The big day had arrived. It was time for Vale and I to end our working partnership.
At 5 AM there was a huge thunderstorm!
Vale hated storms, in fact, she disliked any loud noises. She would shake, pant and sometimes throw up, it was horrid watching her.
As I sat next to her, I could hear the rain cascading down the windows and the lightning flashed. “It’s all right,” I soothed, stroking her golden fur. “It’s going to be OK!” As I murmured reassurances out loud though, I realised I was doing it as much for me as for her.
When she’d calmed down and we’d managed to get a few hours sleep – it was time to walk over to my parents with Vale on her harness for the very last time.
Just before we left, I wanted to have a moment by ourselves. Sobbing uncontrollably I hugged her and said: “Vale, thank you so much for everything you’ve done! If Chelsea’s half as good a dog as you’ve been, I’ll be lucky – but, I’m going to miss you so much!”
Now, let me just explain something. Some undoggish people, perhaps even some people who own dogs may find this anthropomorphism a bit too much, and for that I won’t apologise. Vale was my eyes, literally and our partnership was more than a guide dog/blind person partnership. She gave me confidence, inspired me to take up challenges and generally taught me how to accept myself for who I was, not who some people saw me as. I became Nicki the girl who skydived, did a half marathon, went to uni and so many things. With Vale by my side I felt I could take on anything.
When we arrived at my parents, the guide dog trainer was waiting for us.
“Well, are you ready?” he asked.
“I am, but does Chelsea know what she’s letting herself in for!”
Chelsea sat on my foot. Vale sniffed her, then walked away.
The guide dog trainer took Vale’s harness from me and handed me Chelsea’s. It was just like that! There was no ceremony, just a quick change over – like getting off one train and stepping on to another.
Chelsea sniffed Vale’s bed before climbing in and settling down with a huge sigh.
Vale walked out of the room and trotted into the dining-room, without so much as a backward glance.
It would be a whole week before the two dogs interacted with each other. In the mean time though, Chelsea and I had work to do. So, as I put Chelsea’s harness on, we headed out for our first walk and a new chapter of my life began.