Chelly steals the show

So, the day I’ve been waiting for has arrived. Two years after I finished my post-graduate Diploma in broadcast journalism at Cardiff uni, and I’m finally graduating.
Chelsea’s been given a red scarf by Mum for the occasion.
My friend picks us up and drives us to City Hall.
I feel really excited as I collect my cap and gown.
I’m incredibly impressed when Mum strides past a man who’s just said to her:
“You don’t need to go in with them! She doesn’t need three people to help her!”
“Ah, but I’m her Mum!”
Goodonya Mum – that put him in his place!
A lovely lady dresses me – I know! How exciting is that? We had to just sort ourselves out when I graduated the first time.
I turn to Mum and say:
“Well, how do I look?”
“Beautiful darling,” snuffles Mum.
We hug.
After heaps of photos in various locations, we arrive at St David’s Hall.
The staff there treat me like a princess.
They’ve been expecting us.
Another friend arrives and we settle down for the ceremony.
My friend Rhod looks after James, as Chelsea is going on to the stage with Mum and I.
This seems fair as she sat through every single lecture with me.
James is fine, whenever I can I lean forward and whisper:
“Good boy!”
“Ladies and gentlemen! Proud Mums and Dads!”
I look at Mum.
We don’t have to say anything to each other.
I wish, not for the first time that day that Dad was with us.
I touch a brooch I’m wearing. It’s a duck which Dad bought for me on a visit to London.
He would be so proud of everything I’ve achieved over the last three years.
After a few rounds of graduates have gone up, Mum and I take our places with everyone in our group.
I don’t know any of them, as I had to graduate at a different time from my friends due to my circumstances at University.
“Well done!” says a girl
I smile and say:
“Thanks, you too!”
Then, I hear my name being called, and Mum, Chelly and I set off along the red carpet towards the Vice-Chancellor.
The sound is phenomenal!
Everyone is cheering, clapping and my two friends are shouting words of encouragement to me.
My friend videoed it and the cheers lasted 30 seconds – longer than for anyone else on the day!
I shake hands with the Vice-Chancellor.
“Congratulations!” he says.
“Thank you!” I say.
Chelsea is wagging her tail.
I’m sure she knows the cheers are for her as well.
“We did it!” I say to Mum afterwards.
“It’s all over! I can’t believe it!”
I’ll remember that day for a long time.
The cheers meant more to me than any of the people making the noise will ever know.
Their acknowledgement means so much to me.
It’s not what I did, it’s how everyone, from stranger to friend made me feel.
I felt accepted, excited and ready for the next chapter!!
I give Chelly a little kiss.
“Well done Chelly! We did it! Thank you for everything!”

Follow my adventures with Chelly and James at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
I’m fundraising for the OCHRE charity which supports people with oesophageal cancer and their friends.
Please consider donating at
http://www.justgiving.com/chelsea2james
or text 70070 with the code chja – you can donate 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 pounds.
Thanks heaps!

Chelsea comes back to Cardiff!

I’m wriggling with anticipation as I wait at the station for Mum and Chelsea to arrive.
My guide dog instructor is looking out for them.
“There she is!” She says.
The next thing I know, a little, black, bouncy Labrador has launched herself at me.
Her tail wags so much I fear it might fall off.
Not wishing to be outdone James starts jumping up and down like a kangaroo on a bouncy castle!
Eventually I remember my manners and say:
“Ah, hi Mum! How are you!”
Mum’s greeting is just as emphatic, but with less tail wagging!
We get on the bus and cause quite a commotion.
“Ah! Two doggies!” says a little voice.
“Yes love, but they’re special doggies. That doggy helps the lady cos her eyes are broken!”
I love the explanations parents give children.
I always say my eyes are broken, or poorly.
I work James back from the bus-stop and he’s incredibly well-behaved. Mum is very impressed with him.
Almost as soon as I’ve taken James’s harness off, the dogs are racing round the lounge.
They get on so well!
I knew this anyway as they’ve met before.
After a tremendous play, they flop down contentedly.
Chelsea lies on James’s bed and he lies on the mat beside her.
I smile at them.
That evening, I have an overwhelming sense of contentment.
I’m lying in a lovely bed, my wonderful Mum and retired dog are staying with me, and James is snoring happily on his bed.

Next time:
Chelsea and I graduate – at last!!!

Is it true guide dogs can read bus numbers?

“Excuse me love! Is it true guide dogs can tell you what number bus has arrived?”
“Yes,” I smiled.
“That’s marvellous! How does he let you know!”
“She taps her paw on the ground the correct amount of times.”
The old man got on to the bus in front of me muttering:
“Well I never! John was right! I thought he was winding me up!”
By now the pressure of keeping my laughter in was becoming too much. I thought I’d explode!
“By the way,” I said to the man as Chelly and I sat down.
“She makes a fantastic lasagne as well!”
Guide dogs are exceedingly clever, but they are “guide” dogs – the clue is in the name.
They can’t read, talk or drive.
My guide dog instructor explained how they work the other day like this.
The dog is the pilot and we are the navigators.
We have to know where we’re going in order to tell the dog which way to go.
It’s a total misconception that guide dog owners can leave their houses and say:
“Post office please Fido!”, while they relax and plan what they’re going to cook for dinner.
So, how do guide dogs know which bus to get on?
We have to ask the driver or person at the bus-stop, although apparently you can now get apps to help you (although I don’t know anything about these things)
So, that’s another post written.
Now, I wonder if I can persuade James to put the laptop down and make me a cup of tea!

The girl who think she’s a dog!

Whenever I’m walking out and about people always look at me and smile. It’s not because I’m stunningly attractive (or, maybe it is, I have no idea) but the more likely reason is because I talk to my dog – a lot!
I don’t just mean I give them commands about where we need to go – but I hold lengthy conversations with them.
I once got so engrossed with chatting to Chelly about what I was going to cook for dinner that I walked into a lamp-post!
I’ve actually taken it to new heights, I occasionally (admittedly between friends and hardly ever in a public place) answer back as if I was a dog! I have various accents for my dogs!
Vale had a posh accent, she was a pedigree dog and was very self-assured about how gorgeous she was.
For some reason Chelsea was a cockney.
I’m not sure which accent James will have. He was puppywalked in Oxford but lives in Cardiff.
The other day, James and I were walking around the lake in Roath Park, Cardiff.
There’s a lot of birds there, ducks, geese and swans.
A goose hissed at James and before I could stop myself I started singing:
“Goosey goosey gander!”
Luckily I remembered where I was before I got too carried away.
We were walking in Cardiff bay last week – and I suddenly started singing:
“Find the way, in Cardiff bay, and when we get home, we’ll have a play!”
It’s like I’m compelled to talk, or sing to my dogs when I’m out with them.
I asked my instructor if the public thought it was weird when we talk to our dogs – as a lot of dog owners do it.
She said it had the opposite effect. People smile at us when we walk by, it’s so lovely for them to see our interaction with our dogs.
Some people think they’re like machines, but they love to have any interaction, whether that’s being sung nursery rhymes or just normal commands.
I was told by a friend I have a naturally musical voice.
I’m not like a well-known tennis player whose voice is so monotonous they should play it to insomniacs! They’d soon fall asleep!
So, if you’re walking along in Cardiff and you hear a lady singing, or talking to herself – don’t be alarmed! It’s probably me asking James what he thinks of the news headlines! Or deciding what to have for dinner!
You can follow more of our adventures on twitter at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

The gift money can’t buy!

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
We all love getting presents. ) Incidentally, if anyone ever wants to buy me a gift, for whatever reason, you’ll never go wrong with anything seahorse related)!
I’ve had some fantastic gifts.
I received one today, it was from the lovely people I used to work with, it’s a talking watch.
They knew mine had broken and the fact they remembered this and bought me a new one was so lovely!
I remember the day I found out I was getting my first guide dog.
I’d been crossing over the road with a friend of mine, and he accidentally walked me into a lamp-post!
It was incredibly painful and I had a headache all day.
Mum decided to take me to the hospital after college as a precaution.
When I got into the car she said:
“I had a phone-call today! They’ve found you a guide dog! Her name’s Vale and the trainer’s bringing her out to see you tomorrow!”
That was how I got Vale!
The independence, freedom and loyalty she gave me was priceless!
I walked through the St David’s shopping centres with James today.
As we walked along with everyone else I felt an overwhelming sense of happiness!
There I was, totally blind from birth, relying on a dog to lead the way and keep me safe!
He led me through Cardiff market to the place I used to work!
We worked as a team, me giving him directions and heaps of praise.
I know people give thousands to support the fantastic work of guide dogs, something we as guide dog owners are incredibly grateful for.
But the feeling I had today while James and I were walking in Cardiff is something money can’t buy!

Follow my adventures with Chelly and James at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

For more information on how you can support guide dogs in many ways visit
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk

Walking back to happiness

James and I were settling into a nice routine.
He has two feeds a day and really enjoys them.
He does an endearing little burp after his meals!
I thought about Chelly a lot, but Mum kept me up-to-date with how she was getting on.
I allowed myself five minutes of tears on the Wednesday night, after which I wiped my eyes, walked back into the lounge and said to myself: “Pull yourself together love! James needs you! Chelsea’s fine, stop being so silly!”
However the tears came without warning on the Thursday morning.
I’d fed James and took him out to spend (relieve himself in the garden)
When the dogs arrive at a new place it can take them a while to settle into a spending routine.
I was sitting on the sofa and James put his head on me and whined!
I started crying and apologising to him.
I felt really down, as I had no idea how to make things better for him.
I suspect he was missing the lovely boarders who had been such a huge part of his life for the last ten weeks.
I’d thought about them a lot, especially on the day he came to my house. I prayed for them that morning and hoped it hadn’t been too difficult for them to let him come and live with me.
However, whereas it had been so easy to pull myself together the previous day I couldn’t do it this time.
That morning, our guide dog instructor said we were going to practise following our dogs and allowing them to find the way round a big department store which sells furniture (and delicious meatballs)!
This would show us how much we can trust our dogs to use their initiative.
James loved it. We’d already been to a supermarket to practise turns on the move!
He weaved his way through the store and was thoroughly enjoying himself.
He took me into some of the show-rooms. He showed me a cooker, lovely foot stool and a chest of drawers.
After having lunch we did it again.
He took me into the same lounge and bedroom he had found before.
He stood looking longingly at a sheepskin rug!
After telling him it was very nice, but I didn’t need one and neither did he he took me to the same foot-stool!
“He could stand on that like a plinth and pretend he’s a statue!” said my instructor.
As he guided me effortlessly around obstacles, including people and pillars, I started to giggle.
Then I couldn’t stop. It was like a volcano had been lying dormant within me – and the comical actions of my little yellow Labrador made it erupt!
I giggled uncontrollably and had to stand still as I couldn’t concentrate!
I realised I hadn’t felt this happy for a while.
Not since I was able to get out and about with Chelsea.
I’d laughed, a lot, but it hadn’t been the same as it was now!
I remembered reading a book by one of my favourite authors called Walking Back To Happiness.
It was about a lady who lost her husband, and took up dog walking.
She’d found it quite therapeutic and it had made her happy again, when she thought she could never get that feeling back!
This is how I felt!
I’d been happy having Chelsea with me, but had to rely on friends to take me to places which I’d been so used to going to by myself!
When we found the door (James found the toilet door I’d used twice, the café and then the front entrance) I gave him a big cwtch!
He really enjoys our “cuddle time!”
My instructor asked how I felt about what we’d done.
“I loved it!” I said.
“For the first time in a long time I felt free! I know James will keep me safe, and if we get lost, I know he’ll find his way!”
I feel we helped each other that day.
We both felt lost, but through tears, cuddles and a lot of hard work, we found a way through, and are really starting to bond!

The dog who thinks he’s a horse!

I’m fast asleep when I am woken up by a cold wet nose snuffling my ear. I hear a little whine.
“Chelly doesn’t normally wake me up like this,” I think.
Then I remember! It’s lovely James!
I get up and give him a fuss.
I take him out to the garden and he does a wee.
I check the time and discover its half past four!
I Immediately think of my sister. Perhaps she’s up at the same time feeding her four week old daughter.
I go back to sleep, but it’s not long until the same thing happens.
I get up and take James out again.
I give him a fuss when we get back.
It’s all new for him!
I wish I could tell him everything will be OK!
If only they could talk!
It’s our first morning on class and I’m very excited.
I meet the other lady on class, she’s come down from North Wales.
She had five guide dogs before.
She’s been matched with a lovely little yellow Labrador.
James is so happy to see our instructor and even more so when he discovers the other lady and her guide dog are there as well.
In the morning we practise grooming, checking our dog for any lumps, bumps ETC and do a bit of obedience.
James is very enthusiastic about being groomed and treats it like a game.
He grabs hold of his lead and tries to eat it!
He adores being cuddled and loves leaning against me.
The weather is incredibly hot so we wait till late in the afternoon to take the dogs out.
It’s our first walk and I’m both terrified and delighted.
We go to a part of Cardiff called Splott. There’s a lot of easy road crossings to practise finding the kerbs, right and left turns.
I put the harness on James, get into my correct foot position (more in a future post) swing my right hand out in front of me and say: “Forward!”
We’re off!
James’s speed takes me by surprise. It shouldn’t, as I’ve been on two walks with him before.
He’s just like a racehorse!
“Steady James,” I pant
“Mummy’s only got two legs! Slow down!”
He goes from a gallop into a canter.
I eventually persuade him to walk in a sedate fashion, but only for a few steps.
I suspect I used to be this quick with Chelly, but it’s difficult to remember.
We complete our first walk and my instructor asks how we feel.
“I really enjoyed that,” I say.
“Gosh, that dog can go quickly!”
We laugh and I give him a big hug.

James and I spend the evening getting to know each other.
It’s so hot, so he sleeps downstairs.
I’m pleased with how the first day went.
I know it’s going to be hard work, for both of us. But I know it will all be worth it!

update on Chelly

“How’s Chelly enjoying her retirement?” is a question I get asked a lot these days.
The answer? She absolutely adores it. She’s taken to it like a lab to water!
After all, who wouldn’t enjoy lolling around all day, being given carrots for no other reason other than standing by the fridge looking hungry. She’s been making herself at home. Mum has already told me Chelly’s been climbing on the sofa.
She’s been running on the beach, frolicking in the sea and racing round the park.
I miss her incredibly and there’s been a lot of tears this week.
It’s our nine year anniversary today. But having a new dog has been fantastic and he certainly makes me laugh almost as much as Chelly did. Chelsea’s coming to see us in a few weeks with Mum as I’m graduating from Cardiff university.
I know they’ll enjoy playing together.
Next time:
James starts work!

Introducing James, my new guide dog!

I check the time on my phone, even though I’ve already done so about ten times in the last hour. I put on some silver seahorse earrings and brush my hair.
To an outsider, it would look like I was preparing for a date, or a job interview.
I think about what’s going to happen today and actually wriggle with excitement.
I am going to meet someone new, but he doesn’t have two legs, he has four and an incredibly waggly curly tail!
The doorbell rings. At first I just sit there. I’m so used to that sound being followed up with a tremendous bark or howl from Chelly.
Then I get up, take a deep breath, and open the door.
My guide dog instructor is standing on the doorstep.
We’ve met before and she’s absolutely delightful.
I smile warmly at her.
“Shall I go and get your new dog?” she asks.
“Yes please,” I say and go inside to wait for the new arrival.
I can hardly contain my excitement. It’s all I can do to not jump up and down and break into song!
Now, James is very unlike Chelsea.
“Of course he is love,” I can hear you say.
“He’s a boy, and a totally different colour!”
You’d be correct on both points, but I don’t mean he’s different in that way.
Chelsea bounded into my house like a force 10 gale!
James recognises the house and me and pulls my instructor in. But he seems quieter, almost polite. We greet each other with typical British reserve, neither of us really knowing how to handle the situation.
I give him lots of fuss and he becomes a bit more bouncy.
We decide to let him explore his surroundings. He has a big drink of water and we take him out into the garden.
He’s absolutely adorable!
His tail goes round like a windmill, very much like Chelly’s.
He scampers in and out of the rooms downstairs before trotting back to my side and looking at me.
We practise feeding him and my instructor empties the huge bag of things James has arrived with.
He has grooming equipment, a whistle, Sam Brown reflective harness (for me, not him) and a new collar with a bell.
I show her the toys I’ve kept for him, plus his new toy piggy which grunts when you squeeze it.
James immediately seizes piggy by the tail and runs off with him!
We take him out for a free run. This is when the guide dog is allowed to run freely without the harness or lead.
James played with the other dogs, but when they got a bit boisterous he ran back to us.
Chelly is quite outgoing and insists on playing with other dogs until they either run off or bark at her.
Then my instructor says she’s going to settle the other lady on class into her hotel.
“You can get to know James, but if you need anything at all, don’t worry about ringing me, day or night!”
She closes the door – and James and I look at each other.
For the rest of the day he alternately sleeps and plays.
He’s completely tired out from a big free run, but spends a lot of time just coming over to me for a fuss or big cuddle.
I give him the choice of sleeping upstairs or in the lounge. The instructor and I have decided to let him choose where he is the most comfortable.
I feed him and take him out to the garden.
I brush him and spend time with him so we can start bonding.
This is a pivotal part of getting a new dog and has to be done without too much interruption from family and friends.
After more fuss I decide it’s time for me to go to sleep – it’s our first day of class tomorrow and both of us need to be fully revived and ready.
As I’m sitting writing my diary I hear footsteps.
James settles himself down on his bed, sighs contentedly and puts his head on his paws.
“Goodnight lovely boy,” I say, giving him a little fuss.
“I know things are strange for you, but we’ll be fine.” And as I say this, I really hope I’m right!

You can find out more about how James and I are getting on by visiting:
http://www.facebook.com/adogcalledchelsea
or
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Chelly’s next adventure

So, the time I had been dreading had arrived. I had one week left with Chelsea in Cardiff before packed her bags (or, as it turned out a huge suitcase) and prepared to send her to North Wales to retire disgracefully with my Mum.
I thought I was doing rather well emotionally – until we sang a song in church – and the feeling of loss hit me like a river bursting its banks.
“I can’t do this,” I sobbed to my friend
“How am I going to cope without Chelsea?”
We went out to the foyer, and three friends joined us.
I was very upset and couldn’t stop the tears which had been so close all week, but which I’d managed to control, until then.
All five of us were crying, as I said how much Chelsea had helped me, how I knew she’d be fine with Mum but I couldn’t imagine how I’d cope not being able to see her every day.
Seeing my friends almost as upset as I was really made me realise just how many lives Chelsea has touched.
She’s been my silent partner for the last 9 years, especially in the last three years when I experienced some of the most stressful events life can throw at you.
Chelsea wasn’t sure how to act during the torrent of tears, so she lay down quietly by my feet.
She then went from person to person, as if she was saying her own goodbyes to people who mean so much to us both!
When you have a dog, it’s not only what you do for them that truly matters, it’s the unspoken kindness they show us every day which makes them so special!
The rest of the week was full of visits from several friends saying goodbye to Chelsea.
I also finished working in a place I’d been at for almost a year.
She’ll be popping down to Cardiff with Mum a lot, but when she does, our time together will be extremely precious.
On Friday, Chelsea and I went out for breakfast with a very special friend.
She’s formed a firm friendship with Chelsea and I – and I knew the farewell would be difficult.
As I said goodbye to my friend, I managed not to cry:
“But only ‘cos I don’t have a tissue,” I said wobbly.
The train journey back was long, and Chelsea slept on my feet as she usually does.
Mum and I had a lovely weekend and I did “the speech” to Chelsea.
This is really when I say thank you to her, tell her to be good for Mum and say I hope the new dog is as good as she is – although I said \I don’t think he’ll be better.
Well, James already knows he has extremely big paws to fill!
I’ve owned guide dogs for 16 years. They’ve been my eyes, although I have never seen them.
I know I’ve tried to do the right things for them, but they’ll never know that they gave me so much more than my independence and freedom.
Thank you Chelsea for being a truly, genuine, fabulously wonderful friend!
Oh, by the way! Don’t think you can get away with things when I’m away – Mum will keep me updated!

Next time:
James arrives, and Chelsea makes herself at home!
If you’d like to keep up-to-date with my adventures you can follow me at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
or visit:
http://www.facebook.com/adogcalledchelsea