Calvin and I have been a partnership for seven years this month. I cannot express enough how incredibly lucky I feel to have him as not only my Guide Dog, but best friend and housemate. We all know that Calvin isn’t a paw perfect worker, yet he does some outstanding work when I most need him to. I can rely on Calvin to help me out at times where I am too proud to call my trusty parents for assistance when I have somehow managed to lose my way.
Having just light perception in my left eye makes navigating tough. I can’t see shapes, colours or even shadows. If I’m out at night, I may see a flash of light from a car’s headlight or if I’m looking really hard the light on a lamppost. People with residual vision are lucky. To be able to see a building as a blob or a white splodge signalling a door is definitely useful and shouldn’t be taken for granted. To be able to have some visual stimulation as you walk enables you to keep a focus. All I have are my ears, nose, feet and Calvin the dog who finds leaves wondrous and spits out rotten apples in exchange for a treat at our front door. My point is guiding someone with no useful vision is a much harder job than guiding someone who can see even a tiny little bit. Calvin has managed to do this demanding task for seven whole years, longer than some Guide Dogs manage to work for and he is showing no signs of slowing down. I live in awe of his abilities, understanding and affection.
Most days of the week I participate in some sort of sporting activity. This could be a simple swim, exercise class, Goalball, track or gym session. Either way, I spend a lot of my time feeling not just tired, but exhausted from the constant exertion. The combination of fatigue and having no useful vision often results in me switching off as I walk with Calvin. I sometimes cross roads without realising or drift round a corner taking me off route. By the time I have regained a focus, I can feel hopelessly lost even if I am actually only a short distance from where I need to be. Sometimes my surroundings don’t feel or sound quite right and I accidently encourage Calvin to go off route. It is a frequent nightmare and I kick myself every time I do it. Making these minor and major mistakes come back to haunt me too, as Calvin remembers them and assumes I may want to re-visit the places we have been.
I rarely leave my house without my Trekker Breeze, so when I do get lost I can attempt to find my way again. However, there have been times where the Breeze is not much help. For example, earlier this year when I pressed the ‘where am I’ button, it announced that I was on the M1 motorway! A feeling of utter panic quickly followed even though there was no way that I had stumbled on to the motorway. The Breeze wasn’t being completely inaccurate as I was near a motorway bridge that runs very noisily above my head on one of my regular routes causing me to feel disorientated each time I am near it. It blocks my hearing, which I rely heavily on for spatial awareness.
Whilst I am trying to work out how best to proceed, Calvin takes the opportunity to munch on some nearby grass. Nobody is around and I need to get to an appointment. I literally didn’t know whether to turn left or right. Having a cautious feel round with my feet and hands I come across some sort of railing, which is either blocking us from the pavement or protecting us from the very busy road. I am totally confused, tired and stressed, yet I know I can’t stand there forever. I can feel Calvin tugging at the lead as he stretches to chew on more grass. They say dogs are meant to recognise when a person is distressed. At this moment in time, mine appeared completely oblivious. Irritated by Calvin’s lack of empathy, I snapped at him to find the way and well that’s exactly what he did. I couldn’t be sure that he was taking me the right way, but at least we were moving. He guided me to a crossing, crossed without stopping in turn making cars horn crazily at me. The extra noise really wasn’t helpful. After removing my heart from my mouth, I made Calvin ensure he found the crossing box for me prior to crossing the next road, as we were now in the middle with cars racing in front, behind and above us. I am not sure, but I think we crossed a few more roads to make it across this dual carriage way. Why and how we were on the other side I still can’t work out, but we had never crossed over at this point before. Once over the other side, Calvin took a right with no instruction from me and shortly after the Breeze announced a road I recognised. Interestingly, Calvin was heading towards the location where my appointment was rather than turning left, which I now realised would have taken us back home.
On that day and many other similar days, Calvin is my hero. When he is lying on his back with his paws in the air like he just doesn’t care, clutching a ball as well as a soft toy in his mouth, I find myself thinking how does this dog do it. He acts like a muppet one minute then does something amazing the next. Without consciously teaching him, Calvin understands so many words and has learnt how to communicate with me in return. It is like we have a telepathic connection or I have developed a mothers instinct.
As I said before, I am extremely lucky to have Calvin as not only my Guide Dog, but best friend and housemate. I sincerely hope we make it to eight great years by which time he will be nearly ten, the age I have been told that they definitely want Calvin retired by. However, if he is healthy and willing to work, I’m going to fight to keep him as my Guide Dog for as long as possible.