About a month ago I qualified with my first guide dog. It still seems surreal to say that! Dezzie is a 19-month-old yellow Labrador cross retriever. He is incredible. He’s very loving and can get a bit excitable, but I couldn’t have asked for a better match.
I was born with mild cerebral palsy, but then started to lose my sight at the age of 18. Over the last 7 years this continued to deteriorate, and I was registered blind about 2 years ago. As you can imagine, this has been a huge adjustment.
I initially applied for a guide dog in 2019, securing a place on the waiting list early 2021. The time in between is due to needing a number of assessments before being put on the waiting list.
The assessments allow Guide Dogs to gather as much information as possible. This includes:
suitability for a guide dog
level of sight
height and walking pace
how you get around (public transport, walking, car)
This might sound like a lot, but it’s to ensure you are matched with a guide dog that is suitable and that you’d benefit from a guide dog. For example, most guide dog owner might have some remaining sight. However, if your sight means you override decisions a guide dog makes, it means they cannot work affectively.
Having been on the waiting list for 2 and a half years, I finally got the call I’d been waiting for. I cried with happiness. In fact, I couldn’t stop crying!
Image Credits: Chloe Tear
Training with a guide dog
The training process is often called ‘class’ and it lasts 5 weeks. The first 2 weeks are often a residential at a hotel, although it can be done from home if needed. Dezzie and I started class Monday 22nd May, along with 2 other partnerships.
The first few weeks were about learning the basic commands and the theory behind how you work a guide dog. There was so much to learn. We were also taught about dog welfare and enrichment. It is equally important for a guide dog to have ‘down time’ where they can run in a field (a free run) or play with toys and rest.
The training was pretty intense, but there was so much to cover. Yet I found the whole process really enjoyable. The team at Guide Dogs are so amazing and ensure you feel comfortable and confident in your partnership. I previously had not realised how much training was involved. Even now I’m qualified, it’s still ongoing learning and work to make sure we have the best partnership possible. For example, I’m currently working with Dezzie to get him settled when we use the bus.
Even after training, you always have the support of Guide Dogs. You also have regular check-ins with the trainers. This is to make sure everything is going well and to help you on new routes or with problems you come across.
Challenges we faced
To be honest, Dezzie has been incredible. Very few challenges have come from his ability to work. For me, the challenges have been adapting physically to the amount of walking.
One challenge has been getting him to settle in certain situation. After all, he’s only 19-months old! He just loves to say hello to everyone and can get excited by other dogs or seeing people he knows.
This is why it’s important to not stroke or distract a guide dog, especially when they’re young. When a member of the public wrongly strokes Dezzie, it makes him excited and lose focus. Not only that, he’s then learning he can get attention from other people and will seek that in the future. Ultimately this could lead to us becoming unsafe.
Image Credits: Chloe Tear
Having cerebral palsy and a guide dog
Due to having mild cerebral palsy and being reliant on others to leave the house, I’d not been used to walking as much I did during guide dog training. As a result, I have increased medication since getting a guide dog to manage my symptoms.
My cerebral palsy mainly affects the left side of my body. With guide dogs tending to work on the left, this was always going to be a challenge. It has taken some getting used to, but having a thicker handle on the guide dog harness has made it easier to hold onto. The only problem seems to be that my hand and arm become painful when holding the handle for long periods of time. I hope this is something that will improve.
The freedom I have experienced
I cannot believe the difference that Dezzie has made to my life already.
We only qualified about a month ago, but we’ve already:
been to many cafes that have allowed me to meet friends and write.
walked into our local town and navigate independently.
been for regular walks after work.
taken the bus to visit my grandad.
been to the work office (it’s currently still being built)
I suppose the biggest difference has been the spontaneity and independence. We’re still learning, but I cannot wait to see what we get up to in the future.
Image Credits: Chloe Tear
Chloe Tear is an award-winning disability blogger and freelancer. She’s passionate about challenging public attitudes and giving a candid insight into life as a disabled young person. She also works for Scope as a content designer where she writes information and advice that support disabled people and their families.