The Hard Days Make Us A Better Team

Hello Everyone,

It has been 6 months since my guide dog Danson and I were matched and started learning to work together as a team. This has not always been a walk in the park and life has made this transition more difficult than I would have ever thought. With Danson being my second guide dog I thought it would be easier this time around and I will tell you that could not have been farther from the truth.

Danson is an amazing guide, he makes life so much easier and gives me confidence and freedom that I have never felt with a white cane. When you are learning to work with a new guide dog it is a long process of learning each other’s quirks and what makes the both of you tick and what you need to be at your best.

I have been thrown some unanticipated health things and that has made this transition a little harder. I have lost the remaining light perception that I had when we were first matched and I have been on a little bit of a roller coaster with my health. Danson has taken this in stride and been there by my side through it all.

As all these changes have gone on, I am learning to trust Danson and work my routes around my home and work with zero vision. Danson is really sensitive and picks up on my fears and anxieties, and this is amazing but when I am having a rough day we as a team are having a rough day. I have found that I have more fears when I am moving about my environment and those fears can manifest more when I am having a bad day. These fears and anxiety can take a tole on Danson so it is something that I am working through and I am doing this with the support of Danson and some amazing people.

It takes a year to become a solid working team. And that year has its ups and downs. That is normal and it takes a long time to get used to each other and learn everything about them.

I am so happy to have been matched with Danson, after the early retirement of my last guide I have become hyper aware of what can happen if Danson is put in a situation similar. There are many things that can happen when you are a guide dog handler that a dog would have to retire early and the fear of that happening to Danson has made this transition along with the other things a little tricky. Danson is the right Guide Dog for me and we are working through life as a team and i am so grateful for his support and love through it all.

With the support from so many amazing people in my life we will be a great team. Having a guide dog isn’t always rainbows and sunshine but it is definitely worth every minute.

I get so many people asking me if a Guide Dog is for them or if I get a Guide Dog what are some of the things you wished you knew before you got a guide dog. I always want people to take as much information about guide dogs and make the choice for themselves. The one thing that I don’t think that I can prepare them for is the emotional rollercoaster that occurs as a guide dog handler.

There are days when it is hard, at the end of the day they are dogs and have good and bad days just like humans. You don’t meet the dog for the first time and trust them with your life. They don’t come in your room and love you right off the bat either. They are looking for who ever they loved before you to come back. When you get home it is not going to be sunshine and rainbows. There will be things you need to work through, issues that arise you never thought of, quirks that drive you nuts. The constant advocacy will get old. At the end of the day no matter how hard it is being a Guide Dog handler is the best thing I could have ever done for myself. And I hope so many others find what makes them as confident and independent as possible.

Danson and I are still learning to fully trust each other and that is hard for me this time with what happened to Rick. I have panic attacks because I am so worried when I am out that something is going to happen to Danson and he will have to retire and I will be left shattered again. I avoid the Starbucks where the incident happened to this day. But I am so happy and grateful to have Danson by my side I wouldn’t change anything. Soon we will be like an extension of each other, we are like a newly married couple right now, still figuring it out.

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Danson

The Top Is In Sight

Hello Everyone,

As many of you know I lost the remaining vision that I had. This was really hard for me and I felt like I was climbing a mountain. The fear was real, there were days that I felt like I was drowning and didn’t know how I was going to make it to the top of that mountain.

I am definitely not at the top of that mountain, but I am well on my way. I feel like I am settling into this new normal. Finding out what works and what does not. I have had to really work to get to even this point, and I have a lot more work to do.

I have had to work with my orientation and mobility specialist to find new landmarks and make sure that I was comfortable with my routes. And to be honest going through those routes even the ones I know with my O&M helps to build my confidence. And that is the biggest thing that took a hit with my vision loss was my confidence.

I have began to build that confidence back up and feel like I am almost there. I have had amazing support from friends, family and co-workers.

Having Danson to help guide me through these tough times has been a huge help. He makes it so that even though I am not completely confident in myself, I can use his confidence to know that we will get through it. Having to get out and work him so that he gets what he needs was what kept me going, kept me pushing past the things that I was feeling.

Whatever it is that life gives us we have choices to make and I never want something I have no control over to determine how I live my life. No matter how hard it is I will be the one to determine how I live my life. I want my kids to know that they can do whatever they put their minds to and the best way to help them to know that is for  them to see me pushing through the hard times and coming out on top of that mountain.

The sun is shining and spring has finally arrived, and Danson and I have big plans.

Until Next Time!

Ashley and Danson

A Mountain To Climb

Hello Everyone,

I have always prided myself on being real and honest with you, showing you what the reality of living with vision loss is like. I always want people to see what the possibilities are and that life is not over if you have vision loss. But I also want to be real with people when it comes to the struggles.

I have had a really rough couple of days. As many of you know I had some light perception left and that was all the vision I had. I have lost that light perception, and now have nothing left. It was hard to even talk about it, when it happened I was shocked.

I have been really struggling, I took comfort in that little bit of light that I saw, Once it was gone I realized how much I used that little bit of light perception. It is hard to explain but seeing that little bit of light for me was a huge comfort in my vision loss because it was something.

I have had a lot of emotions going on but the biggest thing for me was fear. I was terrified, I am terrified. I have had my anxiety go through the roof. It is just so overwhelming and hard to describe now that I am trying to put it into words. This morning when I got up, my alarm went off and I went to get ready for work and I just couldn’t do it. There was just too much fear and anxiety and it won. I took a personal day which was probably what I needed in the long run.

I kept telling myself all morning that I needed to get up get dressed and go out. Go get a coffee do something, I had to prove to myself I could still do it. I would like to say that that is what I did and it was easy but that is not the case. It took me from 7am to 3pm to be able to convince myself that I could do it and leave the house. There were tears in that route to get coffee and this is a route I have done hundreds of times and know like the back of my hand. But it felt like I was lost and doing it for the first time. My perspective on the world as I knew it has completely changed.

There has always been this fear ever since I was young of that day I went totally blind and saw nothing at all. It is a fear I hear so many of my friends talk about and I think we all in the back of our minds think it will never happen to us. And I was one of those, I never thought I would be here writing this.

I made it to the store and I got a coffee and it sucked, it was hard, it was emotional and I feel like I have a huge mountain in front of me to climb. It is going to be a rough climb but I will be on top of that mountain soon enough.

As you lose vision or your vision changes, each time this happens it can take you right back to day one of it happening. It can bring up all the emotions all over again and it is hard. You literally have to start climbing from the bottom all over again. It is a place that no matter how much support you have around you, that can feel very lonely and terrifying.

And this is mostly for me but you can do it. You are stronger than you know. This is just another challenge that you have to figure out and overcome. This challenge that has been put in your path can not defeat you or win. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it!

See you at the top!

Ashley and Danson

Band-It – Ways to help identify products

Hello Everyone,

I love a low tech product that really makes a difference. This product is one of those. Band It Identification Bands are so helpful around the house. I use many different ways to identify things when they look the same, like elastic bands, puff paint, placing them in a certain spot. These all work as well but they are not as easy as the Band It bands.

I have been trying these out for a few months now and have found them very helpful for not only myself but for my kids as well. It is nice to find a product that works great for me as someone who is blind but also can help my family members who are sighted.

Band It Identification Bands are tactile bands that help you to identify things. They each have a different tactile marker on them from diamonds, squares, circles, lines and flat circles. They are also brightly coloured for those that have low vision. They are very flexible and durable which is nice, I found when I was using elastic bands they would wear down and break where as these do not do that.

I have been using them in the kitchen, the phot is of two jars that are the same size and shape one is beef bouillon and the other is chicken bouillon I had always struggled to know which one was which quickly. I would have to get out my phone and use an app that would read them for me or ask my kids or husband. Which these I am able to tell the difference just by grabbing the jar which is great.

Another use that I have been really enjoying is in the shower with my shampoo and conditioner, with the Band It’s it is easily identified even when everything is wet.

One thing that so many have trouble with is cleaning products, I use Method cleaning products and love them but all the bottles are the same shape and size. Now with the bands I am able to put different ones on the cleaners that I want to identify quickly. Here I have it on the window cleaner.

I said early that my family is able to use them as well, especially my kids. They have water bottles that are the same and are always trying to remember which one is who’s. Then the fight starts about I put mine there no I put mine there so now we are able to use the Band It’s they can put them where ever they want, and not fight about whose is whose.

Technology is amazing but it is really nice to have a product that does not mean I have to have my phone in my hand at all times. These Band It Identification Bands are very helpful and I am happy to have had the opportunity to try these and want to Thank Band It for sending them to me.

Happy New Year !

Hello Everyone,

This past year has been a crazy rides of ups and downs, there were times when I thought this year can disappear anytime now. Then I was reminded that those are the years that are the greatest the ones where you have many ups and downs and you come out on top and make it through.

I am always striving for more in my life and to do better and this year as we quietly brought in the new year with my kids and husband, I was reminded that I have goals and things that I want to achieve and that is good but I have to remember to cherish what I have now and what I have accomplished thus far. We tend to compare ourselves to others so readily and easily, social media makes this so easy. But we forget that people don’t often post their struggles and the bad times, they post what makes it look like they have all their sh*t together when in reality they are in just as deep or farther than you.

I can find myself getting sucked into the comparison so easily, I see people posting about their hot holidays and automatically think “man I wish I could go on vacation” but the reality is, I hate the heat and don’t have any desire to go on a hot holiday in the winter. Yet when I see these posts I can find myself comparing my “boring” life to others and that is just not what I want to do. The reality is that I have an amazing life, is it boring? You bet, but it is my boring and I love sitting and reading too many books, crocheting and drinking coffee with my kids running around screaming and fighting (maybe I could do without the fighting) and my husband here with me. I enjoy the chaos of going to work everyday and trying to get everything in that I need to and then squeeze in my classes on top of it.

Is my blog booming and have millions of followers, nope, is my YouTube channel taking off, nope but that isn’t why I started. I started because I wanted to share my life with people and show them that my life is just as normal as theirs was even though I am blind.

2019 is going to be a great year, there are going to be ups and downs. I don’t do resolutions they have never worked for me in the past and always had something to do with me changing something about me. But this year I am just going to remember to enjoy the ride.

I would also like to take the time to thank all of you for your support over the last year. The reason I do this is because of all of you. You are a great community of support for myself and others who are struggling or just trying to get through. so  thank you and I hope that your 2019 is fantastic!

Until Next Time

Ashley and Danson

Guide Dog Training Week 3

Hello Everyone,

As my training came to a close I was excited to be on our own and terrified to be on our own. This week was something that was invaluable to me. Danson and I flew home with a trainer from Ottawa and that was amazing. To have someone there with you, to help support you so that if something went wrong you were not alone, was something that I am just so thankful for.

It may seem a little weird that I am so thankful for the week of training and someone to accompany me home when I had already qualified as a team with Danson. The thing is that Danson and I did our training in a unfamiliar environment and although we spent 2 weeks together I didn’t know him that well. I did not know how he would react on a flight and in a busy airport. Same with when we got home I had no idea how he would fit in to our home and would he settle in well. There were so many unknowns.

Danson was a great flier and he did so well. The sandwich myself and the trainer bought at the Toronto airport for $15 each was not terrific at all but Danson made up for that disgusting sandwich. (I can not express how gross this sandwich was). We had two flights one was an hour and the other was three hours and on both he did really well.

Once we landed in our home city and met up with my husband the real work started. Danson was excited to be off the plane and get to go pee. Once we got home he did really well with my three children and seemed to settle in pretty well for the night. The trainer accompanied us to my house to make sure that the first meetings went well and he started to settle.

In the morning myself and the trainers did some routes around my home and it felt really good to be in our home area and working. I could feel the freedom and confidence building with each step.

The week was full of lots of work with the trainer and my orientation and mobility specialist to make sure that we knew our routes to places like work, my kids school, and some other places I frequent regularly. There were times when I was in my head and felt lost and other times when I felt like I had this and we were rocking it. Having those times when I felt like I was lost and not doing great and questioning everything was such a blessing to have the trainer and my O&M with me, supporting me and reassuring me.

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As the week came to a close and we were packing a bag to attend our graduation in Toronto and then fly off to a work event in Vancouver I was nervous knowing there were going to be times when it was hard, but I was excited that we had finished it and made it through all of the emotion good and bad together.

It is hard to go through such a roller coaster of emotion with a dog and not come out of it feeling like he is truly a part of you. Through the good and the bad he will be there by my side guiding me through it all.

I am beyond grateful for all of the support of the CNIB and the CNIB Guide Dog team. The success of myself and Danson is because of the support that we received along the way.

We are now on our own and will be updating you on our adventures as they come, the good the bad and the ugly. And I am sure there will be some of all.

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Danson

Guide Dog Training Week 2

Hello Everyone,

The second week of training really kicked things into high gear and Danson and I had a lot of hard work to do. It isn’t easy trusting a new guide dog and learning their personality, and hoping that they like you enough to want to work for you. The whole training process is not only physically tiring but more than that it is emotionally exhausting.

The Sunday of training we were so lucky to be able to attend the Remembrance Day service in Ottawa near Parliament Hill. This was my first time attending and there were thousands of people everywhere. I know for me anxiety creeps up when I am going somewhere new and now you add in a brand new guide dog and you better believe that I was on edge.

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Photo Description: Black lab sitting in harness on the sidewalk with the parliament buildings behind him in Ottawa, Ontario.

This was a great opportunity for me to be a part of a memorable service that I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend but also to see how Danson would do in large crowds and navigating a large event like this.

It was cold and he rocked it, I was able to walk through the crowd with a lot of excuse us, pardon me as he found the straight line and kept us moving in the right direction. It felt so good to be able to navigate a crowd like that with him. When he was working so well and really just rocking it like there was no worry about the people, I could feel myself calm and my confidence start to build and it felt amazing.

They did a fly over at the ceremony and there were also bag pipes so it was great to see how Danson would do in an environment with those kinds of noises and of course he did great.

On Monday there were many firsts for me again and I was so nervous going in and for good reason! We hopped on the train in Ottawa and went to Montreal. This was my first time going to Montreal and I am again so thankful for the experience. We did some work around down town and were working again in an unfamiliar environment and Danson did great. Then the highlight of the day came the big event, (well for me). We met up at the Subway and were going to take the Subway around the city to expose ourselves to it and see how our dogs would work in that environment.

Photo Description – Photo 1: front of the Via Rail train on the tracks approaching the camera.

Photo 2: Black lab laying on the tiled floor looking very tired. (This photo is from the end of the day at the Starbucks in the train station after the subway and everything. He did amazing but was quite pooped)

I have never been on a Subway, I live in Saskatchewan I mean the closest thing to being on a subway we get is driving a tractor down a grid road. So needless to say I was nervous.

When we entered the subway station I was met with a huge amount of people all in such a hurry that I am sure they were all heading to some sort of emergency and then I the sound of the subway coming in came. That was a new experience for me and I can tell you right now that that sound erased all sense of where I was for me. It was so disorientating it was like everything around me disappeared and it was kind of terrifying. Just as I would get my bearings back and feel a little better another train would come in. I hated every minute of it.

Photo Description:

Photo 1: city skyline at night

Photo 2: black lab sitting looking at me as I sit on a bench and look down at him. **Photo Credit to CNIB Guide Dogs.

Kudos to those of you who do this on a regular basis, this is not for me and I would be good if I never have to do it agin. But I did learn that Danson is not fazed by it at all and would be able to get me where I needed to go in any situation.

The rest of the week was filled with light rail rides, bus travel, indoor work in the mall and more routes around Ottawa. With the support of the amazing CNIB Guide Dog team I was able to really learn how Danson works and learn to trust him and listen to what he is doing. The support that the trainers give is invaluable and I will forever be grateful to all trainers and what they are able to do with the dogs but also what they are able to do with the clients and how they can make the transition to a new dog feel like it is so seamless.

On Thursday November 15th 2018 Danson and I did our qualifying walk with the program manager and we passed and it felt amazing to know that through all the emotions and hard work we were able to come together and work as a team. Training did not end there we had one more week to go.

Photo Description:

Photo 1: Black lab sitting with his head on my knee and his paw on my leg beside his nose with his eyes half closed. (I was feeling the same way at the end of this day)

Photo 2: Black lab laying his head on the neck of yellow lab on the floor near a table (this is Danson’s brother they love each other)

Photo 3: black lab and yellow lab sitting next to each other in the back of a van looking at the camera. (This is Danson’s brother again)

The second week of training for me was probably the hardest and I found myself up and down and really on a emotional rollercoaster. I felt nervous at moments, terrified at others, ecstatic and everything in between. I was also struggling with the emotions of getting a new dog after losing another. I found myself almost getting scared to go home because I didn’t want to have to put myself in a situation where I would have to retire another dog because of someone else’s impatience or stupidity. And to this day I am still struggling with that, those emotions are still very raw and real; and most of all hard.

Until Next Time

Ashley and Danson