Travelling with a Guide Dog

Wiley and I have had a busy but enjoyable week. There will be a few posts about what we have been up to but I wanted to start by sharing what it is like to travel with a Guide Dog.

Our latest trip was a flight to Sydney for work. We were scheduled to depart Monday afternoon. I think I have mentioned before that it is difficult to pack light when you are travelling with a Guide Dog. My bag was again full of things for Wiley, I wanted to make sure he had everything he needed while we were away.

I have equipped myself with some great luggage. I have my usual over the shoulder bag/treat pouch, another over the shoulder laptop bag and a big backpack. What this means is that I can carry everything whilst still leaving my right hand free to give hand signals to Wiley while he is working.

I caught the bus from Yass into Canberra where mum and dad picked me and took me to their place so I could do some work before heading out to the airport to catch my flight. Mum and Dad dropped us off at the airport about an hour before our flight. I always like to make sure there is plenty of time for check in just in case there is an issue with me taking Wiley on board.

As we had flown several times before Wiley easily guided me into the terminal and took me over to the QANTAS area of the airport. A QANTAS staff member approached us to ask if we need assistance and they took us over to the check in counter.

I confirmed Wiley had a seat allocated to him and checked my big back pack so I didn’t have to carry it around anymore. I was asked if I needed assistance to get to the departure gate. I asked what the gate number was, it was one we usually fly from so I said we’d be fine to get there ourselves. It was really lovely being asked if I wanted assistance rather than having the assumption made I needed help.

Wiley and I made our way to security, another helpful staff member helped me put everything on the conveyor belt. We stepped through the screening arch together and as expected we set off the alarm thanks to all the metal on Wiley’s harness. I stepped off to the side for a pat down (nice to be the one patted rather than Wiley). Again someone helped by collecting all my gear from the conveyor belt and we were on our way.

We found the gate and I listened to an audio book until it was time to pre-board. The flight to Sydney was uneventful, Wiley was very settled, happily ate his treats during take off and landing and spent the rest of the flight snoozing. Here is a photo of him waiting for take off.

Wiley on the floor at my feet on a plane

Wiley on the floor at my feet on a plane

As per the usual protocol we waited and disembarked last. I was met by airport staff who kindly took me to the baggage collection area, found my bag and escorted us to the taxi rank. I used the follow command so Wiley went wherever they did making things nice and easy.

I took a taxi to the campus where I was going to be staying for the next couple of days. I had arranged to meet the course convenor our the front and they took me to my room, described the layout and left us there so I could get settled in and most importantly feed Wiley.

After a couple of great days it was time to head back to the airport. I had just gotten into the taxi when I received an email saying my flight was delayed. It was a little disheartening to know I was going to have an almost four hour wait for my flight.

Once we got to the airport I sought assistance as I didn’t know where the QANTAS check in desk was located. On check in I was very kindly offered entry into the QANTAS Club which I gratefully accepted. We had an escort through security and into the lounge where we were well looked after by some lovely QANTAS club staff as well as other travellers.

There were lots of questions about Wiley which along with my audio book helped to pass the time. My biggest concern was the fact Wiley was going to be fed really late. I thought the best thing was to give him a small dinner portion and then feed him the rest when we got home. I always have at least one and sometimes two spare meals to deal with these types of situations. The small portion was enough to keep him from being too unhappy and settled during our long wait but wasn’t enough to cause tummy issues when flying.

Again we pre boarded and someone came to collect us from the lounge. Unfortunately there was a bit of a mix up with the seat allocation so I had to move seats, I was very surprised when we were given a seat at the bulk head in business class. There was so much room we both became a bit disorientated. We quickly figured out how he could safely remain in one spot and be given treats so he was happy and I had a lovely comfy seat to enjoy during the flight. Here is a photo of Wiley in business class, thought I’d better take a picture as it is likely to be the only time we travel business class!

Wiley travelling in business class on a QANTAS jet

Wiley travelling in business class

Our disembarkation was a little different to usual, normally Wiley and I walk down the stairs but on this occasion there was a person who required wheelchair assistance on the flight so we used a portable lift thingy which was an interesting experience.  It was a little loud and unsteady but Wiley was a good boy and laid down as it was moving. I love having a food motivated dog who is easily rewarded so I can create a positive experience during potentially scary experiences.

My wonderful parents were there to meet us (I had told them the flight was delayed) even though by this time is was past 10PM. I have never been so happy to get back to my parents, where I fed Wiley, took him out to toilet and then fell exhausted into bed.

The great thing about this particular trip was that I gained confidence in our ability to cope with change. It will give me more confidence the next time we fly.

We’re back

I can’t beieve it has been well over 9 months since I posted an update. So much has happened it is hard to know where to begin.

Our New Home

Wiley and I finally moved into our new home in September last year. Before we moved in I had new floors laid. Naturally all chosen to suit Wiley, i.e. hard wearing, non slip etc. The only other work was installation of some celling fans which have provided some much needed relief during the summer heat waves.

One of the biggest issues when I purchased my property was the fact all the windows had been painted shut. My Dad as been wonderful, installing new ones so at least I can open some of them. The next project is the purchase and installation of a heater, this is a priority as winter isn’t too far away now.

Unpacking wasn’t too much of a chore thanks to the audio labels I put on all the boxes. As my new place is considerably bigger than my old flat there was plenty of space to put everything so within a day the whole house was organised. Wiley has two cupboards dedicated to his stuff. all his gear, spare toys etc is in one and his food, treats, supplements and medications in another.

I haven’t done much in the way of modifications. A couple of tactile markers here and there as well as hooks so everything has a place to live is all that was required in the short term. I would like to install a hand rail for one set of stairs, it is next on my to do list once the heater has been purchased and installed.

I love living in Yass, it is a friendly town and very easy to get around. Everything I need is a short walk from home. There are regular week day bus services into Canberra which is essential as I need to go into town once or twice a week.

Work

There have been big changes for me at work as well. I am still doing (and loving) my PR work but I have handed over the role of volunteer co-ordinator and accepted the position of Client Feedback Officer. This is a wonderful position, I can do some of the work from home but also head into the ACT office to work from there. There won’t be much written on here about my new role but I will continue to share what Wiley and I have been up to as far as our PR duties.

PR Talks

I have had some lovely talks at schools, community groups, girls brigade and other venues.  I am still doing training for taxi drivers and bus drivers and a couple of weeks ago I spoke to court staff for the first time.

Last Tuesday was a very special day as for the first time ever Guide Dogs NSW/ACT held a graduation outside of the training centre and it was held in Canberra. The event was held at the Federal Golf course, Gulliver the giant guide dog was there as well s the graduates (five gorgeous young labs) and three puppies.

I gave a brief speech about the impact both my beautiful Guide Dogs have had on my life – it was only for five minutes and it was the most nervous I have been giving a talk for a long time. I was so anxious I’d go well over my five minutes but I am pleased to say I didn’t ramble and stuck pretty much to time.

For me the highlight of the day was meeting a wonderful lady who sponsored Wiley’s litter five years ago. I took Wiley’s harness off so she could give her boy a pat and we had some photos taken together as well as one of Wiley on his own. What a privilege it was to be able to say thanks in person to someone who was such an important part of Wiley’s guide dog journey.

Travel

Since the last update Wiley and I have done quite a bit of travel. One of the highlights was flying over to Perth to attend the Blind Citizen’s Conference last year. It was a fabulous conference with engaging speakers and lots of information. There were quite a few Guide Dogs and Seeing Eye Dogs in attendance, all of whom were very well behaved.

Wiley handled all of the travel incredibly well, he loves planes as he get lots of treats whilst flying. The only issue for me was that as the stay was so short (3 nights) I wanted to keep him on his regular feeding and tolieting schedule – that meant finding time to give him his meals during the afternoon tea brake and taking him for his morning relief walk at around 4AM. Despite having an absolutely wonderful time we were both happy to be home.

Training Courses

The other travel has mostly been to attend course or training. A couple of trips to Sydney which are easy compared to flying to Perth. I enjoy attending courses as I love to learn. All of the course have been related to my new position – I have done several complaint focused courses with the NSW Ombudsmen as well as an Accidental Counsellor Course in Canberra run by Lifeline.

Without exception all of the trainers I have worked with have been fantastic about Wiley being in the class and also providing me with course material in an accessible format. I have been able to participate in the training the same as everyone else which is the way it should be, but isn’t always the way it is.

Wiley

What can I say, my boy is as special, talented and loveable as ever. He isn’t perfect, can still be a little food distracted, but it is the fact he does naughtily things occasionally that makes him so adorable and fun to work with. He has never let me down when I needed him and I have asked a lot of him at times.

He loves his new garden, every morning after our recreational walk he does zoomies around and around chasing his ball or playing fetch. He also loves to venture outside during the day to sun bake on have a quick nibble on the grass. The fact he loves his outside space so much reinforces to me that we made the right decision in moving further afield.

I know I have missed out a lot of what has happened during the last nine months but I am sure I will fill in missing pieces here and there. For now it just feels good to be back at the keyboard sharing our adventures.

Wiley in his new garden

Wiley in his new garden

Lighting Talk and office work

It has been an interesting and productive week. Monday in particular was a very long day.

Wiley and I walked into the office a little before 10AM . We had a meeting to attend plus I wanted to start doing a handover with Jo as she leaves next week. I enjoyed my day at work as there was lots to do so the time passed quickly. Whenever there were a few minutes to spare I worked on the finishing touches to a speech I had to give that evening.

A little after 5PM, Karyn, our Acting Regional Manager and I hit the road. We were due at the Australian National University around 5:30 to give a talk to lighting engineers, architects, landscapers and other urban designers about the importance of good lighting design for people who are vision impaired.

Traffic was a little congested so we were a few minutes late. I get anxious when I am running behind schedule and as I hadn’t had time to prepare the talk as much as I wanted I was nervous about the evening ahead.

I was also daunted at the thought of giving a talk to professionals. The theme of my presentation was how light affects the functional vision of people who are vision impaired.   I explained that light can be both my best friend and worst enemy.  Glare can totally blind me, I frequently have to close my eyes and occasionally need to cover them to stop bright light from reaching them. In the most favourable conditions light enables me to make out vague shapes thanks to contrast between objects.

I think the talk went well, I was stumped by some of the questions which were quite technical but thankfully Karyn was there to answer the tricky ones. After my talk there was a very interesting presentation by a professor who knew everything about how eyes work,  lighting design and industry standards.

It was an enjoyable, interesting but late evening – we didn’t get home until 9PM. Wiley and I were wiped out and pretty much headed straight to bed.

Wiley handled the extra long day really well, I took his dinner and bowl into work so he ate before we went to the talk. He also got lots of opportunity for wee walks and as he had a long walk Monday morning he was content to sleep most of the day.

Tuesday was a much needed rest day, Wednesday was focused on house preparations.

First off was a shopping excursion. With my parents help I bought a new blind and doona cover. I let my mum choose the colours as she is much better at interior design than I am. My ever practical and helpful Dad fitted the new blind on my kitchen window.

All I need now is to take the treadmill downstairs and bring up a sofa and I will be able to get someone in to take photos. Things are progressing well.

Yesterday was another work day. The plan was to spend more time with Jo, unfortunately she wasn’t well so Wiley and I ended up manning the office. It was a very quiet day so I worked on some public education initiatives for cycling groups, shopping centres and dog clubs.

I am looking forward to the weekend. Wiley has another massage booked in and I have plans to catch up with friends.

End of year Achilles walk

Sunday was the last Canberra Achilles training session of the year. It was a perfect morning for walking and running. We had a wonderful turnout including three rather lovely black Labrador Guide Dogs.

Some people choose to run or jog but Wiley and I thought a walk would be lovely, especially as we had my friend and his lovely Guide Dog Jazzy for company. We also had a couple of sighted members walk with us. As we were using our long canes we didn’t need to be guided but it was very helpful having someone alert us when there were dogs, cyclists, runners or other walkers coming towards us or from behind.

It was a great walk where conversation flowed making the 5 odd kilometers pass very quickly.

Once everyone got back to our start point, Peter gave a speech about the clubs achievements during the year – our members are a talented bunch with lots of people participating in various running events including park runs.

After the speech most people headed off to share breakfast but I had a pre arranged play date for Jazzy and Wiley. They had a ball running around Jazzy’s garden and playing tug of war with her toys. Listening to the two of them zoom around fills my heart with joy and puts a huge smile on my face. Like most young labs they act like fools when they play, yet put them in harness and they are both awesome guide dogs that work incredibly well together.

Christmas break and busy shops

I am officially on holidays, the office is now closed until Tuesday 6th January – next year! As much as I enjoy my work I still love being on leave. For the next couple of weeks Wiley and I will play, eat, sleep, walk and generally relax.

You can tell Christmas is just around the corner as the shopping centres are incredibly busy. I was in Belconnen Mall yesterday and there were people everywhere. Wiley did some great work, lots of weaving through the crowds, changing paces to suit the environment and doing his best to avoid the distractions around him. It was exhausting work for both of us, by the tie we got home we were more than ready for a nap.

School holidays also mean there are lots of curious children wanting to talk to or pat him, I foresee II’ll be handing out lots of Wiley’s cards over the next couple of weeks.

I have quite a few posts that I have been wanting to put on my blog, now I have a little more time I plan to catch up on what Wiley and I have been up to, including our Sydney trip a few weeks ago.

Feeling a wee bit weary

It is starting to feel a lot like summer, today it is expected to get to 35 degrees. At the moment Wiley is flat out asleep on the tiled floor wearing his cooling bandana. Thankfully it isn’t too uncomfortable inside, at least not yet. We had an appointment this morning but didn’t hang around afterwards as I wanted Wiley out of the heat and off the hot pavements ASAP.

Both Wiley and I are feeling a little weary, it isn’t just the heat sapping our energy but rather the result of having lots to do. Since last weeks First Aid course we have.

  • participated in several work meetings relating to upcoming projects and events
  • presented a school talk
  • assisted in a Falls prevention talk
  • enjoyed a lovely dinner event, where I was the guest speaker
  • joined my friend and his guide dog for a coffee and a playdate for the dogs
  • had a catch up with my sister and lunch with my parents
  • started my Christmas shopping
  • run errands
  • attended a technology workshop for VI students where I gave a demonstration with Trekker Breeze, a GPS device but also spoke a bit about working with a Guide Dog
  • and lots of lots of bushwalks

These adventures have taken us the length and breath of Canberra and as far out as Goulburn. Wiley worked incredibly well wherever we went, a lot of the time his job was to lie quietly while I did what I needed to do.  He is very good at guiding but equally good at sleeping!

I don’t think things are going to slow down anytime soon, at least not until closer to Christmas. In the coming weeks I have an interstate trip (Wiley will be going on his first plane -eek!), my nephews 21st birthday, lots of CLO and speaking work and a spattering of social engagements. Bring in on!!

First Aid Course

On Monday and Tuesday Wiley and I attended a two day First Aid course. I was enrolled as I needed certification for my role as Client Liaison Officer. I was a little apprehensive about how I would go administering first aid but it turns out that having vision isn’t essential to providing emergency aid.

It started out a little rocky as the first person we encounter didn’t acknowledge mine or Wiley’s existence. We were obviously well and truly hidden under the invisibility cloak that some people want me to wear. The person only spoke to Jo, my friend and colleague, who was doing the course with me. He referred to me as ‘she’ and ‘her’. He asked Jo if she was going to ‘look after me’ and questioned how I would be able to do the exam. I did my best to insert myself into the conversation, seeing as it was about me, but even when I spoke he ignored me.

After he left Jo and I chatted about how incredibly rude he had been. I said if he was our trainer I’d be having a quiet word to make sure that sort of behaviour ceased immediately.

Fortunately he wasn’t our trainer. I expect he voiced concerns about having me in his class so another trainer volunteered to run the class. We really lucked out as he was a wonderful trainer. He said he is the only one that doesn’t use powerpoint. That worked for me as he didn’t rely on visuals, instead he gave great descriptions and told amusing and interesting stories that helped everyone, not just me, retain the information.

I know he put a lot of thought and effort into the best way to describe things so I could understand what he was talking about. He also did most of the demonstrations on me so even though I couldn’t see what he was doing I could feel it.

I thought bandaging could be a problem but it turned out to be a rather tactile exercise so I managed it with no problems. I passed the skills tests and also got Jo’s, my patients approval.

In addition to passing all the skills test I got through the scenario exam. I had three first aid situations to deal with. I identified and treated them all, although I did ask people to get me things such as bandages. I guess I was doing a little bit of First Aid by proxy but I was told that often the person providing first aid will direct others on what they should do.

At the end of the course we had the final written exam. They accommodated my needs by setting me up in separate room with another trainer who read me the questions. Thankfully I had retained the important information and passed without getting a question wrong.

Wiley was an absolute star, he was so patient and well behaved. I took in a mat so he had somewhere comfortable to sit and a nylabone for him to chew on. He also had lots of wee wee breaks. I got up at 4:30 so I could take him on a long walk before class. As he was tired he happily snoozed most of the time.

He helped me out during the scenario exercise by putting his head on my patients knee which assisted me in keeping them calm while we waited for help. What an asset!! The only thing he didn’t like was when I got bandaged, he offered me comfort but trying to climb into my lap so he could closely monitor what was happening to me. What a sweet and sensitive lad he is.

I am very grateful that my trainer and St John’s worked with me and didn’t see my vision loss as a barrier to getting a First Aid qualification. I just hope that I never need to use it!