 4 months you have taught me so much;
– you have taught me how to trust you
– you have shown me people are mostly lovely and want to help                                – You have taught me to accept my disability and to be proud of it
– you have helped me realise it’s ok to ask for and accept help
– you have proved that life really can be better .
Thank you Fabes; I can’t imagine life without you.

 

 

 

Thank you Fabes; my little LifeChanger x

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Its only been two weeks since my last post but it feels like so much has happened….

I was beginning to feel as if Fable was getting bored of the same old route to work and the gym; she was doing much more sniffing and her low head posture seemed to be getting more consistent, not that it affected her work but it was something my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor had suggested I should try to stop as it could mean she is more likely to scavenge. So I have started changing the route to work slightly; for me this just shows how confident I’m beginning to feel with Fable as I’m normally one for routine, and anything different used to make me feel anxious so I would avoid it but now it makes things more enjoyable for both of us.

Whilst this slight change of route did help there is only so much you can change without adding a lot of extra time to an already long route (it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to walk to and from work). So I spoke to my GDMI this week who suggested adding in some obedience work while working in harness. I hadn’t thought of this but its a great idea and it worked a treat; Fable was much more focused on me and we both enjoy the chance to have fun and she gets lots of praise.

Also it was as if the universe was listening this week; we had several off kerb obstacles, curtsey of some very inconvenient pavement parking, to deal with. Fable handled it like a pro and its really obvious to me now that she thrives on a challenge. I think I had been trying to protect her from too much stress but in fact she loves it; the more obstacles and people the better.

We have also done lots of new things in the last two weeks: We went to the dentist (well I did), this is something I have never done without needing to ask my parents for a lift so it was a big moment for me. it was also a brand new route for both of us and we coped brilliantly. Fable was also a star in the dentist, she waited patiently and quietly while I had a check up and deep clean. The staff were lovely and access was never questioned.

Last weekend we had our first night away from home, we stayed at my parents and Fable settled so well in their kitchen. It was once again me who was worried; their kitchen seemed so far away from my bedroom compared to my little flat. So I decided to use their baby monitor; its ok you are allowed to laugh at me, most people have but I have to say it really worked well and meant that I didn’t spend the whole night thinking was she ok, could I hear her etc.

Yesterday we did our first train trip to meet one of my oldest friends from university in Reading for lunch. I booked assistance for the journey which is something I have never done before and again is a big step for me; its another one of those examples of accepting that its ok for me to ask for help. The service was excellent; they met us at the entrance of the station, got us on the train, met us at Reading and took us to the exit, I was really impressed and now wonder why I didn’t do this before; it really helped make the journey less stressful; in the past I have stood on a platform, hoping firstly that its the right one and dreading the announcement of a platform change.  The train was really busy which was unusual for a Saturday and I had a tough time containing Fable within the seat area, her tail and paws kept sticking out and I was worried someone might tread on them. I think next time I need to make sure she lies down in the space next to me but she wouldn’t stay there and seemed to want to be under my feet rather than next to me. maybe another question for me GDMI.

Anyway we got to Reading and met my friend, It was really strange as I have never walked through the shopping centre at Reading without needing to take her arm, this time she offered and I said thank you but no thank you, I have Fable now. And what an amazing job she did; it was incredibly busy and I didn’t really know where anything was so it was extra hard for Fable listening to my late commands and sometimes changing my mind at the last minute. I think my friend was impressed; she did say that if we could cope with that we could cope with anything and I think she might be right.  I am reminded again how lucky I am to have such awesome friends; I have known this lovely lady for about 24 years, we went though a lot together at University and we don’t see that much of each other these days but when we do its like we have seen each other last week. When I got home she sent me a lovely message saying that she had underestimated the “journey” I was on since contacting Guide Dogs a year ago; I’m really grateful that my friends are able to recognise this and give me the support I need at the moment.

One of the things I have been thinking about recently is just how resilient Guide Dog Owners and our Dogs need to be, especially in the early days of a new partnership. This week I have had to deal with some appalling behaviour from the general public but I’ve also experienced some incredibly kind and helpful people. This week Fable and I were walking to the gym, it was 7am and dark. We had stopped at a side road and I could hear a car engine and see headlights of a car which seemed to be stopped right at the junction of this side road. I was sure it was stopped so asked Fable forward; she refused rightly as the engine was running. I tried to strain to look but couldn’t tell if there was anyone in the car or what the driver was doing. There was no one around to ask so I placed Fable’s handle down and waited. Then I heard shouting but due to the heavy traffic I couldn’t hear what was being said. Then a lady got out of the car and yelled at me “I was waving you across, you can go”! I politely pointed that I had a Guide Dog which meant I couldn’t see and if I could see her waving then I wouldn’t need Fable! Some people are just so unaware! I explained that Fable wouldn’t move forward while her engine was running and asked if she would turn it off. reluctantly she did.

The other really horrible thing that happened to us this week was on the way out of the hospital. A small child, accompanied by her mother or carer threw a handful of stones at Fable and I! Fable jumped but didn’t seem to be injured. I have to say I was really upset and did shout at the lady saying that her child had just thrown stones at my Guide Dog and that this could affect her ability to be a working Guide Dog. I was astonished at this and still can’t believe how parents can let their children behave like this. I have reported the incident in case there is repeat or Fable is affected but thankfully she seems to be resilient too.

Fortunately  people like this seem to be in the minority and I have had some lovely offers of help across roads and around pavement obstacles this week. Fable does seem to be a hit with most people which I love but it can make things a bit harder if people distract her while she is working or resting under a table in restaurants. I do think its very strange that people think they can just touch her without asking permission from me first; even before I had Fable I wouldn’t ever have approached a dog, working or not, and stroked it without asking the owner first. Some people are lovely though; earlier this week a lady walked past us on the way to work and said “what a beautiful dog and she looks so happy, her tail is wagging so much, you can tell she enjoys her work”.

So we have risen to the challenge this week; new routes achieved and now its onwards and upwards. In fact I was talking to a colleague the other day and saying I have so many things I want to do with Fable but not enough time. Life has just really opened up for me; before Fable I was quite happy in my little world of work and the gym but now there is so many exciting things to do. Now that’s a LifeChanger – thank you Fabes x

Emotional roller coster; hold on tight……..

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So Team Mable have been qualified 11 weeks now and its been a week of highs and lows. I’m told its very normal to be a bit of an emotional wreck and that has definitely been the case for me this week.

I’ve taken Fable to a couple of meetings at workrecently and its been a bit difficult getting her to lie still and not lick or sniff the floor. I think I might need some help from my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor with this one so I have left her a message. My instincts are telling me that it’ll get better the more she does it, using the haulti may help (although she did does chew this and try to get if off so it might make her more unsettled) or I might be able to reward her with some treats for good behaviour, but I think getting some advice would be best so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem.

I’ve been really tired this week, I’m not sure why, but I decided on Thursday that I needed an extra hour of sleep more than I needed my early morning gym session. So Fable and I set off for work just after 8am, it was a lovely sunny morning but this meant that I was not really able to see very much, and as we approached an infant school on our normal route I could sense it was really busy. We got to the crossroads which we need to cross and the full extend of the chaos became apparent! There were screaming children, scooters, pushchairs and cars everywhere. The road we needed to cross was basically grid locked and people started shouting that I could cross as the cars were letting me go. I tried to explain that I couldn’t ask Fable to go that close to a car with its engine running otherwise she would learn that this was ok and it would weaken her traffic work. Finally a lovely lady offered to help us so I could lower Fable’s handle and accept sighted assistance across the road between the cars. With Fable’s handle down she knows that she is not responsible for us anymore and its ok to let me take control of this situation. Once across the other side of the road we were in the middle of all the children, bikes, scooters, pushchairs etc so Fable just stopped and we waited until there was a safe space for us to move forward. She did brilliantly as the sun was really bright and I was struggling to see anything. I think it was one of the first times where I actually became aware of the fact that she really was looking after me and I felt really out of control, which for those of you know me will know this is not a comfortable place for me 🙂 Anyway we both held it together and made it to work. Once we arrived I got really emotional and had a big cry (thank goodness for my lovely work colleagues and friends who looked after me). Fable seemed to be a bit concerned about me too as during the morning she kept coming and resting her head on my leg while I worked at my desk, this is not something she normally does so she obviously knew I was having a difficult day.

By the end of the day I was so tired that I spoke to manager and we agreed that having a day of Annual leave would be a good idea so that I could have a relaxing day and get my head together. I have to say it was absolutely the right decision; I think Fable and I needed some Team Mable time.

We used our time wisely and took the next big step on our journey; we went over to my Mum and Dads on the bus. This is a massive achievement as I have never had the confidence to do this on my own and they have always come to pick me up. In our training we had done part of this route with my GDMI but not all of it.  I have never seen Fable so focused and she was smiling all the way, as you can see from the photos of her waiting at the bus stop in her harness. She was fast but still my brilliant guide, avoiding obstacles and she behaved so well on the bus. I think this has shown me that Fable is ready for the next challenge and we need to start stepping out of our comfort zone and start doing more new and different routes. At my parents her reward was a play in the garden as you can see from the photos.

Unfortunately, yesterday she had a dodgy tummy; this is thankfully the first time I have had to deal with this little delight; I’m blaming the strawberries we think she ate in Mum and Dad’s garden! She seemed fine in herself but as this was the first time I had had to deal with a dog with an upset stomach, I phoned the Out of Hours Guide Dog number for advice and was put through to the Welfare Officer on call. He advice what to do in terms of her food and to have a quite weekend but that if all was well to return to normal on Monday.

Unfortunately this meant that Fable couldn’t go to the Fundraising Guide Dogs Ball which was held to mark the end of Guide Dogs week. I was sad that she couldn’t come but pleased that my Mum and Dad were able to dog sit for me so that I could go. This was another important first for us as I hadn’t left her with anyone before. She was fine and even did a little busy for my Dad and kept my Mum’s feet warm. Knowing that my parents are able to look after Fable has made me feel much better as I was getting a bit worried about what might happen if I needed to go somewhere I couldn’t take her or if I was unwell. So that’s another hurdle crossed 🙂

The ball was brilliant; I met some lovely people and fellow Guide Dog Owners, one of whom did a very inspiration speech which I have to say brought a tear to my eye as he summed up perfectly what a difference Fable has made to my life in just 3 months. Whilst I was a little overwhelmed by our stressful walk to work I realised that 3 months ago I wouldn’t have even been in that situation, I would have avoided it completely. I did realise though that Fable not being able to go to the ball was probably the right thing for her, I don’t think  it would have been fair or enjoyable for either of us as its too early in our partnership. Guide Dog Owners are advised not to do too many big fundraising or campaigning events for about 6 months and last night I understood the reason for this; I think we will start small and maybe begin with a little coffee morning 🙂

I’m really proud of myself and Fable this week; and that’s not something I have ever really felt before. Going to new places is something I have never done but now with Fable I have the confidence to try, this week she has shown me that its time for Team Mable to take the next step…..