Hi Efuryone it me Harry Now a couple of weeks ago I intervood the amazing @Cassie_spaniel as part of my working dog series. I have also had the honour and privilege to intervoo @GuideDogBliss and her mum Barbara. Here’s the result of when I caught up with them earlier this month……………
Hi Bliss fank yoo so much fur takin de time to come woof wiv me. I know lots of peeps will be vewy interested to read all about yoor former job as a guidedog. If yoo comfy lets get started…….
How long was yoo a guide dog?
I qualified as a guide dog on 01 September 2006. I retired in January 2012. So I worked for around 5 and a half years.
How long was your training?
A guide dog goes to live with a puppy walker when they are six weeks old. They don’t do any guiding training for the first year of their life, but they do learn obedience and social behavior. Guiding training starts at 12 months, and a dog will qualify as a guide dog with their owner usually between 18 and 24 months.
What did yoo have to do to train?
I had to learn how to guide a blind person safely. This involved learning to avoid obstacles and leave enough room for both myself and my owner. I had to understand and act on commands to find things such as doors, steps, counters, and other names of things and places I would learn as I worked with my owner. I learned to sit at steps and kerbs so my owner did not trip, and to not cross the road when there was traffic coming. I also had to learn how to behave when around food, this meant not begging or scavenging for crumbs! I would do obedience training too, learning to obey commands such as sit, down, stand, wait, stay and so on. I also had to learn words like forward, steady (to slow down walking speed), hop up (to increase walking speed), right and left. These are commands a blind person will use to direct a guide dog when they are in their harness and guiding. Most difficult of all is learning to ignore distractions when working such as other dogs, birds flying by, noises and people who wanted to fuss me.
What was a typical day like?
When I was training a day would involve learning something new, practicing things already learned and being taught new command words. I would also do some obedience training and get groomed. And then of course there would be some play time with my trainer and other dogs who were at guide dog school with me. When I was qualified and working a day would involve taking my mum wherever she needed to go. This might be places like the shop, into town, to work or just out for a nice relaxing walk. There would be quiet time when I had snoozes, I might chill out and have a chew of my Nylabone, and of course playtime! About every two weeks I would get for a free run which was lots of fun. My routine now I am retired is much the same, but now I don’t work, I just go for walks on the lead with my granny.
What kind of places did you get to go to dat I would not be allowed in?
Oh I got to go to lots of fun and exciting places. I was allowed into cafes, pubs and restaurants. I got to go into shopping centres and shops in town. I didn’t much like shops, unless it was a petshop of course! Anywhere my mum had to go I was allowed to go. On buses, trains and in taxis. I went on a boat when I travelled from school in Scotland to my new home in Northern Ireland.
Has yoo efur nicked anyfing from de soopermarket? *sniggers*
Most certainly not!
Wot is yoo bond wiv yoo mummy like?
Oh we have a very strong bond. There has to be a strong bond of trust for a blind person to feel safe and secure with their guide dog. And the guide dog has to feel secure and confident to be able to do their job properly. Mum is the boss (or so she thinks), well I let her believe she is and that keeps her happy.
What advice would yoo giv people who see guide dogs in de street?
I know people see a cute guide dog and they just want to pat and fuss it. Everyone is different, but mum and I would say remember that dog is a working dog. They are doing a very important job and if they get distracted, they could walk their owner into something or cause an accident to happen by making a mistake. If they are working, that is if the blind person has the harness handle in their hand and the dog is guiding them, leave them alone. Say hello to the person if you want, but don’t touch or talk to the dog. If they are not working, say the person is standing or sitting and the handle is dropped, then you could go over and ask them if you can pat their dog. But remember, if they say no, then respect this. Some dogs get very excited when they get attention and it may take their owner some time to get them settled again and focused when they need to go back to work. Each owner knows their dog, so respect their wishes and don’t do anything which might put them or their dog in danger. Plus, if they say you can pat their dog, then do just that. Give the dog a pat but don’t start playing with it or getting it over excited. If you see a blind person standing holding their dog’s lead but with the harness handle set down, this may mean they need assistance, so go up and tap them lightly on the shoulder and ask if you can assist them in any way. If they need your help, they will be very pleased someone took the time to offer.
Yoo retired early aged six. What happened?
I was a bit silly and started to get afraid of sudden noises when I was in my harness. It started about a year before I retired and got steadily worse. Eventually two trainers from Guide Dogs came out to assess us and while they said I was trying my best to work, I was clearly unhappy, stressed and anxious and no longer safe to be allowed working. Those two things are the most important things to Guide Dogs – is the dog happy and is it safe. The noises were normal everyday noises like a closing door, a car horn, a garden gate etc, so they could not be anticipated or avoided. I would start to shake and tremble, try to veer away from the source of the noise or even just sit down and refuse to go any further. I still get anxious now I am retired, but without the stress of trying to work, I am not so bad now.
Has yoo mummy got a new guide dog now?
Mum hasn’t got a new guide dog. She has had a visit from and a harness walk with one potential dog, but she was not suitable. She got a call about another a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t a match either. We hope maybe next year will be our lucky year and she will get a new guide. For now she is just using her long cane.
Yoo has a fundraising page fur yoo retirement fund. Is it still open to donate?
Yes it is. My Twitter pals were extremely generous when I opened the page to mark my retirement by raising some funds for Guide Dogs. The address is www.justgiving.com/blissretirement
Do yoo still do fings fur yoo mummy?
Well I help her keep fit by playing ball with her in the garden. I allow her to brush and wash me. And when I see her coming I get up out of her way before she falls over me!
Is der anyfing yoo would likes to add?
Harry I would like to thank you for asking me to be interviewed. I always read your interviews and of course I have read your book. You are very kind and clever and the stories you tell about interesting people and animals I always enjoy reading, even when they are sad stories. So it is a great honour to be an interviewee. And thank you to all the people reading this interview. I hope I have helped them learn something about guide dogs and the very important job they do.
Fanks Bliss you is a bootiful pawsome pal. I has also had de honour of intervooing Barbara who is Bliss mummy……..
Hi Barbara. Fank yoo so much fur agreeing to do de intervoo. It is a pleasure to be fwends wiv yoo both and I so happy dat we can bwing awareness to peeps about what an assistance dog does.
What is yoo disability and has yoo had it since birth?
I am blind but have what is called LP (light perception). This means I can distinguish between light and dark, but nothing else of use. I have been like this since I was born.
How does it affect yoo on a daily basis?
I suppose that’s difficult for me to say because I’ve lived with it all my life and as you get used to it it affects you less with day to day activities. Technology also helps with everyday things. But basically it means I can’t go anywhere without either a guide dog, my cane or a sighted guide. If I don’t know the area, then I have to learn the new routes first before going there by myself. Around the house it doesn’t bother me much. I have a few gadgets to help with some things, and a computer, iPhone and iPad which are all accessible to me with accessible software.
Has yoo always had a guide dog?
I got my first guide dog in 1993 when I was at university. She was called Hester. When she retired I got Cyder, then when Cyder passed away at aged seven after developing a tumor in her tummy, I got Bliss. So I’ve had three already and now waiting for number four.
How long did it take yoo to bond wiv Bliss?
That’s hard to say as the bond develops over time. They say it takes about a year for a new guide dog and their owner to really settle down into a good working partnership and get used to each other. If I’m honest, I’ve always bonded very quickly and easily with all three of my dogs. If this wasn’t the case, I could never have trusted them to keep me safe and they would not have felt confident enough to work to the high standards I expect from a guide dog.
Bliss became scared of noises and anxious wen in her harness. What triggered dis?
I can’t put my finger on one event that triggered this anxiety, it just built gradually over time until it became impossible for her to work. Bliss was attacked by two dogs just a month after she qualified with me, and this left her with a bit of anxiety about anything sudden happening like a noise or someone/thing startling her. As she got older perhaps she became less able to handle this anxiety. Things like fireworks don’t help, especially when they are set off during the day when you might be out and about with the dog, rather than inside the house where you can try to keep the disturbance to a minimum.
Was it gradual and did it scare yoo wen it furst happened?
It was gradual, building up over most of a year before she retired. It did scare me as a couple of times Bliss tried to veer away from the source of the noise and this resulted in me becoming disoriented a few times and getting a bit lost. Fortunately though I was able to sit Bliss down and give her some reassurance and by telling her to “Find the way”, She was able to lead me safely back onto the right path again. Sometimes she would just sit down and tremble and was clearly very stressed. This I found more difficult to deal with as I was concerned for her and didn’t know what to do for the best. I could see what was coming, that she would probably have to retire, and felt very sad about that. Guide Dogs were a great help, trying different things to support us as a working partnership, and giving us both plenty of time to work through the problem. But eventually we all accepted what was best for Bliss had to come first, and that was to let her put her paws up and just be a dog.
Do yoo hav a new guide dog now?
I don’t have a dog at the minute. I’ve had a chance of a couple, but neither was a good match. One because her style of walking didn’t suit me, and the second because she too had some anxieties around sudden noises.
What advice wud yoo giv people wen dey see a working dog in de street?
Well I couldn’t better the advice given by Bliss. Remember the dog is working, respect the owner if they say please don’t pat, fuss or distract, never feed a guide dog and If you are allowed to pat the dog, don’t go getting it too excited by trying to play – it is working after all.
Wot prompted yoo to put Bliss on Twitter?
To be honest I can’t remember. I probably left the computer on one day and came back to find she’d set herself up a Twitter account and was woofing away with new pals. She now has more followers than me. Through Bliss’s account I have made many new friends with people (and animals) I would never have come into contact with just using my own account.
Is der anyfing yoo wuds like to add?
Love the blog and enjoyed your book Harry. I also purchased some of your mugs and they are fantastic. Keep up the good work and looking forward to your next book.
So there you have it. Wot a bootiful family dey is. Don’t furget to donate to Bliss’ retirement fund. All donations welcome www.justgiving.com/blissretirement if you want to know more about the work of the Guide Dog Charity click here http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/
Watch out fur my next intervoo coming soon.
Wuv yoo all