Reflections

The reflections page is a place where we can share our reflections of our dogs. Perhaps you are a puppy raiser who has just sent a pup off for training or has had one that has career changed. Perhaps you are a prospective handler who needs a space to write a letter to your future dog. You might be a handler who has had a mis match and need a place to honour that process. Perhaps you are retiring a guide and need a place to share your time together. Of course it is also a space to share memories of our guides who have gone before.

If you have a reflection you would like to add to our page, please email them: email your reflection

A Momentous Decision

One of the most significant moments in my life has been my decision to apply for a dog guide. I certainly never imagined the adventures that would transpire! I really wasn’t sure if getting a dog was such a great idea. After all, a dog takes a lot of work and money and it needs exercising no matter what; a white cane requires minimal attention.

Nevertheless, a dog seemed exciting to me. So, after a lot of thought, I applied for a dog. “Can I have a naughty dog?” I asked. ‘I know just the dog!’, declared Phil our instructor. ‘I’ll fix that cheeky woman!’, he decided, with a chuckle.

So off to training I went. We stayed in a luxurious unit right on the beachfront. My room overlooked the ocean and I could lie in bed and listen to the waves. It was delightful!

Even upon arriving for training, I was still questioning myself. The other trainee’s response of ‘You can always give the dog back’, shocked me. No way was I taking this on, with that thought in the back of my head!

Then a huge black cyclone called Watcher entered my life! It has not been the same since!

Training was incredibly hard. I had trouble remembering my lefts and rights. I fell over my dog causing much merriment for an interested passerby who was watching us. Phil rolled his eyes and sighed many times. On one occasion, Watcher and I nearly got run over on a pedestrian crossing. Poor Phil had to save us. Somehow though, we graduated and I took my cyclone home.

“I thought dog guides were supposed to be quiet!”, exclaimed my shocked son as the big black dog leapt, slobbered and panted. My cats, who had grown up with dogs, took one look at this crazed creature and hastily departed. My builder gasped as Watcher and the heavy timber table to which he was attached, charged noisily across the floor in an exuberant greeting. Expensive, lovingly-purchased toys were ripped apart within moments of being received! Paperwork was gleefully torn into shreds and I had to chase him around and around to retrieve hats and socks.

During a trip to Melbourne, a man stopped in front of me with his pet dog, totally blocking the way. Watcher was overcome with excitement and bounced and huffed crazily and loudly. The man wagged his finger at us, declaring to Watcher, ‘You won’t pass your test!’ I didn’t have the courage , as I struggled to control this bouncing, hyperventilating animal, to tell him he already had passed!

Other times I just couldn’t hold him. He was just so powerful. He’d take off leaving me behind or clinging desperately to the harness handle with one hand, lead clenched in the other, my handbag and shopping simply discarded on the ground or unceremoniously thrown at a friend. Once we were discussed by a friend and stranger who let his dog on a long lead, tangle with us. “Bad dog, bad handler!”, they both declared as I was battling to get Watcher back under control.

Often I came home feeling totally exhausted and felt my cyclone should have been named Satan instead of Watcher! But gradually, compliments on our teamwork started to outweigh the criticisms and we started work together instinctively and proficiently.

Our new found teamwork did not always mean life went smoothly though! Once I accosted two strangers in a dark city carpark one night, never thinking of the implications of declaring I wanted grass until after much stunned stuttering from them. By this time my son had found me and was declaring it was not safe to wander around at night. I am not sure if he meant for me or other people!

Another time we came across another dog guide approaching us at an intersection. The two dogs careered excitedly towards each other, me skiing alongside Watcher on the slippery, wet pavement; the man being towed on his knees across the bitumen. The traffic was drawn to a halt as we disentangled our dogs and made off in opposite directions as professionally as we could!

Then there was the night Watcher decided to snatch a cane toad so smoothly and sneakily I had no idea he was carrying it in his mouth. It was only due to a friend’s vigilance I realised.

One time I was peering about wondering why Watch was so skittish only to be abused by a harsh female voice demanding to know what I was beep beep staring at! The humour of her irony made me chuckle!

Watcher also had quite a dramatic flair, we used to be invited to move forward in queues after his dramatic sighing and flopping to the ground as we stood waiting. He caused embarrassing distruptions at a conference in Sydney. His loud, human-sounding sighs of boredom caused multiple keynote speakers to falter and much of the audience’s heads to swivel, probably glaring at the rude person. I soon learnt to swivel my head and glare into the rows behind too, thereby totally shifting the blame!

A muffed road crossing was another opportunity for him to be dramatic. After I made him redo it, he persisted for months in veering extremely wide of a bin, then sidling along shop fronts as if he was a terrified, abused animal. He would lean so hard on the walls that he staggered and half fell at each doorway we encountered.

Now, when I think back over the past few years, I am delighted at what we accomplished and I relish our adventures and experiences. Working with Watcher became so easy I often forget just how darned hard it had been. I felt so confident as we set out each day. At home I laughed at his crazy doggie antics. He brought me joy, great companionship and unparalleled confidence and independence. I could not have had a better mate and don’t regret swapping a cane for a dog at all.

From DGHA member Ros

Ride of the Valkyries

I wrote this in 2014 for my first guide Vallie. It was played on a radio show in a segment called Changing Tracks… a piece of music that changed your life… mine was Wagners ‘”Ride of the Valkyries”.

Prior to May 2000 I had probably heard this piece of music in movies or ads but didn’t know what it was called, I knew little of the composer Wagner and for certain had never heard of the mythic Valkyries.

Long before Honda created motorcycles and Tom Cruise starred in a historical war thriller, Norse mythology tells stories of women who chose the souls of the men who are going to die in battle. They take them to the halls of Valhalla and look after them for eternity. They are often depicted in images as strong beautiful warrior women on horseback and of course are famously tied to the Ring Cycle by Wagner. I knew none of this prior to the 29th of May 2000 when I was introduced to my own real life Valkyrie…

I was sitting in my bedroom at the end of a long corridor. I had been hearing the opening and closing of doors for what seemed liked hours. I had butterflies in my stomach. I knew very little about who I was going to meet – only her name and the colour of her hair.

Finally I heard a knock on my door – the door opened and in walked Valkyrie. She walked straight over to me and my heart melted. I was speechless she was so beautiful, beautiful soft blond hair, dreamy brown eyes, a wagging tail and a cold wet nose. My first Guide Dog entered my life.

That first week of training was challenging – not for the reasons you’d be thinking – putting your trust in a dog, learning new commands and body positions – yeah that was hard but I think the hardest part occurred probably at the end of the first week.

Here we are standing at the start of a residential street. My instructor says “just say your dog’s name and the word forward”. Panic grips me – I can’t remember my dog’s name! I know it’s something like Velcro… what is it!
I feel so stupid… surely they won’t let me continue training if I can’t remember my own dog’s name… that’s it… failed in the first week. I have to fess up… Thankfully my instructor doesn’t double in two with laughter, but reminds me that it’s “Valkyrie” and off we go on our walk.

I soon nicknamed her Vallie for short and other nicknames followed including “Valley girl”. We will have been together 14 years this year, and though her working life finished many years ago, and her successor has assumed her guiding responsibilities, she still fills my heart with the same joy she first brought to me.

Whilst working she guided me through many life changes, various uni courses including outdoor education where she carried her own sleeping mat on hikes, and my teaching degree where she came into classrooms and snored through my lessons! She also worked in Outside School Hours Care with me, as well as coming babysitting and nannying…

We travelled overseas together – she was the first Guide Dog to undertake a Contiki tour – 11 countries in 28 days! Later in her life we went to America where we went to a NASA Space Camp where she was awarded with a special certificate of participation. This was most likely for her dramatic portrayal of someone dead from radiation poisoning – in this case caused by radioactive tennis balls…. you had to be there…

She has seen my romances come and go, we’ve moved in and out of houses. We’ve worked through dog attacks and her phobia of shiny floors, people refusing us access to taxis, restaurants and shops. She’s stopped me from getting hit by a few cars.

She’s impacted so many people’s lives. She’s helped people with dog phobias lessen their fears, and has even helped a reluctant talker come out of their shell. These are huge things but I’d also like to celebrate the small things, the things that are often overlooked when people think about Guide Dogs.

Vallie facilitated my mobility and enabled me to move fluidly through a variety of environments. It didn’t matter if we were going to the local shops or overseas. She stopped at roads, showed me where steps were, found doors, bins, traffic light poles and tram stops. She did all of this, for love.

Now she’s 15, mostly deaf, has low vision herself, and arthritis but she still greets each day with her typical Labradorable nature – ‘Hi great to see you… any food going?’ She happily snores goodbye to my current guide and I, as we leave for work early in the morning, and is happy and bouncy to see us when we get home in the afternoon. She can still manage a sniff around the block or a sedate walk up the park and has never tried to usurp guiding duties.

To my beautiful Valkyrie I would like to thank you for the wonderful ride.

From DGHA member Claudia

The Passing of Pollock

Guidedog Pollock: March 1996 – February 2010.

Pollock was an import to WA, born; puppy raised and initially trained in Victoria but spent nearly his entire working life at the University of Western Australia.

Each weekday morning, mostly in the dark of predawn, Pollock would guide me through the streets of Nedlands down to UWA, and the workday at CLIMA.

Pollock’s working career at CLIMA spanned the years 2001 through to September 2009, at which time he retired. After 6 months of blissful retirement in late February 2010 a trip to the vet brought about the discovery of inoperable cancer in Pollock’s front leg. I had to make the uneasy decision to have Pollock put to sleep.

Pollock’s working life at UWA I can only imagine was a bit of a dream for him, trees everywhere, hob knobbing with Vice Chancellors, Deans, Ministers, Governor’s General, Professors, researchers, a Prime Minister and even a face to face meeting with the Prince of Wales; he was at ease with everyone. Pollock loved to guide through the lush greenery of the UWA campus at Crawley; And as he lived and loved it so much when an opportunity to sprinkle Pollock’s ashes in the new landscaping in front of the CRC wing arose; I decided that would make a fitting resting place For a faithful friend.

ON an early March morning a small gathering of UWA, CLIMA, FFICRC and FNAS staff and friends paid our last respects to a much loved colleague and mentor. Pollock will now be forever part of the university.

From DGHA member Greg

audio recording of a story about Lincoln,

An audio recording of a story about DGHA member Rowena Dowling’s first Guide Dog Lincoln, published in the “Take 5” magazine in October 2013.

The audio is provided courtesy of Radio 4RPH in Brisbane.

Rowena and Lincoln story (mp3 9345kb)

From DGHA member Rowena

Nicole and Former Guide Dog Nev

in 2013 Nicole Damarra successfully completed a Bachelor of Social Science, from The University of the Sunshine Coast, Graduating with her former Guide Dog, Nev, who helped Nicole navigate around the USC campus throughout her three-year degree before he retired.

DGHA member Nicole Damarra and Guide Dog Nev, both in academic robes, at Nicole's Graduation 2013

From DGHA member Nicole

40 Years as a Dog Guide Handler

In the following audio file Joyce Jones speaks about the 2014 Dog Guide Handlers Conference and her 40 years as a dog guide handler.

Joyce Jones 40 years as a Handler (mp3 1.4mb)

From DGHA member Joyce

What Did You Bring That Filthy Beast in Here for?

One day, accompanied by my guide-dog, I called at one of those bookshops which specialize in books by, for and about women, to pick up a book for my wife.

As I waited while a shop-assistant located the book, a woman also waiting at the counter turned in our direction and said in a low tone, “What did you bring that filthy beast in here for?”

Scarcely believing what I’d heard, I retorted indignantly, “He’s not a filthy beast, he’s my guide-dog and, what’s more, he’s very clean.”

“Shut-up!” came the terse reply, “I wasn’t talking to you.”

From DGHA member Peter

Talk About Dogs Behaving Badly

I had just graduated with my Seeing Eye Dog, and was visiting family for the weekend.

On going to bed, I removed my artificial eyes, carefully wrapped them in a tissue, and placed them neatly on the bedside table.

In the morning, I reached out for the eyes, only to find them missing. Picture myself, and my wife, both of us blind, crawling around on the floor on our hands and knees, searching for the eyes.

We noticed my seeing eye dog proudly parading around the room, head and tail held high, with a triumphant gleam in his eyes, as much as if to say, “You can stop looking, I found them!”

My dog approached me, and pushed his face against mine. I put out my hand to find his cheek with suspicious bulges, much like a squirrel hiding nuts in his cheek. I stuck my finger in the dog’s mouth, to discover his tightly clenched teeth, and hooked out a very soggy tissue, and retrieved the eyes, praying that the dog would not swallow.

After that event, we renamed him “Artificial Eye Dog.”

From DGHA member Colin