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.
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!
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