As it’s #InternationalGuideDogDay today, we thought this year we would do a quick round up of references to guide dogs that we have read about in various fact and fiction books we have read/listened to over the last year or two.
From Bleed Out by Joan Brady, - “‘I’m usually kind of good with dogs’ he said unhappily ‘This one sure don’t like me much’
‘It’s not you Mr Doe. She is a professional on duty. Rather like a Secret Service Agent. You must meet her in her free time one day’”
From The Windhorse – a book we have read but not yet reviewed, which is a true story about Julie Donnelly and Elaine Brook’s climb to Kala Patthar in the Himalayas (which also raised money for Guide Dogs). Julie has left Bruno, her guide dog back in the UK with her mother. At one point, early on in the trip, she records the following:
“Just to walk down the familiar streets with Bruno, and make the same old tube journey to work, would be wonderful! I never stopped to think what it would be like to be on unfamiliar ground for so long without a break, dependent on someone every time I want to go anywhere further than the loo tent. It’s like being in a cage. The bars are the unknown empty space around me and the locked door is my fear of it, For me, it’s like going back to a time I would rather forget, when the only way I could get about was with a white cane. I found it nerve-wracking and exhausting and I suffered from tension headaches. I became very good at inventing excuses for not going out at all. Having broken out of that, and having become independent with a guide dog, it’s depressing to find myself back in that old caged-in state, even though I know it’s only temporary”
Also in this book are the references to the Sherpa villagers reactions to the fact that Julie has a guide dog and that these dogs are trained. Most of the dogs there are wild and often feared. As Elaine writes
“I’ve told some of my Sherpa friends about you and Bruno. They think I’m kidding. (‘Dog school’ indeed!).”
Cathy Birchill mentions her first guide dog Petra “she proved to be my pathway back out into the world from which I had withdrawn”. In their book ‘Touching the World’, by Cathy Birchill and Bernard Smith, they also talk about their visit to the Swiss Centre for Guide Dogs and their particular attempts to thwart the Labrador’s tendency to constantly scan the ground for food. They describe “Trying to overcome this natural behaviour from an early age, they cover walls with interesting ‘things’ for the dog to look up at. At times they even lower the dog’s meal down from the ceiling. Thus over time, the dog naturally looks upwards as an awareness develops of all things above them.
On the street, meanwhile, this translates into overcoming ‘Rover’s’ inherent tendency to happily scan the floor for last night’s discarded kebab or bag of chips. Inevitably this results in suddenly being yanked left or right like some cartoon character as a kind person as left half a sausage roll on the pavement with your dog’s name on it.”
We are currently reading/listening to ‘A Dog Called DEZ’ about John Tovey. A quick quote from the introduction “Life before Dez had been pretty bleak and I’d not been a very good person at all. As you will come to read in this book, Dez turned out to be my redemption.” Should be an interesting read and once we’ve both finished, we’ll do a book review as a VIDA Insight so please check back regularly for that one.
It is important to mention of course, that not all people with a vision impairment (even if this is severe) will use a guide dog. There are strict criteria to apply and as David Blunkett recently commented, you also have to be a dog lover. It doesn’t fit around everyone’s family or work schedule and some people prefer to use their white cane (or manage with neither). There are some great discussions available on line about this – a few are listed here:
Also a video clip from Blind Side Fresno - http://blindsidefresno.com/2017/11/03/white-cane-versus-guide-dog/
And a podcast from BBC In touch - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jxrdh#synopsis
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
Interested to learn more about VIDA Training? Read about our Training and Consultancy packages, specialising in Vision Impairment and Disability Awareness, Communication and Team Building or contact us for further information.
[The image is of 2 photos of Des, the guide dog puppy, sponsored by the Disability Equipment Service that Dave and I also manage. Des is a golden retriever. The first photo shows Des at a few weeks old, the second shows Dave and I meeting him in January – he is about 7 weeks old in that one.]