Monday, 22 November 2010

The Journey

At the age of 16 I had been gradually losing my sight for about 5 and a half years with various operations in between. I preferred to struggle around school and when out instead of using a cane. Although I was pretty much against anything that labelled me as visually impaired. However, I was determined to get a dog believing that people were more accepting of them than canes and thought it would make mobility much easier.

Growing up, I watched my uncle who is blind with his Guide Dogs and seemed really independent in London and still is. So, as soon as I turned 16 I called Guide Dogs and had an information talk. They knocked me back immediately, saying I was too young, didn’t have enough routes and didn’t know what I was doing with my life.

On reflection, I still disagree and I think having a Guide Dog would have been the ideal transition when I turned 18 and had no useful vision. Learning routes where I could see entrances to doorways, curbs and other visual clues would have helped me understand where I was now.

Anyway, I’m not the type of person who let’s people say no and get away with it, so at 19 I reapplied. Again I was told a similar story that I didn’t have enough routes and didn’t know what I was doing with my life. However, this time I argued down the phone with the DM and they agreed to put my name on the list.

The Wait:
This has to be the hardest part of it all. You hear about other people getting a dog before you and just so badly want it to be your turn. 3 months, 6 months, a year, 18 months and then finally after 19 months I got the call. I remember it very well, being disappointed that Calvin wasn’t female, didn’t have a cute name, I didn’t know his colour and he was a massive dog when I hoped for a small one. Talk about ungrateful!

Matching visit:
I was petrified when this enormous dog jumped on me, as soft and cute as he seemed. He was a speedy walker and due to nerves and not generally being able to walk fast, I really struggled to keep up with him. I should have known from that point he wasn’t going to be the best dog, as he nearly pulled me flat on my face when trying to chase something!

He had no health problems, was lively but apparently this was only because it was a new place and was gorgeous too. So how could I say no!

The sleepover:
To check my brother wasn’t allergic to Calvin, he stopped over before training. I suppose he was still lively because it was a new place. Or maybe he was just going to stay like this forever! He ran around like a loon, legged it out of the front door and did a busy on the front garden and was the most excitable dog I had ever met. Remember, I hate dogs! So it was all very scary!

I trained alone with Calvin, 1 week in a hotel and 2 weeks at home in total. Not much compared to many others. It was an exhausting experience and I could wave goodbye to having a lie in ever again. After the first day we had the support lead taken off and I thought this Guide Dog lark was a breeze! Calvin made a few mistakes walking over curbs, finding things I didn’t want and having a busy on walks, but generally seemed amazing.

Going solo:
After training I understood why they said the first year was the hardest. Calvin broke big time, getting me lost nearly on a daily basis, started to scavenge, chase things more and more and generally do his own thing. I found taking him to athletics was a nightmare, as he cried, barked, jumped on everyone and couldn’t be bribed by treats. Just my luck to get a faulty dog, but all the time I was bonding with him as a normal dog, enjoying playing with him, grooming him and appreciating the affection he gave me.

1 year on:
The hardest bit is supposed to be over, but when I’m out with him I just think 9 more years and the torture will be over! He’s an awful guide when with other people and isn’t the easiest to deal with on my own. I feel like I’m forever correcting him, getting lost and that I can’t teach him new things in the fear we’ll end up lost. It shouldn’t be like this and for most people it isn’t, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles to control my dog.

So is it better than having a cane? It’s like having a child, needing to spend, groom, feed, play and occupy 24/7. I still stand by my opinion that under 16s should not be allowed a dog, as it’s just too much work. It is however, I feel is better than a cane. The pace you can walk, the less concentration you need if your dog is on form and the less wary people are to approach you. It is a major responsibility, but I wouldn’t change Calvin for the world. I don’t think he’ll mature and calm down, he’s had a year to do that already. I can only hope that my hard work will pay off and one day he’ll lose the reputation of being a bad Guide Dog!

On 30 November we have Guide Dogs coming out for our annual visit and I can’t wait to tell them Calvin’s 101 faults and see what they’re going to do about it. Also, sorry for posting this late, I ruined my Calvin week, but turned my pc off last night and completely forgot about it!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

From Cane to Dog

When you’re in public with your Guide Dog, you’re not only an advert for the organisation in general, but an advert for visually impaired people too. However, when your dog is constantly playing up and you’re correcting like a mad man, you just wish nobody is around, as they think you’re the terrible one! Most of the time when you’re walking along, trying to mind your own business, you know all eyes are on you. This makes me very self-aware and you have to learn how to crack a smile at the drop of a hat, even if you don’t feel like it! Yes, the public mean well and are the ones who fund Guide Dogs, but sometimes it would be nice to know you’re not in the spotlight, especially when you’ve thrown on some tacky clothes and haven’t brushed your hair!

So, here’s what happens when you make the transition from cane to dog...

Top 10 – You know you’re a Guide Dog owner when...

1. You’re told on a daily basis ‘I bet he can smell my dog on me’
2. People ‘awwww’ at you as you walk down the street
3. You know where every dog lives in the village and know their names too
4. You learn people can’t read and stroke your dog without permission
5. Kids shout ‘dog, ‘doggy’ and other similar words over and over again at you
6. You start telling people you’re going for a busy instead of the toilet
7. You have no fear in shoving your hand down your dog’s throat to remove fluff from a toy, squeaker, twig or any other object
8. Everyone thinks you have a new boyfriend as you sign cards, ‘love Selina and Calvin’
9. Your pockets stink of dog treats
10. You have to tell people you’re blind, as they think you’re training your dog

Friday, 19 November 2010

Calvin the Comedian

He woke me up early again! Calvin must have been a comedian in a previous life, because he makes me laugh more than any human could do! His muppet moments were one offs, but here’s funny things he does on a daily basis. I think you have to be there for the dramatic effect! One that isn’t on the list is when he dreams, tail thumping, high pitched barks, growls and then deep snoring! I think all dogs do that though.

Top 10 – I find him funny when...

1. You’re in the kitchen and he’ll drop his toy dramatically onto the wooden floor to let you know he’s there, making a loud bang
2. He plays dead
3. He runs around like a loon after playing peek-a-boo
4. He thinks he’s the bees knees after doing obedience
5. He nudges you with his wet nose
6. He slips all over the wooden floor
7. He throws himself to the ground with a massive thud when wanting to lie down
8. You get a present or parcel from someone and he sits so nicely waiting for you to give it him
9. He runs away at full speed from little dogs
10. He lies on his back holding a toy in between his paws and mouth and just stays there for ages

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Calvin the Cute

Even though Calvin woke me up before my alarm again, I can never stay mad at my gorgeous boy! Today, as I heard him racing up the stairs, I put my quilt over my head. He lifted it up with his nose and poked his head under like ‘woooo hoooo anyone home’! At times I want to strangle him, but I love him to bits too.

He’s got loads of nicknames; Calvie Coo, Baby Boo, Gorgeous Boy, and Softy are a few of the nice ones. With Nightmare, spoilt Paws, Dennis the Menace, Naughty Boy, call yourself a Guide Dog and Little Git being the more negative ones!

As I said I do love him and considering I hate dogs he doesn’t know how lucky he is! Here’s a few reasons why my Calvie has won me over...

Top 10 – I love him when...

1. He snuggles up to my feet
2. He puts his paw on my lap and tilts his head to one side
3. He puppy bites
4. He rolls onto his back when having a groom
5. He gets me to places in half the time I could with a cane
6. He finds the right way when I’m feeling a little unsure
7. He always greets me, as if he’s not seen me for weeks
8. He puts his head on my lap and lets out a big sigh
9. We get home after being lost and all is forgotten
10. Everyone compliments on how gorgeous he is

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Calvin the Curse

Ok since Calvin came bounding into my room this morning, tail wagging vigorously, wet nose and licks all before my alarm went off he’s getting it today! Since the clocks went back he’s waking me up early nearly on a daily basis!

I think a lot of Guide Dog owners are protective over their dogs, just like parents are with their children, but let’s face it; they’re not all cute and cuddly 24/7! I hate to say it, but this list was so easy to write and I could have easily written loads more! Of course I love him, but here are 10 things I hate about you...well Calvin anyway!

Top 10 – I hate it when...

1. I’m running late, grab Calvin’s lead and he legs it around the dining table
2. He’s knocked out, but I have to wait until 10pm to spend him so he doesn’t wake me up in the night
3. He sniffs and gets the munchies on walks
4. He rolls in fox or badger pooh
5. He won’t spend when out, when he’s clearly bursting
6. He follows me around the house when I’m getting ready to go out without him, making me feel guilty
7. He lies in the aisle of the train or bus
8. We get lost on a simple route
9. He chases things
10. He forgets how to guide when I’m with other people, not stopping at curbs or steps, walks me into things and pulls allot!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Calvin the Clown

When I got a Guide Dog I didn’t realise that they could have such a personality. I have met a few dull dogs, but Calvin is certainly not one of them. Here’s a few amusing moments over the past year, unfortunately not enough space to share them all!

Top 10 – Calvin muppet moments

1. Finding a golf ball in the snow and swallowing it
2. Running onto the athletics track during a race, knocking me to the ground
3. Chasing a pidgin and bouncing off of a bin in the process
4. Drinking the entire river at Fosse Meadows and then having busys in public every 5 seconds, including in Fosse Park food court
5. Trying to pick up as many toys as possible at once, I think the record is 4
6. Being so excited to hear someone at the door that he grabbed my brand new Timberlands to greet them
7. Jumping onto the bus seat and sitting proudly instead of going in between them
8. Insisting that the arrival of a parcel was for him and wasn’t satisfied until he could snuggle up with some of the paper packaging and go to sleep
9. Climbing onto the dining room table, knocking off all of the items on top of his food container and stuffing his face
10. Deceiving me in thinking that he’s being really calm in a pet shop, when in fact he had his head immersed in a bucket full of treats!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Calvin Week

This is my 100th blog post and tomorrow marks a year since I started training with Calvin. So, I’ve decided to dedicate this week to Guide Dog ownership. Check back daily to find fun and serious posts about mine and Calvin’s partnership.

This is not only a good opportunity to evaluate my first year as a Guide Dog owner, but hopefully enlighten others on what it entails.

See you tomorrow...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

F1 Review 2010

Today was the climax of the 2010 F1 season in the desert of Abu Dhabi. Going into the final race, there were four potential World Championship winners with my favourites Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso leading the way.

The double World Champion was looking to join a select group of eight that had won three championships or more. Unfortunately, an unexpected safety car, tyre degradation, watching the wrong driver and under estimating the mid field guys it all went wrong! All he needed was a fourth place, but ended up eighth.

So, the World Championship went to 22 year old Sebastian Vettel who flies the flag for Red bull Racing. The German youngster who has been pipped to be the new Schumacher since his debut made history by also being the youngest ever champion. Taking the crown away from Lewis Hamilton who previously stole it from Fernando Alonso.

All four drivers in the hunt for the championship, Vettel, Alonso, Webber and Hamilton have all had a rollercoaster season with wins, crashes and penalties. Last year’s champion Jenson Button was chasing the championship for a while, but couldn’t keep up finishing fifth overall.

For my Ferrari boys, Alonso and Massa made the best of a quick, but not quite quick enough car. They also caused controversy with team orders feeding a message to Massa that ‘Fernando is faster than you’! This meant Massa gave up his only potential win for Alonso who had more of a chance of clinching the title. Some will say Alonso never deserved it in the first place, but I can fully understand why Ferrari did it. This was Massa’s first year back after his life-threatening accident and I felt he wasn’t as feisty this year, but hope both drivers will come back fighting next year!

This season also saw the return of seven time World Champion and personal idol Michael Schumacher. He had a bumpy season, scored well in a few races, but was beaten by his team mate in many others. The legend is set to continue next year and word has it that Mercedes are by far ahead in development than the other cars.

Yet again Ferrari hit the final hurdle to win a championship, but nobody can deny that Sebastian Vettel wasn’t a worthy winner and I would love to see him in Ferrari colours one day!

Friday, 5 November 2010


Just a quick post to confirm that I was nominated for Sports Aid funding by UK Athletics. Obviously very pleased with that since my performances were below average this year. I’ve had to fill out an application form, which was due back today and I’ll hear in the New Year the amount I’ll receive. Although I will stress I may get nothing, as only 70-80% of applicants are successful. I received £1000 this year and a similar amount would be really helpful. Time to play the waiting game!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Hen Weekend and Puppy Walker Meet

I don’t seem to do many non day to day activities these days, but last weekend was an exception with Beth’s hen do and meeting Calvin’s puppy walkers.

Calvin was obviously so excited after watching me pack our things the night before he decided to wake me up an hour early! I know I get anxious about missing trains, but would have preferred the extra sleep!

The hen do was taking place at the Cliffton Hotel in Teignmouth, Devon, which is an Action for the Blind hotel for visually impaired guests, but the fully sighted are welcome too. The journey would take approximately 5 hours with 2 changes at Birmingham and Exeter. The plan was to meet Katie on the train from Birmingham and Jenny at Exeter. However, true to form the trains got delayed. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait longer at Birmingham than necessary, as they put on an emergency train, but it did mean I arrived an hour earlier than Katie and Jenny.

I have of course travelled on the train with Calvin before, the furthest being Newcastle. However, since the last time we travelled I’m sure he’s grown! With his bum stuck underneath the furthest seat from the aisle, his front paws and head still seemed to be sticking out. At Birmingham New Street the assistance guy found Calvin hysterical. When getting assistance you’re always offered an arm to be guided or you can follow. In an unfamiliar, noisy and busy place like Birmingham I always get guided. The assistance guy was amused that Calvin was sniffy, picked up a leaflet and barked at some random person or thing. Excluding the barking, this behaviour is nothing new to me, but I was a little surprised that the assistance guy hadn’t come across any other Guide Dog like Calvin. They can’t all be perfect little workers, surely!

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Teignmouth where the hotel staff collected us. Beth wasn’t due to arrive until later, so I had the Coach House where we were staying in the grounds of the hotel to myself. When we arrived, I stressed that Calvin would be bursting for a busy, so they lead us to a spending pen. Once Calvin had finished he sprinted off, obviously distressing after the long journey and no intention of coming back! It was the guy’s fault to be honest for leaving the gate of the pen open. I had no treats or whistle handy, so couldn’t really do much when Calvin ignored my enthusiastic calls. He was eventually caught.

Since it was a hotel for the blind I was expecting the Coach House to be really accessible! However, the spiral staircase and far from simple layout of bedrooms had me baffled for a while. You couldn’t even trail the walls, as pictures hung there threatening to fall off! Calvin seemed quite stressed out, most likely due to the free run being cut short, but he also couldn’t understand what we were doing in this strange place that must have smelt of a thousand dogs. He panted and followed me adjitated. However, about an hour later when Jaynie arrived, he felt right at home.

Beth’s flight was delayed, but when she arrived she was greeted by pink balloons that made my fingers swell up from my rubbish attempt of tying knots, L plates and a bride to be sash. We played truth or dare, which was funny and eye opening at the same time! We also played how well do you know the bride, where every time we got a question wrong Beth got to open a novelty gift. The ones I bought included hunk soap, nipple tassels and ring for sex bell!

I was absolutely exhausted, as Calvin didn’t sleep very well, fidgeting as he obviously needed a busy and I took him in the end about 6am. We went rock climbing, which is an activity I love, but haven’t done for about 4 years. I was convinced Calvin would be climbing up the wall with me, but I supposed that could have happened if he hadn’t been benched to something secure. Sandie and Jaynie were fine being benched to a seat, but not Calvin who dragged it across the floor when I moved away from him! He was benched on his own for a while and when I was traversing (going across the wall, not up) he cried, but at least resisted from barking. When we moved to another room, he was benched with Sandie and Jaynie and after a couple of minutes was happy enough to play with them and ignore me. I’ve always been pretty good at rock climbing for some unknown reason and I was pleased to find I still had the natural ability. I raced up the wall, but had to stop and wait a few times as they couldn’t belay quickly enough. We only got 2 up climbs, which was a shame, but I enjoyed what I did get to do.

That evening we all got dressed up and went for an Italian. I was a buzzy bee with wings, head boppers, hair clips one in my hair one on my dress and stripy tights. I also tied a bumble be to Calvin’s lead, so he could look suitably silly too! We also had a butterfly, lady bird, fairy and an angel. Notice the wings theme!

Another rough night and Calvin needing a busy during it. I woke up with a cold, sneezing, blocked up and shivery. The plan was to take the dogs for a free run on the beach, but the tide was high and extremely wild by the sounds of the crashing waves. I wish I lived near a beach though, as I love listening to the waves! We strolled into town or in Calvin’s case dragged me into town. His guiding skills when following others is pretty poor. I understand he wants to keep up and be in front, but when we don’t know where we’re going it’s better to be behind. So, he didn’t stop at curbs or steps and I constantly used the double arm steady technique to try and keep control of him. We went into a few tacky seaside shops, but most things were closed on a Sunday. We then went for cream tea, however, I had soup! When we got back, Katie and Jenny went swimming, which I couldn’t do because of my ankle being strapped up, so I ended up having a nap instead along with Beth.

We had a roast for dinner, watched the X Factor results, bitched a little and then finished off by playing how well do you know the bride game again.

I was up at 5.30am, thanks to the lovely Calvin who apparently is rubbish at crossing his paws and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was excited to meet Calvin’s puppy walkers, but nervous at the same time. I waited for them in the hotel bar and heard the receptionist bring a couple through. They came up behind Calvin, who for once when approached by people stayed lying on the ground. I said his name, he gazed at them for a few seconds and then the penny dropped with a big old splash! Calvin didn’t know who to turn to Dave or Sue and so jumped on them alternately. I was worried for a moment that he couldn’t remember them at all! We decided to go for a walk, so they could watch Calvin in action, plus the weather was gorgeous. We got out of the hotel and there were a set of steps to the left that Calvin immediately took me to. Apparently, if you went up those steps and walked through the park it would take you to the puppy walkers house! Calvin’s memory was on top form and was dying to follow the yellow brick road!

Instead, we walked up by the sea front, which made me feel like I was on holiday. Calvin took me to every set of steps so he could go down to the beach, but we had to walk up a way, as the tide was still high. He got a good run, dipping his paws in the sea, they said he never did like going in fully, but he was daring and had a little splash. We then went to a cafe that he always went to and knew the way of course. He was very lively and found it difficult to stay sitting down, but I think I can let him off just this once! From the cafe he tried taking me back to the puppy walkers house, but we made our way to the hotel. Since there was a little time before we had to catch the train we let Calvin off in the first park that we went by. Just before calling him back, Mr reliving his youth, dived and rolled in some badger pooh! The puppy walkers giggled that they forgot he used to do that! He still does it now! Other things he still does is hold as many toys in his mouth at once, malt a lot, jump up on people and chew his toys!

I also found out that Calvin’s original trainer was in Worcester not Leamington Spa. I knew he changed trainers after a month, but thought he was always at Leamington. They commented that he was a cleverdog from the beginning, remembering instructions first time. I think it was great for the puppy walkers, Calvin and myself to meet up for all different reasons.

I would leave it there, but have one final story to share about my journey home. I planned to use the toilet at Birmingham New Street, but found with an hour to go on the journey that I was bursting. I was waiting for the ticket man or catering trolley to come through so I could ask where they were and if they could hold Calvin for me. However, nothing. So, Calvin and I got up, went out one end of the carriage, but there didn’t seem to be one there. I couldn’t find the button to go through to the next carriage, so went back where I came from and out the other end. I could tell there was a toilet there, by feeling around, but couldn’t find the door. So, back in the carriage, asked the luggage holder if they knew where the door was, no response, so walked further up the carriage and asked a human! A nice lady put my hand on the button to open the door and I started to panicthat it was one of those stupid electronic toilets. I got in feeling frantically around to find the button to close the door, setting the automatic sink off in the process soaking my arm. I still couldn’t find the button, but the door eventually shut itself. I knew it needed locking, but prayed nobody would enter the carriage, as the sensor on the outside would open it again. Trousers were done up without any intruders, but then I needed to find the button to get back out! I found one that made an alarm sound, but kept feeling around and finally found the correct buttons. I opened the door to get out and the ticket man was standing there and asked if I was ok! I played it cool and said yeah fine thanks, rushing off as fast as I could with Calvin back to our seats! Whoever thought electronic toilets were a good idea need shooting!