Week 6 - Guide Dogs for the Blind
This week my heart was stolen. Yes, I all know what you're thinking; you have Freddie. But when you are in a puppy pen for an hour cuddling 7-week-old puppies, however much you love your own dog you can't help but leave a small piece of your heart in the room.
This week I was with the incredibly amazing Guide dogs for the blind. Growing up with Blue Peter, my generation, anyway, has heard of the charity but it's amazing how many youngsters have never heard of them. There is a perception that the charity caters for the 55+ middle class people, but this really could not be further from the truth.
Monday morning I was awake at 6am. I genuinely was so excited I had my breakfast by 6.30 and was watching BBC news waiting for it to be 'late enough' to leave so I wasn't so ridiculously early at the National Training Centre in Leamington Spa. I arrived shortly after 9am ready to get stuck in. I was greeted by Pippa, the National Volunteer coordinator and was whisked up stairs where I met Penny and Mike. Penny has been blind since birth and has a wonderful Guide Dog called Clova, a beautiful black lab. After a few introductions a blindfold was placed over my eyes and I was told I would be guided downstairs. Not being able to see and being told that you are being 'assisted' outside is pretty damn scary. I grabbed Mikes elbow and was told to follow his lead. I was weaved through doors, down stairs and finally outside. I was then given a cane and told to find the bench.
Of all our senses we use our eyes around 90%. We rely on them so heavily that most of us take that for granted. Being asked to find a bench when you can see it seems almost impossible, and to be honest it almost was. Once you are put through something like that you can begin to understand why so many people who don't have their sight become isolated and introverted. Choosing to live a life of solitude at home instead of being out in the world. I was then introduced to a beautiful Guide Dog and told to put my blindfold back on. I did an obstacle course fully assisted by the dog. I had gone from fumbling around with a stick in my hand to being confidently navigated through a tough course to safety at the end. I had a life changer in my hands, a real, living breathing, intelligent life saver.
Believe it or not it a Guide Dog costs £50,000 each. All covered by the Guide Dogs for the Blind. From birth to their final days Guide Dogs pay for everything; Food, Vet Bills, Training, Housing, you name it they cover it. Do you know how much it costs somebody to have a guide dog? 50p. As a legal transaction Guide Dogs for the Blind charge the tiniest fee of just 50 pence to the new owner. That owner is then guaranteed a guide dog for the rest of their life, so they wish to have one and every single expense of that dog is covered by the charity. You can now begin to understand why the charity has to raise just short of £50million a year.
Paying my respects to the wonderful dogs I spent my Monday afternoon in the kennels grooming and cleaning the dogs to keep them in tip top condition.
On Tuesday I went on a training course to get my level 1 sighted guide qualification. Arriving nice and early at the national training centre, ready and eager to learn. We were taught through practical learning how to aid and assist blind and visually impaired people in public. One thing I didn't know was that if there is somebody with a guide dog in public and then are standing with the dog sitting and holding the lead (not the harness) it means they need assistance. Always remember to ask somebody with a guide dog if they need any help before assuming they do. Oh and always introduce yourself, remember they cant see you!
My afternoon was then spent back near home in Cirencester where I met the most inspirational young woman I'e ever met. Lauren lost he sight at just aged 13 from a degenerate disease that caused her to loose her vision within 48 hours. She went from being able to see to 2 days later being almost completely blind. Can you imagine loosing your sight at 13 years old? As if being a teenager isn't hard enough. For years she struggled to accept her condition; moving schools and losing friendship circles. She's now 21 years old and 2 years ago was given Goldie, her guide dog. I met Lauren in a pub, with Golide and she couldn't stop talking about her university and her degree. This young woman sat in front of me had used her guide dog to help her get enough confidence to leave home and get a degree. I guess there is only one word to use for meeting Lauren, humbling. So I pledged to help her raise £5,000 this summer. We are going to do a sponsored dog walk and get as many people in the local area involved to help raise enough money to name a guide dog puppy.
I've also done something myself for Lauren. I was so inspired and humbled by her amazing resolve that I want to do something for her. So my good deed is helping raise £500 to buy her a much needed iPad to finish University. I have created a gofundme account and if you so wish you are welcome to donate a little money to this incredible young woman for her and Goldie.
The link is http://www.gofundme.com/ncjdok
I'm sorry to say this but Guide Dogs for the Blind raised the bar on Wednesday. I also must stress very highly that the privilege they bestowed upon me isn't something they do, ever. On Wednesday morning I spent a few hours at the national breeding centre with 7-week-old puppies in the puppy block. I got to cuddle, hug, snuggle and kiss all the puppies they currently had on site. I have also decided that if after this year I am left without a job, I shall become a puppy socialiser (they are the people who look after the puppies). After a puppy having to be physically prised out of my hands, I headed over to the reception for a lovely tour of the national breeding centre.
It's a wonderfully modern campus with state of the art facilities from puppy care through to dog boarding facilities and on site accommodation for the staff and volunteers. I was thoroughly impressed. At the end of the tour we were all taken to a sensory tunnel. They provide you with special blindfolds that allow you to keep your eyes open whilst being blinded. There was a older lady in front of me who kept saying that she didn't want to go through the tunnel because she didn't like it. I politely reminded her that going blind isn't a choice, nobody would like to loose their sight and she went through.
The tour was amazing and If you fancy going round the either the national breeding centre or national training centre you can sign up online (it's well worth a visit).
My final day with Guide Dogs and I headed over to Coventry University to talk to students as part of national student volunteering week. I met a group of students who had set up their own guide dogs for the blind society. None of the students themselves are visually impaired but were so moved by the day that Guide Dogs spent on campus they wanted to try and help. So after a few conversations with the charity they decided to set up a society.
After having an amazing chat Pippa and I then went over to a specialist school for children with learning disabilities and visual impairments. They had a buddy dog with them called troy. Buddy dogs are guide dogs that just haven't quite met the mark and instead are sent out to spend their days making children happy. It's amazing to see the impact a dog can have on kids. There was a young girl there who before Troy's presence she found it very hard to concentrate. Now, her concentration levels and learning effort has skyrocketed. All her work is about her and the dog and she has become so enthusiastic and full of life because she feels she has support from Troy. Guide Dogs for the Blind have taken over Blind Children UK and through this amazing partnership they are now able to make amazing and life lasting environments for children who are visually impaired.
I left Guide Dogs with a sense of sadness. My weeks go so fast and Thursdays are always the hardest. I feel after 4 days I have made some amazing relationships and friendships and as quickly as the week began, it's over. I want to take this time to thank everyone at Guide Dogs for a wonderful week.
Now, next week I am with the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents. Let's see how this one goes!