Guide Dogs 80th Birthday Reception

Today was an 80th birthday celebration for Guide dogs at Stormont. I wasn’t sure whither to go but decided i may as well because if nothing else, it would be a chance to meet up with a few guide dog owners.

So at about 8 o’clock my rehab worker came to pick me up. We had to collect another guide dog owner too.

One of the fundraising branch volunteers was coming too, so we met her in Belfast since she was getting her car serviced there.

We then headed up to the district team office for about an hour while my rehab worker got some work done that he needed to get done. We sat and drank tea and just gabbed for a while. I got one of the staff to sign a form i needed to get signed for me volunteering as a fundraiser. (All volunteers must now be registered with guide dogs and have ID). I also saw one of my instructors and chatted to me for a while. The big boss then arrived. The chief executive of the organisation had come over for the event. He was a lovely guy and seemed really down to earth. Sometimes i find that people like that can be up their bums a bit and think they are better than everyone but he was lovely. He asked how i was getting on and was i happy with my aftercare and such. Of course i said yes as i don’t think there is anything wrong with the service we receive as guide dog owners.

I then spent Ushi before we headed up to Stormont.

Even before we got into the actual Stormont building, we had to go through some security. They wanted us to park in a certain place, and the guide dog owners had to go in one way and other people had to go in the other. We then had to be signed in and were given passes which allowed us to enter the building. We then had to go through metal detectors before we were directed to what was called the “Long gallery”. We all sat for a while until we were called outside for a photo opportunity with the first minister for Northern Ireland. While we waited for that we mingled with other guide dog owners, while an obsticle course was being set up for people to do a blind folded walk with a guide dog or cane. Hardly anyone went for the cane one this time though. I saw some lovely puppies called Troy, Erril, Mia (A labradoodle who i was dying to see), Magic, George, Guide dog grant, Guide dog Muffin, Guide dog Neemo, and two dogs in advanced training called Truffle and Lyn. Some of them i met later in the day though. I’m sure there were more dogs but i can’t remember them all.

We were then called down to the front of the gallery for a photo with the first minister of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately me, another guide dog owner, my friend, and one of the branch members got left behind. They said they were taking people down in groups, but after a while we just went down. The photos took about half an hour and we didn’t even know if they had been done or not. Oh by the way the little blue coats that the puppies wear are just cool.

We headed back inside for some tea and sandwiches. I worked Ushi up to where the long gallery was with directions, but then took someone’s arm as it was just really really busy. The dogs just lay down as they were exhausted by this point. I had chicken sandwiches and a glass of water as we didn’t have a table so i figured that a little china cup of tea wouldn’t really be a good thing to have. While we were eating, one of the MPS Jim Wells introduced what would be happening throughout the rest of the afternoon. He says that the assembly will back everything guide dogs do, and he has a daughter with RP so knows about visual impairment. At least he wasn’t just talking for the sake of it. He also sits on the “All party working group for the visually impaired” but i’m not sure what that is. I know it’s part of the assembly. Next our policy officer from guide dogs stepped up to talk about the talking busses and stuff. The chief executive then stood up and mentioned a number of issues such as dog attacks, talking busses, attitudes to blindness and shared surface schemes. He then went on to talk about the next 80 years and he hopes to grow the guide dogs service, and roll out the sighted guide service i’ve mentioned before across the UK.

The District Client representative/national client representative for Northern ireland stepped up. These are basically guide dog owners who represent clients from their district team and would maybe complain on a guide dog owners behalf about something the guide dog owner wasn’t happy with such as aftercare or any other issue. She told us about how she has recently had to retire her previous dog Zimba as he had a heart condition. She is just about to qualify with her new dog Allic hopefully later this week. She explained the changes going on in guide dogs, and i can’t remember what else she talked about. I think that was all the speeches.

We just carried on mingling while some people did the obsticle course. A woman who had just been accepted onto the waiting list came over with her mother. For one reason or another she had been matched with a dog but it didn’t work out. (Apparently she was meant to be matched with my Ushi but it didn’t work out!). Isn’t that a coincidence? Wow! Would i still have been waiting if she had been matched? God. I thought it was really mad. Her mother was a bit concerned that her daughter couldn’t use busses but i said that i didn’t use them yet but they would teach her if she needed to learn. She was a nice girl and i really hope it does work out this time.

Ushi saw my instructor and we had a good gab. She commented on how well Ushi looks, and asked me if i was having any problems. I’m not thankfully and she said that i seem to be handling her really well.. I also mentioned about ushi not liking when she can’t see a persons’ face and she said alot of dogs are like that.

I also met an instructor who is now working in our team but she had trained Ushi for 5 weeks of her training in scotland before coming over here where she will qualify. I said that she was probably a minx but she said her character hadn’t really begun to show yet when she had her as they were mainly doing obedience and stuff.

I came over because somebody wanted Ushi’s picture taken and we came across two dogs that are in their advanced training:Lyn and Truffle. They all tried to have a play lol. Lyn kept sniffing my right pocket as that is where my treats are kept lol but i hadn’t got any with me today.

After all that we had a tour of the stormont building. We went into the “great hall” and the debating chamber. It was a bit boring as i wasn’t that interested.

The dogs couldn’t wait to get home by this point.

I was very pleased with Ushi and all the dogs in fact. There were a few exceptions, but most of the dogs were well behaved. Maybe they knew it was something improtant! When ushi realised that some of the guide dogs weren’t coming over to her she just lay down and went to sleep. That is much improvement. Normally ushi will get quite excited with other dogs.

It was a good day and i’m glad i decided to go. The only boring bit was the tour!