Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My guide dog is about to retire

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.

Scared? Me?

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.


eternia said...

I'm a long time cane user. In fact, I've always used a cane. There are a few reasons for it. One is, I'd be rubbish with a guide dog. I haven't the heart to be enough of a disciplinarian as one ought to be with them. I love dogs far too much, and would rather be out in the back yard playing with them, and giving them scraps while i"m eating dinner. Yes, I'd make a lousy guide dog owner. The more practical reason, I suppose, is that I like to be in control of where I'm going. I like to know where I am at every moment, and dislike relinquishing that to anyone, and in particular an animal. Much as I may love an animal, I want to make my own decisions about where we're going, thank you very much. I have nothing against guide dogs though. My best friend is a guide dog user and that's splendid, as he has trouble navigating without one. I will say, though, that I've never been a slow traveller. I have travelled busy streets at wreckless, break neck speeds, like Harry on his Firebolt, if you can dig it. Moving obstacles? There just bludgers. Beat them out of your way. Well, OK, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I've never moved very cautiously when travelling well-known routes. Inside buildings and in unfamiliar territory I'm much more careful. The point I am trying to make, assuming I have one, is not to assume that you have to be slower with your cane. You will be for a while after being used to and comfortable with travelling by way of canine companionship, of course, but given enough time you may find that you can travel as enjoyably, and as quickly, with a cane as without one. Of course, if your preference is still to carry on with your furry little friend, by all means do so. So, in summary, I guess I really had no point at all, just a bit of rambling. I hope it proved informative, or at least entertaining.

BloggingMone said...

Happy retirement, Liam!
Until a few years ago I thought one has to be born blind to develope that "Sixths sense" you have been talking about. We are also teaching interpreters for the deaf-blind and therefore regulary invite someone from the blind association to teach sighted guiding and so on. He came in with a bundle of white canes and said that we had to learn how important sound is for blind people to navigate in order to understand how difficult navigation is for someone who is not only blind, but deaf as well. I am usually there as a co-teacher and every semester join the students in the experiment to walk around with a cane blindfolded. The first time it was a total disaster, I made everybody laugh about me, because I could not find my way out of an open door, even not in a room I knew before. That stupid doorframe simply seemed to have vanished. In the meantime I have learned to listen more carefully to the sound in the hallway, which made it much easier to find my way out.
Therefore I have come to the conclusion that this semse is probably slumbering in each of us, but not everyone is waking it up to use it. Hope that assumption is somehow right...
Well I'll keep my fingers crossed that you will always be showing up in the right pub then, even without Liam!

Katie said...

Hope Liam enjoys his retirement! Shame to hear that he is though, but I sure he will still be loved by you Damon.

He was very funny that time I met you,sniffing my hand! I think he could smell my cats, and he was lovely at the Christmas podcast too!

Not forgetting you of course even though you felt under the weather!

Greg said...

I'm so sorry to hear you have to retire your guide dog and cannot obtain a new guide dog. I am a quadriplegic and have a service dog (Nala), she and I have been partner for seven years. I understand your strong bond and how much independence a guide dog/service dog can provide. I hope you get another dog quickly! Take care.

Connie said...

My husband is planning to retire his second dog soon. It's so hard to watch them get old isn't it?

As a former guide dog instructor (from Guiding Eyes for the Blind in NY, USA) I wish you "happy travels" with or with out a dog.

jabber63 said...

I'm currently a long cane user and im still being assesed for my first guide dog (im really excited ).... its been a long process, i called my local center on the 31 st of october (my 18th birthday) and im still waiting for my final assesment with a GDMI (guide dog mobility instructer) so it would appear under staffing is a major issue for the GDBA at the moment.

can i also say i send my (hugs) to you ! haveing to say good bye to a guide dog is very hard, my mum is on her 5th guide dog and i no how heart breaking it is to say good bye to them. They are more than just a mobility aid like a long cane they are like out kids.

anyway good luck with the long cane and i hope they find you the perfect pooch soon!