Community member Daniel Williams talks about his journey to becoming a new guide dog owner.
I had never owned a pet dog, let alone a guide dog. I was on the waiting list for nearly two years, and then the wait was finally over. I was matched with a black Labrador cross by the name of Zodiac.
I have a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which has resulted in a gradual loss of my peripheral vision. I find it difficult navigating around busy towns. I also have night blindness, so going out alone in the dark was not a decision I made lightly.
The experience so far has been overwhelming and a huge adjustment. Within a very short time, my walking speed increased and Zodiac has given me new found confidence. Going out at night is also done with positivity now.
A guide dog is truly life-changing, and I have been blown away by my new lease of life.
I was totally unaware of the intense two-year training these dogs receive by Guide Dogs to change someone’s life. To qualify as a guide dog owner, I have also undergone two weeks of intensive training in the company of a guide dog mobility instructor.
The public’s reaction
I have never used a long white cane or any other mobility aid, so before I had Zodiac, when I was out and about people were totally unaware that I have a visual impairment. But now my disability has become visible – you can’t exactly ignore a 33kg black Labrador wearing a high visibility harness! I’ve noticed people glancing over their shoulder, taking one look at the dog and a second look at me. I feel like I’m constantly on show.
I am 26 and love fashion; I suppose I don’t fit within the remit of a stereotypical blind person. Various people have approached me and asked if I am a guide dog trainer, automatically assuming that I am not the owner.
Questions so far have been quite random, some fetching a smile, such as “Does your dog take the washing out of the washing machine?”, “What tasks in the home does the dog do for you?” to “How do you see its poo, mate? Does it glow in the dark?”
Some people just start stroking Zodiac, no greeting, no “Do you mind if I stroke your dog?” Perhaps they think, “He’s blind, he can’t see me”. I love the fact that Zodiac is so adorable, that people cannot resist a quick pet, but hey I’m here too you know!
I really don’t think people are aware of the importance of these dogs. Zodiac wears his harness, not to tell the outside world that I am blind, but to let everyone know that he is working and shouldn’t be disturbed.
So far, so good
Zodiac has brought so many positives. I love having him around and a good game of tag is a great way of bonding. You realise there are so many nice, kind people out there who are quite happy to lend a hand and help you.
However, I do feel very strongly that there needs to be more education and awareness around guide dog etiquette. For example, the importance of not stroking a guide dog when it is working and to publicise all the hard work that goes into these dogs to make them as great as they are.
I am quickly realising that my life has changed forever. I will no doubt become a stronger and more resilient individual, and I look forward to my journey with Zodiac.