Tag Archives: guide dogs

How to help a person through the loss of a pet

I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting my blog. The past six months has gone by so quickly. Mum and I continue to miss Chelsea every day – but I’m so glad for all the memories of my special, amazing little Labrador. I thought I’ write a quick blog though to try and help other people who may be experiencing the loss of their pet – and also to gently advise people of how they can help – or not help someone who’s pet has died. Warning: These are only my opinions – and I take no responsibility for any offence anyone may take at my suggestions. Things which are helpful: Let yourself grieve – in any way you want. Cry, scream, or, allow the numbness to wash over you for as long as it takes. Nobody can tell you how long to grieve, or how to do it. I’d describe my grief as being like a faulty bath. I’d be aware of it dripping away in the background, but I could more or less cope. Then something would happen and the taps would just burst into life. I was out with Friends the other day and I heard a song which my guide dog trainer played on the radio on the first day I started training with Chelsea. I just started crying! Talk about your pet if you want to – with those who knew them the most. Mum misses Chelsea lots as well – and we talk about her almost every day. Don’t do anything you feel you should. If you want to scatter your pet’s ashes – do it. If you want to keep them on your chest of drawers – or on your coffee table – that’s fine. Ask the person about their pet. I love talking to people about Chelsea. People who never met her don’t share the feelings I do – so it’s great to have a chat with someone about all the funny things she did. Lastly, pay special attention to any other pets you have – love them, hug them and tell them it’s OK. Jimmey missed Chelsea as well – and it was heart-breaking when he sniffed her blanket when Mum and I returned home after Chelsea died. Now, some things which I feel are not helpful to say to a person who’s lost a pet. Never, ever say “I know how you feel!” or “I know how it feels!” you don’t – because you’re not me! Also, it can feel quite false at times. I tend to say: “It’s awful isn’t it! I don’t know what to say!” You’re acknowledging the feelings of the other person – without making it all about you. A dear friend, who has had guide dogs but hasn’t had to face the awfulness of the last chapter sent me a lovely Email. It was straight from the heart and – like all the lovely messages I had about my Chelsea, I’ve kept it. Please don’t tell someone who loses a pet at an older age: “Well, she was 14!” It’s horrible when a pet dies young – I know that! But, it’s just as bad when the pet has had a long and happy life. I might say to someone who asks how old Chelsea was: “Well, she was 14 years and 3 months – but we still miss her heaps!” But that’s my choice and I wouldn’t tell somebody they were lucky to have her for such a long time. Now, this is tricky – people mean well when they say it – but be very careful about jumping in with: “So, will you get another dog now?” Timing is important with this one – as well as barrel loads of sensitivity. Lots of people asked Mum this – when it was the last thing on her mind. Lastly, don’t be afraid of talking about the pet. Funny stories, things they did. Not everybody will know your pet has died. I went to see a friend the day after Chelsea died – and a man came up to me and asked how she was. More crying – which is embarrassing for other people I know, but my friend explained to him what had happened – and I told him it was OK to talk about her. Not everybody will want to talk – and that’s totally fine as well. The last point is to just grieve how you feel you want to – and for anyone going on the awful journey of loss with a friend – be there, be kind and just listen.

I don’t know what to say

What’s your response when someone tells you a member of their family has died?
Do you nod sympathetically and say:
“I’m so sorry.”
Or, do you grasp their hand and say earnestly:
“Oh goodness, I know how you feel, we lost *insert name here* last year.”
Or, do you admit, like a friend did when my Dad died that you:
“Don’t know what to say.”
The reason I haven’t written a blog post for ages is that, I didn’t know what to say.
In February, my dear, darling Chelsea *who was the inspiration for starting this blog* died.
I tried to write a blog post shortly after she died, but I kept crying – and just didn’t know what to write.
Many of you reading this didn’t even know her – but I know lots of you“ will understand the vast range of emotions I have – and am still experiencing.
Grief is a strange beast – it makes you do and think strange things.
I remember getting angry because someone else had told a friend Chelsea was ill – but they hadn’t bothered to text me and find out how she was.
Another person totally ignored a text I’d written to him saying Chelsea had died.
That’s how they deal with it – and I’ve learned – after the death of my Father and two guide dogs that I can’t be responsible for how other people feel about things.
Another thing losing Chelsea has made me think of is that we, as guide dog owners have to go through this process – twice – about 6 times in our lives.
Now, let me explain why I say twice.
When we retire our precious guide dogs – we grieve for the working relationship and bond we shared.
For many people, (including me) our dogs literally save our lives on numerous occasions.
Some guide dog owners – for many reasons retire their guide dogs outside the family. and it’s not for me or anybody else to tell them they’re wrong.
However, for those of us who keep the dogs in the family – we have to go through another form of grief, when the guide dog, who we might have lived and worked alongside for 8 years dies.
It’s awful!
But I have chosen to have a guide dog to help me – and although I know there will be many more tears in my life-time – I wouldn’t want to lose the immeasurable confidence, independence and love guide dogs give to me.
For that, I will always be grateful.

my first ever tube journey with a guide dog

I’ve travelled – a lot. I’ve done a work placement in Australia at a radio station, walked with lions in Zimbabwe and scaled the dizzying heights of Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand.
But, up until last week I hadn’t been on the London underground with my guide dog, by myself!
The mere idea of it made my underarms drip with absolute dread!
I’ve been on the tube, lots of times, but I was always with someone else, or just with my white cane.
Now to some people, especially people who use white canes that’ll sound strange.
How is it different being with a guide dog, to relying on a cane?
It’s complicated, and very simple at the same time.
A cane can be pulled out to its full length, in turn showing people that I am in need of some assistance.
It can, if needed trip people up (admittedly I’ve only done this once)!
Jimmey, as you may know is my third guide dog. He’s my first boy and incredibly outgoing and sociable (like I am) but he can also feel incredibly unconfident and needs reassurance (like I do at times)
It’s not just me I need to worry about with a dog, it’s both of us, which doubles the anxiety I sometimes feel.
So, I did what any normal person would do in this current climate – I took to twitter.
I asked how one would go about doing a tube journey with a guide dog.
Will I be helped? Would they abandon me half-way through my journey? Would I actually end up where I wished to go?
A wonderful lady *who I’ve never met, and probably never will, although I’d like to), called Amy assured me that it would be fine – and it was.
Amy doesn’t have a guide dog yet, but she regularly blogs about her adventures with a cane, including tube dramas and triumphs.
In fact, I actually enjoyed it – which really surprised me.
Not that I’m keen to repeat the experience any time soon, nor would I be happy to do a journey by tube on a daily basis) but some kind reassuring words from a stranger made me do something I’ve never done – and that, in my opinion is a very good thing indeed!

you can follow my adventures in twitterland at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Love is blind?

I’ve given up trying to find Mr. Right – or even Mr. Goodenough.
I’ve accepted that the only man I’m going to have in my life has four legs and enjoys nothing more than running in and out of puddles and shedding copious amounts of fur!
I’ve been on a few dates, but most of them have been so disastrous I’ve decided I’m much better off being a feisty independent lady!
Here are just two stories of my dating adventures.

I should have known Ben *not his real name* was trouble by Chelly’s reaction.
She’s always been a good judge of character, and normally I’m tuned into her emotions.
I’m early, as I am for most things.
I’m just about to go home, thinking I’ve been stood up for the first time when a voice says:
“You’re dog’s not going to bite me is he?”
“No! Luckily for you she’s just had her dinner!” I say, flashing a wide smile.
The voice doesn’t answer for about thirty seconds, then he says:
“Right, shall we go in then?”
So, I think, that must be Ben, my date!
I have no sight at all so tone of voice is more important to me than body language.
“Ah bless him!” I think.
It must be daunting for him to be on a date with a really attractive blind lady and her even more stunning guide dog!”
Ben and I met on a Christian dating website. We’ve skyped once, messaged heaps of times and he seemed a really lovely person.
That’s why I took the plunge and mentioned meeting up before I left Cardiff to go to Australia to see friends and travel for a bit.
Chelly by this time is making her feelings known very well, but as I mentioned before I didn’t pick up on it.
She’s sitting bolt upright by my chair and I’m sure she keeps glancing at the door!
If she’d have growled at Ben I may have been more aware.
We have a meal, then walk by the castle for a bit.
I’m feeling absolutely bored!
I think of the pile of ironing waiting for me, and long to be back home!
I’d done the right thing and told my friends I was going out, what time we were meeting and where we’d be.
I fervently regretted not asking them to ring me at an appointed time with a crisis!
But I didn’t think the date would be this dull!
I laugh at his attempts of humour and try and interact with him.
“You’re a trained journalist,” I tell myself.
“You should be good at asking questions!”
I really think he’ll burst into tears when he starts saying how bad his childhood was and how he wishes he’d treated his sister better than he did!
Eventually I hear the words I’ve been longing for all night.
“Well, it’s been a lovely evening, shall I walk you home?”
“Oh, yes please!” I say, resisting the overwhelming desire to clap and do a jig!
I tell him Chelsea and I will be fine if he leaves us at the corner before my flat.
He scurries off into the night and I rush inside to ring a friend and update her on the date.
So, I’m totally bemused the next day when I get a message from Ben saying:
“Last night was really good fun! I really enjoyed meeting you! I’d like to take you out again on Tuesday, but you can leave the dog at home and I’ll drop you back after!”
Needless to say he got an abrupt reply back and we never spoke again.
Fast forward five years and my sister comes running down the stairs, brandishes her IPhone at me and squeals:
“You never told me you’d been on a date?”
She was one of the 2 million people who saw the first dates for guide dogs video on Facebook last year.
I was part of a group of four visually impaired people picked from hundreds of applications to appear on a video to promote guide dogs.
I bought myself a new outfit and we had our hair and make-up done.
I went to London, a real adventure for someone who was brought up in a little seaside town.
The dates hadn’t been informed we had any form of “disability” and I was asked to walk into the restaurant and sit down with my dog James.
So, I did – and then followed half a minute of silence.
“Oh great,” I thought
“A stand-off! Let’s see who talks first.”
Then my date did.
All in all it was – as the video depicted a fantastic, lovely time.
We chatted and things were going well, we had quite a bit in common and he regaled me with tales of his travels.
He was totally amazed I’d been sky-diving, on the biggest zip wire, won 4 TV quizzes, worked at a radio station in Australia and completed two long distance walks.
We both said we’d like to go on a second date – but unfortunately we never did.
As soon as the cameras stopped and I asked him if he’d like to stay and chat for a bit with me and the rest of the people on the programme he said he had to get back to work.
This really upset me as two out of the four dates stayed and got on really well with their matches.
I’m totally OK with it, now.
Yes there were tears of rejection afterwards – and countless replays of Meghan Trainor’s song “close your eyes” on the journey home.
I think it can be quite daunting meeting a disabled person for the first time, but it’s equally stressful for me as a blind person trying to find someone.
My main problem is the eye contact thing. I can smile, ask heaps of questions, wear lovely clothes and everything you’re supposed to do.
But I often find that when men have fussed over James and found out everything there is to know about him, they forget there’s something attached to the other end of his lead.

I’m never going to let not having a partner define me – as I’ve achieved so much without one and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
Maybe there’s a quiz loving, outdoorsy, able to cook, funny, loves reading and travelling man out there, but until he finds me I’ll keep celebrating the good things I have in my life.
You can follow me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

the top ten best things about being blind

In my last post I wrote the top 10 annoying things about being blind. So, here is my top ten list of the best things about being blind.
1 The awkwardness of sighted people when you refer to yourself and another blind friend as: “The two blindies in the corner” this happened at a pub quiz once and I’d given the quiz master full permission to call us that. A lady kept giving him dirty looks until I bellowed: “its fine, I told him he could call us that!” We won the quiz a week later with the quiz name the two blind mice.
2 Going out the house having attempted to do your own make-up, and knowing that the people you meet will be too kind to tell you its awful!
3 Having a guide dog and knowing you’re never alone. I love taking James everywhere, within reason and just being able to give him a little stroke or cuddle when I’m unsure about a situation is fantastic.
4 Related to that, knowing that people will talk to you if you have a guide dog. Admittedly, sometimes it’s annoying or plain rude or unnecessary.
Yesterday James needed to relieve himself, very rare that he needs to do it out and about, but when he was in the throws I heard a man’s voice saying: “eoeoeoeeeroeoeoooo!” I said to James *and him* “Oh James, we seem to have an audience. If I’d have known that I’d have charged for tickets!”
5 A fantastic little device called RNIB in your pocket allows me to read all the daily papers, lots of magazines and gives me access to over 20,000 books. It’s really easy to use, you just speak to it and let it *or her, she’s called Sam* know what you want to hear. You can even access hundreds of podcasts.
6 A special mention has to go to our local society for the blind. It’s actually called Cardiff institute for the blind (I hate the word institute, personally I think it should be society) but the staff and volunteers there are amazing! I recently moved here from another part of the UK and the help I’ve had from CIB has made such a difference.
7 Being able to encourage *I hate the word inspire* other blind people *and sighted people* to try new things. I’ve been so lucky to have had so many experiences. From swimming with dolphins, competing a half marathon, two long distance walks, a skydive and taking part in 7 TV quizzes to name a few. I know lots of people have done these, but I’m also aware there are lots of people who’d love to be able to try something new, but are scared or worried about it. Earlier I was part of a show called Weatherman Walking and we went to the local RSPB reserve in Conwy. We showed people who having a sight problem was not a barrier to enjoying nature. A few days later I had a tweet from the manager of the reserve saying how a young man had been inspired by the programme and had made his first visit to a nature reserve since his sight started getting worse.
8 The kindness of strangers. I know before I said at times people can be rude and unkind, but 99 % of the time I meet lovely kind people. From the lady who gave me £5 for a taxi when a bus driver left me stranded four stops from my home at 7 PM on a winters night, to the man in a local shop who looked after Chelsea for an afternoon when James and I had to take Mum to hospital after she broke her wrist. Someone once said that when you have a disability, you attract a certain kind of person who wants to be caring and helpful – and while a lot of disabled people might not agree, I think there’s a lot of truth in it.
9 This is silly, but knowing that if I was ever caught up in a power cut I could still amuse myself by listening to my battery operated radio or reading a braille book.
10 Being able to laugh at myself every day when I commit a “blindism” this could be apologising to a clothes rail in a shop, or giggling uproariously when I’m told by my university lecturer not to say “see, watch or look!” my response: “OK, do you want me to say guess who I felt in town the other day?” queue a very, very stunned silence from her – and helpless giggling from me.
If you want to know more about the fantastic organisations mentioned in this blog you can visit.
http://www.rnib.org.uk
http://www.cibi.co.uk
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk
http://www.rspb.org.uk
or follow me in twitterland at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

the top 10 annoying things about being blind

I don’t normally think about how irksome it is being blind, it’s just something I’ve lived with all my life. But, after spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to pick up little bits of paper off the floor after tearing up some bills, it got me thinking about the top ten most annoying things about being blind.
Disclaimer time, this is only my list, I’m not, and would not speak for other blind and visually impaired people. But I know lots of sighted people will understand some of the annoyances, so here we go!
1. Dropping paper/rice/pasta and, despite hoovering it up you still tread on it for days.
2. Constantly whinging about how lucky drivers are, especially when you’re standing at a bus-stop in the pouring rain.
3. Having to endure endless speculation about how you became “Like that!” It’s not helpful, kind or even that interesting in my case.
4. Having a long conversation with someone, only to discover they’ve walked away. That’s when having a guide dog comes in handy, you can pretend you were talking to them.
5. Always having to be that happy, positive person outwardly, when inside you’re thinking: “Being blind is awful sometimes, I’m not having a good day and if you ask me about my dog one more time I’m going to scream!”
6. Not being able to read menus and having to rely on someone to read them for you. Worst still is when someone says: “Well love, what do you like?” I don’t know until you read the menu and I’ll decide!
7. The ultra-competitiveness of some blind people. It’s such a small world and they’ll always be those who think they’re better because they have a dog/cane, sighted/blind partner, children/no children. I know this happens in the sighted world, but it seems to be quite prevalent in disabilityland as well.
8. A bit similar to the last one, but having everyone say: “Ooo, don’t you have an IPhone?” Yeah, actually I do, but I hate it!!!
9. Listening to people tell you about the latest “cure”! My blindness is so rare it doesn’t have a name, also it’s impossible to restore something you’ve never had!
10. Munching your way through a meal and discovering it contains olives! Admittedly that’s a personal one, but it is really annoying – and it’s my list so I’ll pop it in!
Tomorrow I’ll write the best things about being blind.

You can follow my adventures in twitterland with my guide dog James at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

first dates for guide dogs – what happened next

You might be one of the two million people who watched the “first blind dates” video online for guide dogs.
It was fantastic, a really lovely day.
But what you don’t know is what happened next.
I only knew about the video being online when my sister came racing downstairs, phone aloft shrieking:
“Nicki, you didn’t tell me you’d met someone>? He looks lovely! Have you seen him again?”
OK, time for a disclaimer.
This is only my experience, I can’t and wouldn’t write about anyone else involved in the process.
Right, so on to the story.
I bought myself a new outfit and we had our hair and make-up done.
I went to London, a real adventure for someone who was brought up in a little seaside town.
The dates hadn’t been informed we had any form of “disability” and I was asked to walk into the restaurant and sit down with my dog James.
So, I did – and then followed half a minute of silence.
“Oh great,” I thought
“A stand-off! Let’s see who talks first.”
Then my date did.
All in all it was – as the video depicted a fantastic, lovely time.
We chatted and things were going well, we had quite a bit in common and he regaled me with tales of his travels.
He was totally amazed I’d been sky-diving, on the biggest zip wire and competed in a half marathon.
We both said we’d like to go on a second date – but unfortunately we never did.
As soon as the cameras stopped and I asked him if he’d like to stay and chat for a bit with me and the rest of the people on the programme he said he had to get back to work.
I’m totally OK with it, now.
Yes there were tears of rejection afterwards – and countless replays of Meghan Trainor’s song “close your eyes” on the journey home.
I feel he wanted – and got his five minutes of fame *Yeah, I know it’s fifteen, but the video was five*
I also suspected the last thing he expected to meet was someone like me and he was overwhelmed with panic and the only way he could cope was to use the flight response.
It’s something which happens to people on dates all over the UK.
I have had some very good dates with sighted and non sighted people but I’d invested so much emotional energy in this one that the rejection hit me harder than it had before.
I wish him all the best for the future – and I hope he finds who, or what he’s looking for because he is a very pleasant man.
As for me?
Well, it’s actually made me finally realise how comfortable I am with who I am.
If I meet someone, that’s cool – but if I don’t that’s also fantastic.
It’ll certainly be cheaper this Christmas and next Valentine’s Day.
It also reminded me of another dating disaster.
I should have known Ben was trouble by Chelly’s reaction.
She’s always been a good judge of character, and normally I’m tuned into her emotions.
I’m early, as I am for most things.
I’m just about to go home, thinking I’ve been stood up for the first time when a voice says:
“You’re dog’s not going to bite me is he?”
“No! Luckily for you she’s just had her dinner!” I say, flashing a wide smile.
The voice doesn’t answer.
“Right, shall we go in then?”
So, that must be Ben, my date!
“Ah bless him!” I think.
“He’s obviously trying, but failing to be funny! It must be awful for him to be on a blind date with a really attractive lady and her even more stunning guide dog!”
Ben and I met on a dating website. We’ve skyped once, messaged heaps of times and he seemed a really lovely person.
That’s why I took the plunge and mentioned meeting up before I left Cardiff to go to Australia to see friends and travel for a bit.
Chelly by this time is making her feelings known very well, but as I mentioned before I didn’t pick up on it.
She’s sitting bolt upright by my chair.
If she’d have growled at Ben I may have been more aware.
We have a meal, then walk by the castle for a bit.
I’m feeling absolutely bored!
I think of the pile of ironing waiting for me, and long to be back home!
I’d done the right thing and told my friends I was going out, what time we were meeting and where we’d be.
I fervently regretted not asking them to ring me at an appointed time with a crisis!
But I didn’t think the date would be this dull!
I laugh at his attempts of humour and try and interact with him.
“You’re a trained journalist,” I tell myself.
“You should be good at asking questions!”
I really think he’ll burst into tears when he starts saying how bad his childhood was and how he wishes he’d treated his sister better than he did!
Eventually I hear the words I’ve been longing for all night.
“Well, it’s been a lovely evening, shall I walk you home?”
“Oh, yes please!” I say, resisting the overwhelming desire to clap and do a jig!
We part without so much as a kiss on the doorstep.
“Well Chelly,” I say.
I’m glad that’s over!”
So, I’m totally bemused the next day when I get a message from Ben saying:
“Last night was really good fun! I really enjoyed meeting you! I’d like to take you out again on Tuesday, but you can leave the dog at home and I’ll drop you back after!”
OK, I know my reaction wasn’t kind, I ignored him!
I get back from a wonderful time in Australia to find loads of messages, starting nicely and escalating into rants of injustice!
The last one says:
“Why are you ignoring me! I don’t deserve to be treated this way!”
I respond by saying that I’d been away, I didn’t appreciate him asking me to leave Chelly at home, and asked him if he’d say that to a lady who used a wheelchair!
I never heard from him again!
Note: name has been changed to protect the ignorant
You can follow my adventures with Chelsea and James at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
for more about guide dogs visit
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk

introducing Chelsea

For the last seven and a half years, my life has been full of fun, laughter and absolute joy! It started on the 3rd of July 2006 when a little black Labrador burst into my world with all the grace of a hippo in a pool of sea lions!
We first met in May 2006. She’d sniffed me, then plonked herself on my lap with a contented sigh! I patted her and looked at the guide dog mobility instructor who’d brought Chelsea to meet me.
“So Nicki,” he said.
“What do you think of her so far?”
I hesitated. Inside I was screaming: “No, this isn’t happening! I don’t want this to happen!” but it wasn’t Chelsea’s fault.
Instead I said:
“um, she’s very small! Look at her, how’s she going to guide me. Vale is much bigger!”
The guide dog trainer laughed and called her over to him.
“What do you mean? She’s small, yes, but she’s an excellent worker, come on, let’s take her for a spin, see how she goes.” Now this was getting surreal – this was a dog, not a new car.
I stood up and Chelsea shook herself and trotted over to the trainer. She seemed to really like him.
We put her harness on and I gave her the command to go forward. She took off like a rocket and I squeaked in surprise.
We weaved in and out of the obstacles on my local shopping street and I felt a bit better.
The guide dog trainer congratulated us and asked the question I’d been dreading:
“Well, what do you think? do you think she could be your next guide dog?”
I thought about Vale, my first guide dog who I’d left in my flat. My mind went back 8 years to how I’d felt when I met her.
Chelsea was so different! She was so tiny, so lovely, but she wasn’t Vale. How could I answer this question! What would it say about Vale who’d been my eyes since I was 19! I wanted to say: “Don’t make me answer that question!
Instead I said:
“She’s very nice but maybe I need to meet her again in a few weeks, after my holiday to Zimbabwe?”
Luckily the trainer agreed. agreed.
For the next few weeks during and after my holiday I thought about Chelsea constantly.
I wondered how she was, what she was doing.
You know when you read a really interesting story and get attached to the characters and wish you could meet them? It was like that! I felt the book hadn’t been closed and there was more to discover.
After a really enjoyable safari holiday in Zimbabwe the trainer Andy brought Chelly back to meet me.
This time she lay on my foot, snoring contentedly while we talked.
“The thing is,” he said.
“I don’t think she’s right for you, she’s a bit distracted by other dogs. I let two other people walk with her and they couldn’t cope. I’m sorry, I don’t think it’d work.”
“Why?” I said
“She seemed fine, you didn’t say that when we met! I could help her, Vale had a lot of problems to begin with and I overcame them! Please let me try!”
“OK,” he said.
“I’ll do some more work with her and then you can begin training. I’m warning you though, it’s going to be tough!”
He wasn’t wrong, but what he didn’t say was that it would be worth every single minute!
I had no idea just how my life would change and what a big part in it Chelsea would play.
Next time:
More adventures with Chelly
You can follow my adventures in twitterland at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

introducing Chelsea

For the last seven and a half years, my life has been full of fun, laughter and absolute joy! It started on the 3rd of July 2006 when a little black Labrador burst into my world with all the grace of a hippo in a pool of sea lions!
We first met in May 2006. She’d sniffed me, then plonked herself on my lap with a contented sigh! I patted her and looked at the guide dog mobility instructor who’d brought Chelsea to meet me.
“So Nicki,” he said.
“What do you think of her so far?”
I hesitated. Inside I was screaming: “No, this isn’t happening! I don’t want this to happen!” but it wasn’t Chelsea’s fault.
Instead I said:
“um, she’s very small! Look at her, how’s she going to guide me. Vale is much bigger!”
The guide dog trainer laughed and called her over to him.
“What do you mean? She’s small, yes, but she’s an excellent worker, come on, let’s take her for a spin, see how she goes.” Now this was getting surreal – this was a dog, not a new car.
I stood up and Chelsea shook herself and trotted over to the trainer. She seemed to really like him.
We put her harness on and I gave her the command to go forward. She took off like a rocket and I squeaked in surprise.
We weaved in and out of the obstacles on my local shopping street and I felt a bit better.
The guide dog trainer congratulated us and asked the question I’d been dreading:
“Well, what do you think? do you think she could be your next guide dog?”
I thought about Vale, my first guide dog who I’d left in my flat. My mind went back 8 years to how I’d felt when I met her.
Chelsea was so different! She was so tiny, so lovely, but she wasn’t Vale. How could I answer this question! What would it say about Vale who’d been my eyes since I was 19! I wanted to say: “Don’t make me answer that question!
Instead I said:
“She’s very nice but maybe I need to meet her again in a few weeks, after my holiday to Zimbabwe?”
Luckily the trainer agreed. agreed.
For the next few weeks during and after my holiday I thought about Chelsea constantly.
I wondered how she was, what she was doing.
You know when you read a really interesting story and get attached to the characters and wish you could meet them? It was like that! I felt the book hadn’t been closed and there was more to discover.
After a really enjoyable safari holiday in Zimbabwe the trainer Andy brought Chelly back to meet me.
This time she lay on my foot, snoring contentedly while we talked.
“The thing is,” he said.
“I don’t think she’s right for you, she’s a bit distracted by other dogs. I let two other people walk with her and they couldn’t cope. I’m sorry, I don’t think it’d work.”
“Why?” I said
“She seemed fine, you didn’t say that when we met! I could help her, Vale had a lot of problems to begin with and I overcame them! Please let me try!”
“OK,” he said.
“I’ll do some more work with her and then you can begin training. I’m warning you though, it’s going to be tough!”
He wasn’t wrong, but what he didn’t say was that it would be worth every single minute!
I had no idea just how my life would change and what a big part in it Chelsea would play.
Next time:
More adventures with Chelly
You can follow my adventures in twitterland at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Vale’s tail

It’s guide dog week this week. It’s when we celebrate everything that’s fantastic about such amazing animals. I know how important they are, so I just wanted to regale you with a few tails (haahaa, see what I did there) about my two girls.
I’ll start with Vale.
Many of you who follow and read this blog will have heard about Vale, my first guide dog. She died almost eight years ago at the grand old age of 13 and a half. She was a beautiful golden bundle of pure naughtiness, from the second I met her.
Vale was the sort of dog who did what she wanted, when she wanted. But, her work was very good. She actually won a national award for her work.
The first real display of utter naughtiness occurred less than one minute after we got home from three weeks training. Mum had lovingly prepared sandwiches for all of us, and as soon as Vale spotted them, she grabbed a mouthful and bolted towards the kitchen to see what else she could snaffle.
I always tell people about the time I was in Marks and Spencer, and a friend tapped me on the shoulder and said:
“Nicki, is Vale supposed to be walking round with a pork pie in her mouth?”
She loved carrying things. She paraded round the training centre with a whole pear in her mouth. She loved making people laugh.
I once had to go back into a pet shop after discovering Vale had stolen a rather large bone! I only noticed when she was walking with her head at a funny angle!
She adored fox poo, in fact, any kind of poo she could find!
We did have some very worrying times with Goldilox, as I affectionately called her.
She had to have a lump removed from her side while I was at college. I cried heaps, just the thought of anything happening to her was awful.
Guide dogs aren’t machines, we don’t just love them cos they’re incredibly helpful to us, the love, companionship and incredible loyalty is difficult to put into words.
Vale was very in tune with my emotions.
If I showed any signs of getting upset, she’d race over to me and let me cry into her soft, golden fur. She wouldn’t leave until I felt better.
Sometimes, just a pat from her paw made everything OK.
She scavenged for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the world in general. During the 12 years and 1 day (very important that 1 day) she stole, or tried to steal a whole array of things, from socks to soap, a chocolate gateau I’d bought for a dinner party, to a doughnut from a small child.
In fact, she had such a reputation that when I met someone at a works event once and I had Vale her first words to me were:
“Oh yes, I remember Vale, she stole my sandwiches at a meeting we were at!” I smiled politely, and `surreptitiously patted Vale under the table.
One final tale I’d like to tell happened just after I’d got Vale.
I was invited to a coffee morning being held for guide dogs, and there was a young blind woman who was interested in getting a guide dog.
We were chatting away and she seemed very impressed by what Vale could do.
I suddenly stopped mid conversation and said:
“What’s Vale doing under the table?” my friend didn’t notice anything.
“No, she’s definitely doing something.” I said.
Then, a lady came up and said:
“Does anyone know where my cake went?”
“Where did you leave it?” asked my friends Mum.
“Under the table!”
I giggled.
“Well, I think that’s what my dog’s found!”
“Stupid place to leave a cake don’t you think?” said my friend’s Mum.
Needless to say my friend wasn’t put off. She’s now working with her third guide dog.
I’d urge anyone thinking of volunteering, or doing anything for the guide dogs to go ahead and do whatever you can.
We’re all so incredibly grateful for everyone, from brood bitch holder to boarder and everyone in between who gives any time, money or whatever they can to the guide dogs organisation.
Someone once asked me to describe what getting Vale was like.
I said it was like finding the key to a door that had always been locked. Vale allowed me to open that door and step into a whole new life.
For more information on the guide dogs organisation visit\:
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk
Please read previous blog posts on this blog for more doggy tails about Vale and Chelsea
Next time: I’ll tell you some tales about Chelly.
Follow my adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly