My guide dog Liam, who I've had for seven and a half years, will be retiring at the end of this week. He's now nine years old. Liam is a bit of a stressy sensitive dog so this seems the best time to retire him.
So, what does this mean. It means that Damon has to go back to using a white cane - something he hasn't done since leaving school in 1991.
Guide dogs make walking much quicker. They anticipate obstacles in front of you and correct your route before you bang into it, often without you even knowing. With a white cane, however, you don't know that an object is there until you whack into it. That's the main difference. Also white cains don't anticipate you might want to go into Sainsburys because you've been there so many times before! You have to really have your wits about you if you're a white cane user, concentration mode on high, be happy for journeys to take longer ... and of course it's much more of a physical and joint-aching experience sweeping that stick left to right constantly.
So. Liam retires. Might even be today I'm not sure. There are a couple of legal documents that the new owner, my friend Ewan, has to complete before we can 'do the transaction'.
But won't you get a new dog straight away, Damon?
Sadly not on this occasion. The waiting list is long and it seems my district team are over-stretched due to staff absence.
The positive thing here is that by relinquishing Liam, I am then classed as a Priority One. I am therefore much closer to the top of the list than had I been with dog. I didn't feel I could hold onto Liam much longer though because his sensitivity and stress is displaying quite a lot lately. He needs to retire and start a new life. A real unselfish move, eh? Well it's taken a while to come to this decision. I was about to give him up in April but then my friend Sara died and I just felt I didn't want to lose another big part of my life so soon. I feel like I'm jumping into a big deep dark hole.
When might you get a new dog then?
Good question. It may be around November time if I'm lucky. That leaves me 4 or 5 clear months without a dog. Possibly longer.
I expect my independence to dip and I forsee spending more time at home or my cash layout on taxis getting higher. All at a time when my fixed rate mortgage is about to end and go up in price by about 400 pounds a month. I am going to be so broke!
But it's little things, ya know, like leaving my desk at work ... just popping for a coffee. From this distance, today, it suddenly feels like a big chore with a cane. And, as I said earlier, you get none of that animal intuition from a cane - if I were to walk into the coffee bar at work, Liam would navigate me round people, misplaced chairs, tables etc, and take me directly to the counter where he knows I'm used to going to. And ya know, I'd barely even notice! With a cane, I'll have to bang into everything first before correcting my route. This could mean banging into a few people on the way too - moving obstacles as I like to think of them. But I'm sure my senses will sharpen up again and I'll start having to try and detect obstacles and people. Yes, blindies can do this - obstacle sense they call it. It's not as special as Channel 4 recently tried to make out in their superkid documentary, it's just about understanding the sound around you and the echoes. Layer of sound, muffling versus clearness, slight pressure on the eardrum when someone walks past and disrupts the sound path, etc. stuff like that. It's hard to put into words but it does feel like a sixth sense that you really only notice when you have to - i.e. when you go blind.
Anyhoo. Am not going to be unhappy about Liam retiring because he needs to and I'm pleased for him.
If any long term cane users want to post here and tell me I'm a total wimp then please do! :) There are loads of people who choose to stay with a white cane and would never go near a dog. In fact, the vast majority of blind people use canes over dogs. There is an art to it but I've lost that art. That's the issue today. Truth is that suddenly everything will be different again and I will need to readjust. Aaargggh!!!! Oh and there's also real potential to enter into a few undignified smash-ups with a cane, less regular than when you're using a dog, well, especially when starting out again. I'm sure I'll document them here with red face.