The Way I See It

IN December of 2003, Just before my 21st birthday, I began an extraordinary journey that was to change my life. This was the time when I met an inquisitive and curious canine who was to become my first guide dog. Her ears were as soft as silk. Her head was classic lab, big, proud, and noble. And as for the tail, it was almost always in motion.

The partnership between a guide dog and owner is unique in so many ways. In order for a successful team to work effectively together, mutual respect and trust is needed. It is all about developing an understanding of each other – our habits, our schedules, the complex sensitivities in our body language, and our quirks. I worked out very quickly that her love for food overshadowed all else in most circumstances.

She, in turn, worked out that my love for sleep required innovative and clever ways of getting my attention. The odour-de-dog-breath at 6am usually sorted me out, as did the subtle and not-so nudges for getting out of bed and giving her my full devotion.

I’ll never forget the first night I spent with her. I was wound tight with tension, trying to remember the applicable commands I was supposed to give her, and coming to grips with the reality of the new partnership and all the commitment responsibilities.

She padded across to the settee I was sitting on and gently rested her beautiful big head on my knee. The message could not have been clearer had she learned to talk and shouted it out loud. “It’s okay! We can do this. Feed me, and give me the love and attention I deserve, and I won’t walk you into obstacles. Deal?”

In a matter of days and weeks, I was walking independently in places where I would never have travelled alone before, except by necessity or bloody mindedness. She was guiding me to specific shops in shopping centres, along temporary paths through major construction sites that changed daily, across very busy intersections, and around lamp posts, street clutter and trees. She learned how to follow friends and family, find traffic lights, stairs, lifts and seats.

When you’re precipitously given increased independence and access to opportunities to get out, you really appreciate the very simple things in life. The five minute walk to shops to pick up milk and bread, the short walk to a snack bar or simple stroll around the block or to the park at the end of a very demanding day. Your horizon expands to a degree never thought possible.

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Words cannot explain how important this unprecedented sense of freedom was to me. Each week and month that passed brought an increased sense of our capabilities and confidence as a team, and we were able to travel to an ever-increasing number of locations and destinations. As clich�d as it may sound, the sky seemed to be the limit, and this approach transformed other aspects of my life. What had previously seemed impossible and unattainable gradually appeared more possible, and I began to ask with increased frequency and conviction.

Put simply, I am not the same person I was when I first got Liza. I am more confident, more assertive, more ambitious, and much less likely to take no for an answer.

When I first moved to Great Yarmouth, I was secure in the knowledge I wouldn’t be alone, and I would be exploring new and exciting territory with a good friend.

Liza retired on May 14 2011 and in that year I have built up a strong bond and partnership with Mac.

Our journey continues with strength and confidence we can, and we will, achieve anything together.