This is probably one of the hardest posts that I have had to write so far and one that is written with deep sadness and with both Vicky and my emotions at full stretch.
On Thursday 22 June I/we said goodbye to my loyal and well-loved guide dog, Errol.
Having turned just 8 the week before, Errol had developed a cough and was being treated for a respiratory infection at our local vets. Although he had slowed a bit and was turning grey, he appeared to be in great health and was still keen to go in his harness and guide me. Over the weekend he didn’t eat and his breathing became more laboured so we took him back to the vets on Tuesday morning for further advice. This time, despite having a strong heartbeat, pulse and normal temperature, they felt that further investigations were required. An x-ray of his chest was taken later that afternoon that showed some shadowing around his upper lungs and throat and blood tests identified that his plasma levels were low. He was given fluids and had a blood transfusion overnight before being referred to the North Downs Specialist Referrals on the Wednesday morning.
Following an admission consultation with an oncologist at the NDSR, Errol was admitted and further tests were carried out during the afternoon including him having a CT scan. I was contacted by the oncologist after his CT scan when I was informed that Errol, not only had cancer of the lungs, but that he also cancer of the heart, right kidney and spleen and likely cancer of the blood.
I made the decision to bring Errol home and for him to be put to sleep on Thursday by Beth, one of the brilliant vets at Priory Vets and who had been the vet who admitted him and carried out his blood test and x-rays earlier that week. Errol and I spent the afternoon together at home giving us some time alone and also for my family to see him and say their goodbyes. I said my goodbyes, thanked him for being such a good friend and held his head as he was peacefully put to sleep for the final time.
Guide Dogs were kept informed throughout the process and I received amazing support from Morven Thomas-Campbell (Guide Dog care and welfare advisor) at each stage of the process. At this stage I would also like to say a huge thank you to everyone at the Priory Vets (both Redhill and Reigate) and the staff and oncologists at the NDSR in Bletchingley. In particular, I would like to say a huge thanks to the staff team for providing Errol with a luxury breakfast of chicken and steak on Thursday morning – a real treat for him due to having a very controlled and boring diet due to having Pancreatitis for the past 4 years.
Errol and I were partnered together in May 2011 and, following a residential training programme in Guildford and subsequent training around my home in Earlswood, we were let loose to work together for what was to be the next 6 years and 7 weeks. Errol was my first guide dog and, although very well trained, was a bit cheeky at times and I had to be strict with him in the early days. I remember when he took a portion of chicken pie from a pudding bowl on our kitchen side without leaving any trace or smashing the bowl – most impressive! We learnt each other’s strengths and weaknesses and established a strong partnership together. He was most loyal and just wanted to be with me or near me all the time; he proved this by working right up to a few days before he died with little complaint.
Errol was a big black German Shepherd x Golden Retriever who was regularly mistaken for being a flat coat retriever. He was a lovely dog with a huge personality and presence who touched the hearts of so many people he came in to contact with. With his own Twitter handle and being a regular on the Earlswood infant and junior school runs, we became a well-known partnership within the Earlswood community. I will miss him dearly and I know that he’ll be missed by others who knew and loved him also.
Errol became part of our VIDA Training team when Vicky and I delivered vision impairment and disability awareness training. He loved to greet people and became a great talking point as well as demonstrating the level of discipline that he/guide dogs have once they are put in their harness. Many people liked to stroke him or enjoyed him lying on their feet during the training. Testament to Errol’s presence and personality is demonstrated from the following quotes taken from our feedback forms and seen in some of our photos.
“Vicky and Dave very friendly, professional and knowledgeable. Thank you! Errol (Ernest) is lovely too”
“Errol being there made the course more fun and therapeutic”
“Attendance of Errol was a definite advantage. Both Vicky and Dave were very approachable and made the day an enjoyable experience”
“Wonderful to meet Errol and enjoyable presentation”
“Better understanding of dealing with clients. Will be more of helping and advising clients at reception and in general. Nice to meet Errol”
“Very interesting. Learned a lot that I didn’t know before. Great stuff! Great dog!”
“Thank you both very much, the course was informative and interactive. Very interesting and lots of detail before and during! Thanks (and Errol!)"
“Course was very interactive and getting involved. Vicky, Dave and Errol made a great team. It was really good to learn about guide dogs etc.”
“Venue – good, refreshments – good, presenters = great. Interaction good, Errol of course was excellent!! Good Q & As at any time rather than all at the end”
“Thank you so much. You guys were so great. Thank you for the practical activities and Errol made my day :-)”
“Lovely people! Excellent training! Errol - the dog was Amazing too! Thank you."
“Fantastic training session – thank you Vicky, Dave and Errol.”
“I love Dave’s dog.”
Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.