what retiring Chelsea has really taught me

I’m going shopping today! Carry on reading, it gets better I promise!
The thing is, for me, it’s one of the things I’ve really missed since Chelsea retired.
It sounds really over-dramatic, if there’s such a word, but I said to Mum the other day that I feel my life’s on pause until I get my new dog.
I’ve never been without a working guide dog for more than half an hour.
Vale retired on the day Chelsea took over from her.
She’d been semi-retired before that, so I could still get to a few places.
Obviously I was without one in Australia, and when I go on holidays.
I had no idea how it would affect me.
I feel really trapped!
I’m OK during the day – as I’m working until about 6.
Weekends are the most frustrating.
I’m going out shopping twice this weekend though, with friends.
Also, I’m thinking about taking my cane, Michael for a spin round Canton tomorrow! (you have been warned)
I know I’m incredibly lucky to still have Chelly; she’s turned into a real puppy since she retired.

But, the biggest thing It’s taught me is how lucky I am!
I know! Strange isn’t it?
I’ve only been working for the local society for the blind for the last 7 months.
However, I’ve realised how lucky I am that I was born blind.
This is an incredibly controversial statement I know.
But it’s just how I feel!
Imagine it!
You worked all your life, perhaps as a doctor, teacher, bricklayer, as an artist, whatever! It doesn’t really matter!
Then you start having trouble with your vision!
Little things at first.
“Ah, it’s only my age,”
You might think.
Then you might get a bit of pain in your eye, or things might look blurry and strange.
Then things get worse and you’re told you’ve lost, or are losing your sight.
You’ve then got to cope with it!
How do you cope?
The answer is dictated by the amount of support you get.
I’ve had conversations with people where they’ve been in tears because nobody has been out to see them for months, even years.
We then step in and arrange either home visits, or whatever support they might need.
Sometimes we fail.
Sometimes, we make a real difference!
It’s my choice to be without a working guide dog!
I have chosen it as it’s the kindest thing for Chelsea.
So, my frustrations are because of the choices I’ve made!
But nobody “chooses” to be blind.
I am so thankful that the small things we do each day in our organisations make a difference.
Today, I’m going to ring a lady in the valleys and tell her she can start reading again!
There’s a service for people who are housebound.
Someone pops round each month with a selection of audio books.
She’ll get part of her life back.
It’s not through what I do, it’s through what I’ve been enabled to do, through the grace of God, who allowed me to be born blind!
So, when I’m clinking and clanging my way through Cardiff tomorrow and I start feeling cross –I’ll stop and think!
This is my choice!
Then, I’ll go and eat cake!

If you’d like to follow my adventures you can find me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
For more information on RNIB’s work visit:
http://www.rnib.org.uk
and for Wales:
http://www.rnib.org.uk/wales

We also run social groups, such as book, ladies, discussion, rambling and heaps of others at Cardiff institute for the blind
http://www.cibi.co.uk

“only a dog”

To everyone else
You are “Only a dog”
But to me, you are so much more.
You’re the one who can quieten the storms of my life
With a lick, or the touch of your paw.
To everyone else,
You are “only a dog”
For the last eight years you were my guide
But while friends come and go like the tides of the sea
You have always been there by my side.
To everyone else
You are “Only a dog”
“You’ll get a replacement one day”
But they’ll never know what an unbreakable bond
We share in so many ways.
But to me Chelsea,
You’re not “Only a dog”
But you’re faithful and loyal too
And for everything that you’ve been
And given to me
I say a great big “Thank you”

three anniversaries: part 1

What do you remember about the 16th of November 1997?
Maybe you gave birth to your first child.
Perhaps you got married on that day.
Maybe it’s the day you passed your driving test.
For me, it was the day I found the key to a door that had always been locked.
It’s 10 to 11 in the morning, the 16th of November 1997.
I’m sitting on my bed wriggling with anticipation and nerves.
There’s a knock at the door.
I run and open it.
“Here she is!” says a voice.
“I’ll leave you to get to know each other for a few minutes then I’ll come back.”
I reach out my hand and take the lead of my first guide dog, Vale.
I’m totally flummoxed as to what to do next!
I’d never owned a dog.
“Hello Vale,” I say, tentatively reaching out my hand.
She licks it with such a ferocity I fear for my fingers!
“You’re a nice dog aren’t you?”
This is more of a question, rather than a statement.
Vale sits on my foot.
Obviously we’d met before – and I instantly loved her.
But now she was going to be the dog I put my entire trust in for the next 8 or so years.
She’d be my sole responsibility, and in turn, I would be hers.
Vale starts whining.
She gives me her paw.
I don’t know what else to do so I just stroke her for a while.
Then there’s a knock at the door again.
It’s my guide dog trainer.
“So, are you ready for your first lesson?
I pick up Vale’s lead and we step out of the room – and into our new life together.
The first few days were difficult.
Vale certainly knew I didn’t have a clue about dogs.
However, she was one of the best behaved dogs on class.
I put the work in, I did what I was asked to do and our working relationship blossomed.
I remember the very first walk we did on our own.
The trainer said he’d step in if we got into trouble, or hideously lost.
We didn’t.
The first walk without being given direction by the trainer was invigorating.
When we’d finished I gave Vale a huge hug.
“Thank you Vale,” I said.
“Thank you for trusting me.”
I often get asked what getting Vale was like.
I say it was like finding the key to a door that had always been locked.
I’ve always been independent, my parents taught me to be that way.
But getting Vale allowed me to grow in independence, explore new surroundings and branch out on my own.
I never knew how owning a guide dog would completely transform my life!

Next time…
Chelly celebrates a very special birthday – and I relive one of the worst days of my life.

You can learn more about what adventures Chelly and I get up to at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

The lows and highs of retiring a guide dog- part 2

I can’t believe how five minutes can completely change my mood.
“Really? I say.
“That’s fantastic! Thank you!”
I put the phone down – but this time, instead of crying I’m grinning.
“Chelly! You can stay with me!”
Chelly wags her tail before emptying the bin.
I’ve just been told I can keep Chelly in retirement before a new dog is found.
It could take up to five months to find a potential match but at least Chelly will be with me.
I’ve given Chelly’s harness to a friend to hand in for me.
Before that though, it’s time for Chelly’s last harness walk in Cardiff.
The walk to the bus-stop is not as emotional as I thought.
I don’t actually think it has occurred to me what I’m doing.
I’m so happy about the fact she can stay that I don’t really think about her not working for me anymore.
I went to visit Mum and Chelly did her last ever harness walk.
She’s fantastic, finds a bin wen I need one and Mum takes a video of her working in the library. She always takes the lift up, but the steps down.
The journey back to Cardiff is awful!
I have two bags, Chelsea and my cane.
At one point I have to stand for almost three quarters of an hour on a packed train which rocks and reels like a ship in a storm.
I stoically grin and bear it, thinking that at least by standing I’m adding minutes on to my life, while the rest of the carriage loses minutes by sitting!
I drop my bags off at my house and get the taxi to my friends.
It’s then that it hits me, the last time I did this journey it was by bus, and Chelly guided me from the bus-stop to my friends house. Chelly will never do that again!
My friend comes to walk me from the taxi and when we get to her house I start crying.
“How am I going to cope without Chelsea Kate?” I ask.
She gives me a hug and reassures me she’ll get me through the difficult times.
I thank the Lord, not for the first time for such lovely, kind friends.
It’s been almost three weeks now since Chelly retired.
She adores retirement; she’s acting like a puppy!
She’s 10 on Monday, where has the time gone!
I know one day she’ll have to go to Mum’s house.
Until then though, I’m enjoying every minute we have together.
She bounces around like a small kangaroo and her infectious attitude to life rubs off on me.
I feel positive about the next chapter of my life.
I know with Chelsea and the new dog by my side, I can do anything!!

the lows and highs of retiring a guide dog – part 1

I’ve made the decision! I’m shocked by the reaction of the person I spoke to, but more than that, I’m shocked by my reaction to what I’ve just done.
I stand up and shakily walk the one minute it takes to get from my desk to one of the meeting rooms.
I’m struggling to keep the emotion which is threatening to erupt like a volcano! I’m scared of what could happen if it does.
Chelly knows something is wrong.
She sits next to me as I slowly begin to realise what’s happened.
It’s then the tears fall. They’re quick, frustrating tears, the sort of tears you know could overwhelm you.
I say a few things to her, I can’t remember what.
Then the door opens and one of my friends from work comes in.
I called her just after I made the decision.
“What am I going to do?” I ask her – as she gives me a hug.
“I can’t believe how clinical they were when I told them!”
Chelsea licks my hand.
Slowly I begin to feel calmer.
My friend is cross on my behalf, but I understand why my decision wasn’t handled the way I think it should have been.

I’m OK the rest of the afternoon.
However, it’s the next day that I realise just how difficult the next six months will be.
There’s a feature on an Australian radio station about guide dogs.
I can’t control the tears of grief that flow.
“This is ridiculous,” I say to Mum during our first phone call of the day.
“I can’t keep dissolving into tears any time someone mentions guide dogs!”
Then Mum says the words nobody – not even I have thought of.
“Why don’t you keep Chelsea yourself, until the new dog comes!”
It’s like a bolt of lightning – more than that, it’s like finding an oasis in the desert, it’s like winning the lottery!
It’s the hope I didn’t have before.
I wasn’t given the choice of keeping her, and I was so emotionally drained and upset at losing the companion I’d worked with for 8 years that the thought of keeping her with me in Cardiff never entered my mind!
“Do you reckon I could?” I ask excitedly.
“I don’t see any reason why not!” says Mum.
I talk it over with two really close friends and they’re pretty sure I can keep her!
I just have to make another phone call on the Monday! I hope it goes better than the last two!

You can keep up with my adventures at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
or:
http://www.facebook.com/adogcalledchelsea