I was taking part in a “My guide” thing today. They wanted to make sure the lady was safe to guide a person before she was matched with a client. That was okay. We were practicing getting in and out of cars, when I happened to mention that if a guide dog was being carried, then the passenger side airbag would have to be disabled. I was then told by the engagement officer who was doing the my guide training, that apparently this is no longer the case. Insurance companies won’t cover a volunteer drivers car if the airbag is disabled!

To say i was fuming was an understatement. I have always asked for the airbag to be disabled in a car, especially if it is a volunteer driver from guide dogs who has been told when they do the driving course that the airbag must be disabled. We as guide dog owners are told this too. The only time i don’t ask for them to be disabled is in a taxi as i’m not sure if they would be allowed to do it, plus i feel kind of bad asking for it to be done but know it needs to be done. It’s okay if the driver has a big boot, but are you meant to have the dog in the front knowing an airbag could go off? I know it’s highly unlikely that they could go off, but all it would take would be a good speed bump and depending on how sensative they are could they not go off? Apparently it is up to the driver if they are turned off since the guide dog owner could sue the driver for serious injuries and could also sue guide dogs. I know i personally feel alot safer knowing that the airbag is disabled when Ushi is in the front of a car! Maybe i’m over reacting, but i don’t think this is right. That was one of the reasons why i wouldn’t travel with the treasurer to things. She wouldn’t disable her airbag “for just a dog”. Yes she had a big boot but it wasn’t the point.

I’m just so annoyed. I personally, and am sure many other guide dog owners wouldn’t let anything happen to their dogs. For a start, it would kill the dog instantly, which is £50.000 down the drain. But not just the money side. It’s the loss of the persons independence and livelyhood. It’s also the loss of a companion too. Even guide dogs staff were told to disable their airbags.

I for one moment am not getting at guide dogs before anyone thinks i am. I am getting at the bloody insurance companies. Bet they’ve never even seen a guide dog! Let alone a blind person!

So if a volunteer driver doesn’t have a big enough boot do you sit in fear of something happening? Or do we have to invest in a car harness for our dogs safety?

I have asked our branch organiser if she will be enabling her airbags again, but she says until she gets it in writing, (which is going to be sent out to all drivers, apparently) she will keep them disabled whenever she is transporting a dog and owner.

I’m seriously considering investing in a car harness. Maybe i am being paranoid, but under these new rules, potentially anyone who is a volunteer can become a driver, do the course and just change their insurance for “business” and wayhey they can carry a dog.

I probably am overreacting over this but it really annoyed me. Thankfully alot of guide dog owners on a facebook group i’m part of say the harnesses are comfortable and the dog can lie down and sit up. Oh and they can also sit on the seat without jumping up on furniture.

So i think one of these is deffinetly in our future. I don’t really like the thought of it as i like Ushi at my feet, but if needs must. Plus i’d rather have a slightly injured dog if something was to happen, rather than a dead one!

Oh and i’ll post the policy when i get it. (If guide dog owners get it!).

“ABC UK” By James Dunn

I recently won a compitition that the charity
Living Paintings
Which does books with raised pictures and an audio accompaniment for blind and partially sighted children and adults. I used to edit books for them when i was a child, and did rent some of their adult books, but found i didn’t much have the time for listening.

So anyway, this compitition was to name a sock monkey that was someones mascott for completing a cycle trip around Paris i think. I can’t even remember what the question was, but i suggested Lilly for the monkey and won it. I still need to get a picture sorted for the living paintings website lol. Included in the box was a book that they wanted to know what i thought. It was called “ABCUK” by James Dunn. With a title like that i thought it was a kids book, but i couldn’t have been more wrong! Yes it is a kids book sort of, but it is all about the ABCS of britain today. Things like “A for Arthur” meaning King Arthur, or “P is for punk”. It starts off with the author’s history, and who is illustrating the book. It then goes into the different letters, followed by some music, then a litle history about the particular thing beginning with that letter. Not all the pictures are raised up, but they are well described. Even the raised up one sare well described.

I like how it seems to be young people doing each letter. I’m sure it was a fun project for them to do.

It was a fun book, and if you were interested in the history etc, it would be even better. My only other problem was that it was written in grade one braille, which isn’t a problem exactly, but rather an annoyance as when you are used to grade 2 it really slows you down! This isn’t a criticism though. I also like that it isn’t just boring people reading, and that it was young people who would have been interested in football and that.

If you would be interested in following living paintings, look for “Living paintings” on Facebook, or follow @Livingpaintings on twitter.

I would encourage people to check this library out. It’s free too to lend a book.

Thanks again for the monkey and i promise i’ll get a pic soon!

“Making A Splash”

Here is the article from the
I did last week. After alot of asking on twitter, I finally got hold of an email address to contact. I must say that within a couple of hours of contacting them this morning, I did get a very quick response. I would like to thank Jamie Mcdowell for the nice interview, and the quick email. I didn’t say exactly what is rritten here, but even still, it was a good spread to promote guide dogs, and
Long line surf school
I’ll post the pictures at the bottom. I even got some that weren’t in the article as only two were. Thanks again Long line and the telegraph! I don’t know what the headline was though for the article. I think the title is “making a splash”. The pictures are at the start of the article. I’ll post the two that weren’t in it at the bottom then. It’s copied from a PDF so there might be some mistakes. I’ve tried to correct them. Enjoy!

Making a splash

She cannot see but Torie is still on the crest of a wave.

Making a splash:
Tori with guides
Dan Lavery (left)
and his brother
Gareth. Below,
Tori with Dan and
her guide dog Ushi
Me on the surf board with the two instructors behind me.  We are in the water.
Me and the two instructors on the sand.  Ushi is licking my face.  I can't remember what we were doing but i think we were on our knees.

As Guide Dogs Week
continues, Ballymena
girl Tori Tennant tells
Jamie McDowell how
she defied blindness
to become a surfer

Jumping into the Atlantic ocean at
this time of the year might seem a
daunting prospect, but for the die hard surfers that live along our post card perfect shores, it’s a way of life.
For those unfamiliar with our booming surf
culture, Northern Ireland is quickly becoming the place for surf tourists worldwide to
check off their list.
For people like Tori Tennant, from Ballymena, however, the sport has opened up
a whole new world of opportunities. Unlike many of the surfers you’ll see trying to
catch a wave along the north coast at the
weekend, Tori has been blind from birth.
She’s also the youngest owner of a guide
dog in the country at 22.
“I was born prematurely and that’s how
I lost my vision,” says Tori, who frequently hits the waves with the Long Line Surf
school at Benone beach near Limavady.
“I was 18 when I applied to get my guide
dog. Normally it takes six to 12 months for
the people who train them to find one
that suits you, but in my case it actually
took 15 months.
“My dog Ushi is three years old
and I finally got to meet her on my
20th birthday, so she was a lovely
birthday present.
“She’s really changed my life. I
can go to the shops and go for a walk
when I want. I always talk to her
while I’m walking along — I’m sure
passers-by wonder about me.”
Though having a guide dog has
helped Tori in her everyday life, Ushi
isn’t too keen on Tori’s new hobby. She
explains: “Ushi doesn’t like to get her
paws wet. She’s a bit of a madam. Even
when it rains it takes twice as long to go
anywhere because she doesn’t like it. So
when I go surfing she prefers to stay on
the beach.”
Being an outdoors person by nature, it
wasn’t long until Tori came across surfing.
“One of the community development
officers that works with blind people put
me in touch with a guy called Brian McDonagh, from Derry, who’s also blind,”
she explains.
“He came up with the idea of going to
Long Line Surf School which has surf boards that are specially adapted for disabled and autistic people.
“I decided to give it a go and I’m really
glad I did.
“It’s kind of scary at the start, especially when the waves go over your head because it’s easy to get disorientated, but
Dan Lavery and the other instructors are
with us at all times and they’re lifeguards
as well.”
She adds: “It’s a great feeling when I’m
on a wave and I’m zooming along.
“The boards are good because I have
two handles at the front to hold on to and
there’s room at the back for the instructor
to hold on as well.
“There’s a good group of blind people
who’re trying surfing now, and even the instructors have tried surfing blindfolded to
see what it’s like for us.
“I think things like surfing for disabled
people really opens peoples’ attitudes to the
possibilities there are. I mean why not?”

Dan Lavery (22) and his brother Gareth
run Long Line Surf School which was set
up only a year ago, and since then they’ve
pioneered surfing for the disabled.
Dan explains: “I was working at a surf
school in Cornwall when I came up with
the concept.
“I live in Benone myself and I knew
that we wanted to open a surf school but
we didn’t want to leave anyone out — we
didn’t want to have to turn anyone away because of a disability.”
He adds: “I have a friend in Cornwall
who makes surfboards, so I got these big
9ft 6in boards made that have three straps
along each side and room at the back for
the instructor. This means that if a person
with a disability is on the board, we can
paddle them into the wave and it takes
away a lot of the intimidation that people
might feel.”
Dan’s take on surfing for disabled people has proved a huge success, but it’s only
recently that he’s realised that blind people can take part in the surfing, too.
He explains: “So far we’ve mostly been
going surfing with people with autism or
wheelchair users, but after bumping into
someone from the Guide Dogs NI, we decided to let some blind people give it a try.
“It’s amazing the response we get from
people who’re trying surfing for the first
time. It really hits home when you’re out
there, the level of trust they’re putting in
“My brother Gareth even decided to try
surfing blindfolded and after falling off his
board he became really disorientated.
“We’ve now made some blacked out
goggles so that all of the instructors can try
it so they understand how scary it can
He adds: “We’ve also introduced a blind
surfing section to our surfing competitions so competitive surfers can get an
idea of what it’s like as well.”
For more information on the Long Line Surf
School visit http://www.longlinesurf.con

It costs Guide Dogs around £50,000 to
support a guide dog from birth to retirement

It takes around 20 months of specialised
training to transform a newborn puppy
into a confident guide dog

A Walk My Way event will be taking
place in Belfast in the grounds of City Hall
today from 10:30am until 4pm, where
members of the public can come and experience how visually impaired people get
out and about

You can have a go at a blindfolded walk
around an obstacle course using a long
cane or with a guide dog in harness, and
experience being guided by a volunteer

For more information on Guide Dogs,
visit or on Face-
book at

An instructor holds the surfboard upright on the sand.  Me and Ushi are beside it.  Ushi is lying down
Me and the instructor catching a wave

There Was A Reason

This will probably be a very disjointed post, but i need to write it down. I’d rather it was public too as there is just too much to just splurge in a text document.

A few years ago i had to lose touch with some very dear school friends. One i was forced to because she started making some very nasty accusations against me saying that basically because i was helpful and gave her some advice, i must have been abused as a child. (Very long story, but i was never abused and was so horrified someone i knew or at least thought i knew could make such a horrible accusation, through email.). I was extremely upset during that time, and had to make a clean break. I thought it better to break with a couple of other friends too then. Thankfully the story with them wasn’t nearly as bad but still was very upsetting.

Basically what happened was that when i used to go over to their house for a few days, they were very reluctant to drop me home again, even though i had made several attempts to let them know, or rather their mother know. The last straw was however one day when i did have to be home for an appointment the next day. I had said to them in the morning that i needed to be home. They said that was grand. I then got told that afternoon that my mum had said i could stay and didn’t need to be home. Rather the mother had texted my mum and then said i didn’t need to be home. I was very suspicious and texted my mum to see if that had happened. It hadn’t. I was so very annoyed. I didn’t like being lied to like that, considering the fact i was 18 at the time.

So each time after that they wanted me up, i made my excuses. I finally just stopped all contact with them as i was so so annoyed. I would run into them occasionally and it was still the same carry on of when i was next coming over.

I even kept getting facebook messages from one of them who couldn’t understand why we hadn’t been friends any more. I know it was their mother mainly, but the girls were adults too. The friend requests kept coming on facebook from one of them, as well as the messagees with frankly attrotious spelling. She couldn’t even spell my name right and she was older than me! So they kept being ignored by me as i just didn’t need it, and i eventually had to block her name from coming up.

So she then started messaging my mum, who, like a fool replied. She has kept in regular contact with one of them in particular and thought that because we used to be friends then she had the right to be friends too. There was nothing for a while, but mum came in and told me something that is very troubling.

She told me that she had messaged again asking about why we weren’t friends. (About three years after the fact). Mum then makes up this bull about how it would be great if you stayed friends, but sometimes you drift apart and lives go their separate ways. The friend then said about how she had lost a baby three months ago and that she had know one else to turn to and that she had to tell mum. She claims she couldn’t tell her mum which knowing the mother is highly possible, but i think that it is a little weird that she has absolutely know one else to turn to. Mum was quite shocked at my reaction, but i just feel that this is her way of trying to get to be friends again. I said to her to be careful and she said that it is no big deal. Yes it is! Fair enough if she has lost a baby, that’s awful, but there was a reason i cut them out of my life. I didn’t want anything to do with them. I needed to make a clean break. Have nothing to do with them at all. The girl claims that only her boyfriend and the hospital know.

I am just very suspicious. I mean why now? I said something like if she was more careful, and i know that might have been harsh, but this friend wasn’t what you’d call the brightest. She wouldn’t have thought things through that well etc. I personally think mum is getting involved in a bad situation and should be very careful. I for one am not becoming friends again! I don’t want to be guilt tripped into it either. Mum has no business being involved, or still talking to the person i think.

Part of me feels really guilty and that i should care, but a bigger part says that if i do get involved, i’ll very quickly fall into the same trap, and i can’t be dealing with that now. As i’ve said i broke the friendship off for a reason, and because i was very cut up about the other friend i mentioned that made the accusations.

I wouldn’t normally write this, but i just felt in a bit of a mess. I thought i’d write it out to get it straight, and to make sure i’m not feeling heartless! I just wish mum wasn’t still trying to be friends with her. At the end of the day she is an adult, so she has to face horrible decisions. I just think there must have been someone she could have talked to. Her sister for one, who accepted the fact i wasn’t friends and left it at that, there is her boyfriend, there are her aunts and that she got on with, there is probably counscillors she could have talked to i’m sure. Yes i’m sure losing a baby is horrible, but if she had carried the baby to term how would she have explained then to her mother if she knew she would go mad or whatever? So maybe in a way it was a good thing it happened if she had know one to talk to.

Maybe i am being heartless, but these things stay in the past for a reason. Not to be raked up again.

I suppose i’d better close this before i start repeating myself or dig myself into a whole. But i just don’t know why mum is still friends! Is my reaction horrible?

I wouldn’t normally write this but i just had to get my thoughts in order, and think it should be out there rather than me writing it and deleting it.

Sorry if this has upset anyone, but it is just my oppinion, and i am truly sorry if someone reading has lost a baby. But it just seems strange now she comes looking for support.

I just had to get that out there, and sorry if it doesn’t make sense. And really i am sorry if this has upset people. I just had to get my thoughts in order.

Surfing For The Belfast Telegraph

On Wednesday i got a call from guide dogs saying that the
Belfast Telegraph
Wanted to do a piece about the surfing
I took part in in July. So i said i would go down but that i would need a driver. (I wish i didn’t have to ask them but they are there to help us i suppose). I had texted our branch organiser saying i wasn’t sure whither to bring Ushi but that i would love to. I then got a text from my volunteer driver saying she’d love to take Ushi a walk as i surfed. So that was sorted! Ushi was coming after all.

So at about a quarter to 10 we hit the road. We had arrived early so we took Ushi for a quick run on the beach before we were to get suited up in our wetsuits. She loved it. I braught her Goughnut too and she played with it for a while before getting bored. She sniffed some seaweed before a wave came up behind her and quickly made her drop it lol. We headed up to the boardwalk again after that to get our wetsuits.

I am pleased to say there are now new changing rooms for people, which are much bigger than the last ones when i was first down there. The wetsuit was still its huge awkward self but we eventually got it on. I would have thought Ushi might find the suit a bit strange but she could have cared less about it. She did however lick my foot as i was putting on my wetsuit boots lol.

We were then ready to head back down to the beach. We tried to get Ushi to stand on a board on the sand, but she was having none of it, prefering to jump over it. She then had a great roll around the sand and started kicking it up. She even kicked me out of the way at one point lol as if to say this is my photo.

I would have expected her to come out and rescue me when i went in to surf, but the volunteer driver who was going to take her for a walk just let her run about, and she apparently sat watching me for a while, before lying down. She apparently had a really disgusting look on her face as if to say “what are you doing in that wet? Come here and be with me on dry land”.

The surf was great, and i found myself not being as nervous as i was before. I’m glad to say the waves weren’t as big as the last time so they didn’t go over my head. I don’t like the feeling when that happens.

There was one point where the photographer wanted all three of us on the board (two instructors and me). I thought it was alright for him to say that when he is on the shore, he wasn’t out on the board! We managed to get squeezed in though, but when we were out the lens on his camera stopped working!

When we arrived back at the beach, Ushi didn’t even come to greet us, rather we had to greet her! We had to get a photo of us in about ankle deep water which Ushi wasn’t a fan of. One photo of me with my arm resting on the board, i had to hold my arm round Ushi as she wanted to lie down but the photographer wanted her to sit.

It was then up to get changed.

We had a spot of lunch before we left, and then headed for home.

On the way, we called into the volunteer drivers house as she wanted to let me and Ushi meet her Elk hound. He was away for a walk, so we got to meet Pippa the jack russle instead. Ushi didn’t know what to make of her. I think she thought she was a wind up toy! She then wanted to go into the volunteers house lol.

I would like to thank the volunteer driver, and the folks at Long line surf school for today. Remember to look out for the Belfast telegraph over the next couple of days.

happy Qualification, Big Ush

I seem to have lost my blogging mojo, but thought i’d better write something about mine and ushi’s two year qualification. I always like to celebrate it. Plus it’s always good to compare. So i hope you won’t find it boring.

So on Saturday i celebrated two years with Ushi. Over the last year i’ve noticed some big changes. Ushi was always quite confident with her work, but over the last year she has become more confident.

She no longer hesitates so much with her obbsticles, and is usually more confident with tight spaces, although she does like to wait and make totally sure i will fit through the gap.

When we are crossing roads now, if it is a quiet road, Ushi has to wait until she is sure there is no car coming towards me. This kind of does get a little annoying, but at least she is being cautious. She does eventually go forward though.

There are two kerbs that she absolutely refuses to budge on. I have to physically step off the kerb and use the lead to get her going. (It is a quiet road, but you can hear traffic in the distance as there are four roads leading off it). I’ve tried bribing her with treats but no joy. It’s only on two kerbs too!

I’ve discovered how well Ushi works in busy conditions. I love working her in new environments if someone is directing me.

She has also started whining for her food in the mornings! She never used to do this, but i think me forgetting to feed her until 12 o’clock one day might have had something to do with it. Most of the time it’s a gentle whine, but there was one day she actually barked and scared herself lol. I used to feed her at half 5 for her dinner, but i’m now doing it at 7 o’clock since she was waking me up ridiculously early the next morning.

One of the biggest changes would have to be how she now will swim. Fair enough it is only in a still river, but it’s a start! I’d love to take her down to the sea to see what she was like with it since the last time we took her she didN@t like it at all. she was in her harness though so that might have had something to do with it. So i’d love to see her just off her lead.

The biggest thing i’ve noticed is how she has wormed her way into my uncles heart. He has never really liked dogs, but a few months ago he saw the article i did in the paper about me and Ushi, and wanted to meet her. So we met in town. I thought he would just put on that he liked Ushi for my sake, but he invited us up to his house one time when my sister was going up. From that day he has been hooked. He has Bipolar disorder so having Ushi really helps his moods. and his skin has got much better after Ushi licks him. I know it isn’t healthy but there is no way of stopping her really. she is so firm and he has said it looks much healthier after she is done. He doesn’t have to put his creams on as much either when she is there. She treats him like one of the family now.

He even got her bowls so i wouldn’t have to bring mine up all the time. Unfortunately the first food bowl was far too small and Ushi couldn’t move her food around in it, so she wouldn’t eat. I actually had to empty it onto the floor! So my uncle went out and baught her a new one.

She even has two pillows and a blanket for her bed.

she also has spare food up there and carrots that are Ushi’s. She even has her own jug of water!

My uncle now looks forward to Ushi being up, and actively calls her over to him. He loves the way she comes out to the kitchen when he is cooking, and has conversations with her.

Ushi has really benifited him as he is getting out more, and he enjoys having to focus on directing me when i am working her. I was worried in case he wouldn’t like me working her and would want to guide but he loves seeing the two sides of her.

I sometimes feel though i don’t work her as much as i should, or that i don’t deserve her. I know i do though and even if i am just doing a walk which is most of my routes, she is still getting her exercise and i am getting to meet so many people on my travels. i do wish i felt able to travel more independently but i know that sometimes it’s too awkward to do it if it is at night for example. I know the volunteer drivers don’t mind though but i feel that sometimes i am just making excuses.

So happy qualification Ushi. I’m so glad i’ve got you and i hope you don’t get bored of me. I really enjoy walking along and not having to worry where my next step will be. I hope you are with me for a good while anyway, and contenue working well. I do sometimes get bored of the routene but i don’t think i could go back to the cane.

I can’t wait to see what the next year of our partnership brings!