Sunday, 26 June 2011

Guide Dogs

Training dog at roadworks
On Saturday, as we walked towards the Pump Room Gardens along the Riverside Walk, Mr A said to me, "I do hope you get a job that means we don't have to move house."

Yes, I know I wasn't going to write about 'what I did at the weekend', but I'm back on one of my favourite topics: how much we like living here. On Saturday, alongside the monthly Farmers' Market, an event was held in the Pump Room Gardens featuring Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and various other worthy and mostly dog-related organisations.

Although I worked for RNIB for 14 years, I didn't have a lot of contact with GDBA. I've met plenty of guide dog owners, but their dogs didn't tend to feature in my work, either in the workplace or in the social context. When given the choice of human or dog as guide, the human wins every time, so I didn't even get to observe anyone working their dog. In mass gatherings such as conferences, the most interesting times were when a scrap broke out among the dogs, or at one memorable hotel-based event when a corridor became impassable because of a smell that had to be traced to a dog, because no human could have produced it.

In my one-to-one assessment work, I went to see a client on a day when his dog had suddenly been taken ill in some way, and while I was there the call came from the vet to say that the dog couldn't be saved. Never having had pets of my own, I had no emotional sense whatever about what this meant, but soon realised with a sense of shame that I needed to come back another time to finish the assessment.

Another assessment visit that sticks in my mind was to see a client in a public sector role, who told me about a recent time when his colleagues thought it was a great joke to take his guide dog and hide it when he was out of the room. The dog was traumatised, the man didn't know what to do with himself, and none of the managers took it seriously. It was the worst case of workplace bullying I have ever seen, but he didn't want to make a complaint. He was looking for work elsewhere, and wanted to leave without any trouble.

Then there was the time when a dog-using colleague sent an email round asking if anyone had a small ornament in the shape of a deer that he could have? When he had been on a visit to a client in their home, his dog had eaten an deer ornament belonging to the client, and he wanted to offer a replacement as compensation. As I remember it, the dog had to be retired after it jumped out of a window, but that might not be entirely true.

Another dog-using colleague had a great store of dog-related jokes, including the one about the blind parachutist. He was able to tell when the ground was approaching because the dog's lead went slack.

Training dog at zebra crossing
Anyway, back to the Pump Room Gardens. I only found out about the event because of my friend's guide dog training taking place in Leamington this week, although there were plenty of onlookers so there must have been some sort of publicity somewhere. Loads of dogs: working dogs, training dogs, puppies, pets, and big boards showing how they are bred, cared for and trained. Tombola, raffles, bric-a-brac being sold in aid of GDBA, other Assistance Dogs, and the usual suspects who turn up when there's an opportunity for a stall: crepes, face-painting, cream teas and Napton Water Buffalo ice cream and burgers.

There was a display arena, where I happened to catch a demonstration of how dogs are trained and their capacity for guiding their owners. There was an obstacle course, and particular demonstrations showing how dogs signalled various hazards and what they and the owner did about them. There was a separate demonstration that included a bus stop, zebra crossing and road works. It's not surprising that GDBA raises so much money: the dogs are amazing, to the extent that it can bring a lump to your throat.

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