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

Guide Dog Training Week 1

Hello Everyone,

I am happy to say that I am now with my second guide dog. The process to building a relationship with a guide dog and learning to work with a different guide can be a challenging one. There are many things that happen on training and it can be intense. I am going to walk you through my training and how I was feeling during training.

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*Photo credit to CNIB Guide Dogs 
Photo Description: black lab sitting with the silhouette of his handler Ashley behind him.

I arrived on Sunday and got settled, it was a long travel day but I was so excited to be arriving at class and to get started training. I never slept much the night before I left and I certainly did not sleep with the excitement that on Monday there would be a knock on my door; and my second guide dog would be on the other side.

After the knock on the door and my guide dog came in the room, it was real and I knew I could finally take a deep breath because I was going to have a harness handle in my hand again. It is a lot of emotions, excitement, happiness, gratitude, but a little fear as well. This dog doesn’t know me, he has never worked for me, will he like me? Will we work well together? Can I learn to work with him without comparing him to my last guide dog?

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** Photo credit to CNIB Guide Dogs 
Photo Description:: Woman sitting on a couch wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sun glasses while a black lab lays at her feet sleeping on a white dog bed.

We started the process of learning our guide dogs, getting to know them and helping them to get to know us. Healing them and doing some obedience and easing into guide work. I really enjoyed the slow ease into the guide work so that when I did pick up the handle I knew him a little better, he knew me a little better.

On our first walk together it felt amazing to have a harness handle in my hand and walk down the street with confidence (well a little bit of confidence) and know that this was the start to an amazing partnership.

The first week was amazing and exhausting. It is long days and lots of learning. We worked in the mall, in a park, on the sidewalks, lighted crossings, uncontrolled crossings, audible crossings, coffee shops, buses and so much more. We were also given the opportunity to attend the National Remembrance Day Service in Ottawa which was amazing. With it being the 100 year anniversary of WWI and 100 years of CNIB. Especially since guide dogs and the CNIB came out of the WWI. My guide dog did amazing in the thousands of people, the gun shots, the cold, and even with the fly over. It was an overwhelming experience for me and him but we supported each other and it was a great feeling.

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** Photo credit to CNIB Guide Dogs
Photo Description: Woman wearing a blue sweatshirt and jean  sitting on the floor with a black lab laying between her legs on a white dog bed while she uses a roller to give him a massage.

There really are not words for how it feels to work with a guide dog and the bond that builds each and every day as you learn to trust each other fully. I am on cloud 9 this whole week while at the same time being so scared. It is a life changing few weeks that is for sure.

The one thing that makes all the difference when you are in class and training with a new dog and feeling all sorts of emotions, is having an amazing team  behind you. With the CNIB Guide Dog program I had the best team ever behind me and that makes all the difference.

Stay tuned for week 2 and 3!

Until Next Time

Ashley and Danson

It is ok to say you want it….

The last couple of years I have really found my confidence and my voice in so many different situations. I have learned that it is ok to go after the things that I want and it is ok to say what you want. I have always thought that it wasn’t ok to say what I wanted and where I wanted to go. But boy has that changed…….

I have worked too hard to get to where I am today to sit back and hope things happen for me. And why should I? The answer is I shouldn’t and neither should you. When you stand up and say what you want it does not mean you are pushy or entitled. It means that you have dreams, aspirations and goals and you are not afraid to do what it takes to achieve them.

I have been working full time and have made it known where I want to go within the organization and I have been doing everything I can to make that happen. When someone asks me “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I have the answer ready for them and I tell them with confidence.

I am taking a degree that will get me where I want to go and show that I want it and show that I am willing to work for it. And boy am I having to work…. doing a degree and working full time with three kids was probably a bad idea. But it is a good thing I usually just say “Yes” to almost anything.

Saying “Yes” is my other way to get to where I want to go; when an opportunity knocks on my door I say “yes”. There are times when I have thought why on earth did I say yes to that, but in the end it has gotten me one step closer to my goal.

In most cases things do not just happen to people for no reason, they happen because you worked your butt off for them and had the balls to stand up and say to your boss, “my goal for the next five years is to have your job.” If I had someone working for me and they told me they wanted my job and that was their goal I would give them a high five and say “go get it.”

I know my worth and I know I deserve everything that has happened to me and that does not make me stuck up or a golden child it makes me strong, independent and it says I have goals that I am going to achieve.

When we grow up with a disability sometimes we can think that we are not worth what someone who is “normal” is worth. But your disability gives you skills and knowledge that no one else can offer and makes you stand out, and gives your the drive to do what needs to be done. I think it is a bonus that should be used.

Until Next Time

Ashley

Am I Getting A New Guide ? Living Without A Guide….

My Guide Dog was forced to retire after being hit by a cyclist. I have been without a guide dog since June 28, 2018 and it has been a challenge for me. I was a cane user for a long time I remember getting my first white cane in High School and hating it and thinking about getting a guide dog and then decided not too. When I lost all of my vision there was no way I could be as independent as I wanted with a white cane, it did not suit my life and how I wanted to live.

I made the decision to get a guide dog in 2013 and was matched with my amazing first guide Rick in September 2014. This was a life changing thing for me and I was really able to live the life that I wanted despite doing it totally blind.

The last 4 months have been hard I found myself avoiding places because of anxiety and just not feeling confident enough to go alone. I was too proud to ask for someone to go with me so I would just not go, I have worked hard and gained some of my confidence back and have done things that I never thought I would do with a cane and it has not held me back but it has reminded me that there is a part of me missing.

I am happy (more like over the moon) and excited to let everyone know that I am getting a new guide dog!! I have been so extremely lucky to have been chosen to be a part of the CNIB Guide Dog program. I will be heading into class in the near future. This time has been a very exciting one but it has also been a time of emotions I was not expecting.

When I went to get Rick there was a lot of emotions like fear, anxiousness, happiness, and so many other things. I thought when I went to get my second guide I would not feel those same feelings to the same extent but I have been taken back by all those feelings coming back.

I have been feeling scared and overwhelmed with the thought of trusting a new guide dog with my life. I think after the incident that happened with Rick my first guide dog it has actually made that worse because I am terrified to be in that position again. But I also know that there is a part of me missing and that part is a harness in my hand and a guide dog by my side.

I have also felt guilty for getting a new guide dog, almost like I am cheating on Rick. I feel guilty for moving on and heading into a class without him. I always knew that Rick was going to have to retire at some point, I never thought it would be so early and I was heart broken. I don’t think there are any words to describe the bond that I had with Rick and still to this day do. I find myself with tears in my eyes just thinking about him, knowing he is not with me anymore. The only saving grace for me is that he is loved by his family just as much as I love him. They handed the leash over to me 4 years ago and I have handed it back to them because they are an amazing family and his forever home. He will always hold a special place in my heart and life.

My personal choice is to have a guide dog; that is when I feel like I am the most confident and unstoppable. I love the feeling of flying down the sidewalk with my adorable doggie wagging his tail on a mission to where ever we want to go, no questions asked.

I will be documenting my journey and how it all plays out, stay tuned for an update on my new guide dog and my training process. As well as the name and picture of the amazing guide I will be matched with.

Until Next Time,

Ashley and future guide dog

AIRA – Initial thoughts

Hello Everyone,

I have been testing AIRA which is a company that will provide sighted assistance through their app as well as glasses with a camera. The people who are answering the calls from people who are blind or partially sighted have gotten a great deal of training and are able to describe what is around you and answer questions, as well as help you navigate to a destination describing things that you are passing and giving you information that you are looking for.

I am just using the app right now and have had a chance now to test it in a few different scenarios in my home as well as out an about in my neighbourhood, as well as travelling for work.

My first time using AIRA it was great I was able to talk to the agent and go through the set up and she gave me a really good overview of what they could do for me and demonstrated how I was going to need to use my phone with the app to get the most out of the service.

Now I have been able to test it out with calling and getting the cooking instructions on food items as well as reading recipes in a recipe book. I have also called and asked for help with the colour of clothing and different things in my home while doing laundry and trying to sort the kids clothes. They were able to answer all my questions and they described things beautifully. When I asked them what colour something was they gave me an answer like a dark purple where as when I ask my husband he says something like “I dunno it is kind of purplish I think”. They were also great at describing patterns.

This has been so helpful in not having to ask my kids or FaceTime my husband. But what I really like about it is that I can ask what I need to know. With some of the other services out there it will tell you purple shirt but maybe I want to know the size of that item of the fabric or maybe the washing instructions and these are things that they are able to help with.

One of the things that I tried with the app was going to the grocery store, I needed a few things and wanted to see how they would be able to navigate me around a super market that they themselves had never actually been in. And we all know that grocery stores are all very different and forever changing. What I found out was that they did a great job of helping me to navigate around the store and we found the items that I was looking for, and then the cash register. It was nice not to have to find someone in the store to help me, no one else knew what I was doing so I was just another shopper getting a few things before heading home after work. It felt amazing. The one downside to using the app the way I have been especially when grocery shopping is that you have to be holding the phone at your chest and then you have a cane or guide dog in the other hand so holding the things you are looking for can be a balancing act. ( I will be testing the glasses they just arrived (very excited) so keep an eye out for that).

Navigating a unfamiliar city when travelling for work can be a little daunting and after a long day sometimes you don’t have the mental energy to deal with it. I was able to use the app in a city I was in for work and it was great. I found a place online that was close to the hotel and they navigated me there with zero problems and then asked if I wanted them to read me the menu or look up any specials. There was not frustration or searching involved it was amazing. Here is the video of that exact situation that I just described. Aira Video.

So far my experience with the AIRA app has been great, I am happy to finally have the glasses as that is the one disappointing thing. It did take two months to actually get the glasses. Now that they are here though I will be doing much more testing.

Until Next Time,

Ashley

My Favorite Books and How I Read, Blind

One of my favorite things to do is read, it is a time when I can escape into a whole new world and just relax. I have been known to get a little too caught up in a book and neglecting things like sleep when a book I am reading gets really good. This can be easily done especially when you are blind and do not need lights to read ever.

When I was a teenager I loved to read and used to give myself headaches and make my eyes throb with pain from trying to read print and then I just gave up. I started reading braille more and listening to books on C.D and this was a life saver. It allowed me to consume all the books I wanted with out the pain and frustration of trying to see them. And when I say print books I am talking large print books I have never been able to read a regular print book. I do sometimes wish I could read regular print books they are so portable, although this could be very dangerous.

I have read some amazing books over the years and I have also read some not so great books over the years. This year I set a goal on my GoodReads page to read 35 books, I wanted to make sure it was something attainable as I do work full time, have three kids, volunteer and I am taking classes as well. So as of August 1,2018 I have read 34 books, and still have 5 months to go.

There are two books that have really stuck out for me this year. They were books that just really stuck with me and that I lost lots of sleep trying to cram in as much reading as possible while I could.

I don’t only read one kind of book or one genre, I love to try new things. Reading a large variety of genres and types of books it keeps things interesting. Just like the way that I access books keeps it interesting. Lately the number 1 way that I access books is through audio. I use Audible as well as Book Share which is a service for people who are print disabled. Being blind that makes me fall in the print disabled category because I can not access traditional print. But I also like to use iTunes to find audio books. Not all books are available in audio format.

I will also use Kindle, kobo, and e-books on iTunes as well as from the library through their app. This way can be a little more frustrating to read as I have to use my screen reader and it can be hard to listen to a whole book like that sometimes, or I use my braille display to read them as well which works pretty well.

I love a physical book and when I am needing to be able to sit down and have some quiet time and read and not have something talking to me I love to use Braille. I get braille books from a service called CELA. They mail me one book every two weeks right now and it is nice to go to the mail box and find a new book to read.

Both of my favorite books of the year so far have been in audio format and the narrators were really good. That is ne consideration when picking a audio book. You have to listen to the sample so that you know if you like the narrator, if you can not stand to listen to the person reading the story, no matter how good the book is you will not enjoy it.

My number 1 book of this year was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara this book really made you think and it was an amazing read. The beginning was a little slow but when I got a little ways in I am so glad I kept reading. It was one of those books that I could barely put down. This books is about 4 classmates who move to New York and try to make it work and it isn’t easy, there are pasts that will haunt them and get in the way of their success and it is a book that makes you want to turn the pages faster and faster.

My number 2 is The Butterfly Project by Emma Scott this book is about two people with pasts that are less than ideal and they find each other out of survival and end up being more alike than they could imagine. They find out that they need each other more than they would like to admit and it is a great story of sacrifice and triumph and overcoming the odds. I flew through this book staying up way too late just to finish it. And then when it was over wanting it to not be done.

What are your favorite books or must read authors?

Until Next Time
Ashley

Your Impatience Cost Me My INDEPENDENCE

To the biker who hit my guide dog;

That faithful day when I took my daughter to go shopping after a big move to the city, and we decided to go for a treat at Starbucks. Little did we know that your impatience was going to cost us so much.

I am blind and have a guide dog, Rick was his name. He was amazing, sensitive, and great at what he did. He kept me safe and made it possible to move my family to the city, maintain my employment and feel confident enough to take my daughter to the mall and feel like I was being the parent and keeping her safe. You see when someone is blind they are capable of anything but in order to do that there are tools that we need in place to be successful. My guide dog was that for me. He turned my world around, opened doors that I never thought possible, and gave me the ability to live the most independent life I had ever wanted.

As I rounded the corner and said “Starbucks”, Rick confidently started on our path to our favourite coffee place. My daughter and I were chatting about what she was going to get and the great purchases we had just made. Then in an instant my world came crashing down……….

A man on a bike came behind Rick I didn’t know he was there and all of a sudden Rick jumped and yelped. He had been hit in the side as you tried to go between my guide dog and wall on the sidewalk, then as my dog tried to get me and him out of the way you ran over his front paw. “Sorry” is all you said as you kept on going.

My guide dog Rick would not work after this, I called a friend to come and pick me and my daughter up and go get Rick checked out.

Over the next 2 months I worked for hours with Rick trying to get his confidence back, wanting so badly for us to be able to work through this tragedy. The school he is from came out from California twice to help me work with Rick.

On Tuesday June 26th I hung up my amazing guides harness for the very last time. He left to head back to California on Thursday June 28th. My children and husband and were crying he was like family, he was more than a pet to even them. My world was torn down, as those four paws walked out of my front door for the last time, i felt like I could not breathe. My independence went out the door with him.

I have not had to rely on a white cane alone since I lost all my vision completely. I had Rick by my side making sure that we were going to get where we wanted to go safely. He made me feel like the world was not that scary when you couldn’t see it. Now I am trying to gain that same confidence with my white cane.

But the truth is, I need to rely more on my children and husband to help me out. It is harder to do things like go shopping, take the bus, get to work, travel for work, and just live my life the way I want to. It is harder because Rick is no longer by my side because you couldn’t wait 5 minutes for us to be out of your way.

The reality is that, service dogs are not just dogs they are a life line for so many. The chances of them having to retire if they have an accident, are attacked by another dog, or have a close call with traffic is likely. No one wants to talk about it but it is true, I am living it right now. Give service dogs their space, don’t take away someone’s independence for your impatience.

Sincerely,

A lost woman and her retired guide dog.