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.
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!
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!
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.
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!