What does it mean for me to own a guide dog ? How does it benefit me and what are the challenges?
Peter my guide dog, was provided for me by Guide Dogs for the Blind and he’s a flat coat retriever/Labrador cross. He was two years old when he was given to me and I’m informed that he will cost about £50,000 to breed, train and support over his working life of about eight years.
Despite this, the charity only charges 50p to allow everyone access to a guide dog.
However, it welcomes contributions to help with these costs where people can afford to.
I was two years into my rehabilitation from my major stroke and he was 18 months into his guide dog training from beginning his training as a puppy.
Stroke is a kind of acquired brain injury – equivalent to having a very hard bump on the head or anything else that injures the brain.
My left limbs were left semi-paralysed. My short-term memory and cognitive functions were badly affected as well as my vision and changes to my personality. Many people don’t realise that the eyes play a small part in vision compared to the brain. I had been working with the OCC Visual Impairment team on using a long cane to avoid obstacles.
At the time, trying to be a father to my two children and live my everyday life, as well as try to rehabilitate myself as much as possible was very difficult.
The trainer from Guide Dogs began to work with Peter and me so that we could form a working relationship.
It was very difficult to remember all the commands; at the time, walking was difficult and I could only use one arm so had one hand to hold the harness with, which made it particularly difficult to do the training.
Because the working harness that Peter wears is quite rigid, holding it really helps my balance and stability and this helped to teach me to walk without a stick.
Peter was young, impetuous, and sometimes a little cheeky, but people would say that’s just like me.
Despite the difficulties, we quickly formed a special bond and a good working relationship which allowed me to make trips to the local shops and places near my home with Peter by my side.
With our two brains working together we manage to get around quite well and, three years on, he is my absolute soulmate and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him.
My two young children love him too and he’s not at all interested in eating my chickens or cats.
I cannot possibly thank Guide Dogs strongly enough for all they have done for me and my partnership with Peter.
For details see guidedogs.org.uk