I have a new-found confidence
I have an eye condition called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (“LCA”) which presented when I was 6 months old. All my life I have lived with around 5% peripheral vision. I have always considered myself independent and I hope that I have not let my disability stand in my way. I am always the happiest around my friends and family as they treat me the same as everyone else.
I am now 24 and in 2018, when I finished college, I finally put my name down for a Guide Dog after much personal reflection. I definitely wanted to be close to 100% comfortable with my disability before I embarked on this journey (because there is really no hiding the fact when you have a dog leading you around 24/7!).
Although in the past I was able to navigate the sighted world by using my white cane and limited vision, it was not with ease and confidence. I felt vulnerable often when using public transport and when walking alone, especially at night when I experience night blindness. I have walked into a lot of poles over the years!
I often felt great pressure in new social situations to try and compensate for the fact that people were awkward around my disability. In some ways, the cane felt like a physical barrier between me and the world. I was patronised by members of the public and even harassed many times when using my cane alone. Over time I came to realise that, while the cane works as a mobility aid for many people, it wasn’t working for me and I needed to find a safer and more positive means of interacting with the sighted world.
Over the last two years, I was visited by the trainers from Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind on a number of occasions so that they could assess whether I was a suitable candidate for a Guide Dog. In November 2019, I was invited to go down to the Training Centre in Cork for another assessment over three days. I had the opportunity to learn what exactly is involved in becoming a Guide Dog user. I asked loads of questions to ensure that a Guide Dog would be a good fit for my lifestyle. The trainers also wanted to get to know me better so that they could match me with the right dog.
On my last day in Cork, I went for my first walk with a black lab on a cold and rainy winter’s afternoon.
Little did I know this charismatic, sensitive, loyal and very funny character would soon become my Guide Dog!
Our first walk together was so smooth and fast – paced that I knew I could never go back to using a cane – I had to officially put my name forward for a Guide Dog.
This Spring I started my training contract to become a solicitor and I was eager to settle in with my Guide Dog before I started my traineeship. In November, I got a call to say that I was matched with Eldin, the black lab, and that I could commence training on 1st of December. It was all so fast that I was a tumble dryer of emotions.
I was so nervous going down to Cork initially and I didn’t know what to expect at all. It was such an adjustment to learn to take care of a huge black lab every day, all day. Everyone I met in the Centre (especially the kennel and housekeeping staff, the trainers, the other Clients on the class, Eldin’s Puppy Raisers and temp home family) were so much fun and so kind that by the end of the two weeks I barely wanted to go back to my real life!
I brought Eldin back to Dublin with me on Friday the 13th of December 2019. It was such an amazing Christmas and Eldin is the best gift I have ever received. Eldin settled into his new home very quickly. We started off slowly; going for walks in the local area, to the park and into work on the Luas. Luckily, I knew my routes very well and I wasn’t totally relying on Eldin’s sense of direction for the first few weeks.
At first I was so overwhelmed by the public’s response to Eldin and the attention I received every time I brought him out (as he is so handsome). Now, the attention is just part of my daily routine and I am not afraid to be assertive with people who pet him when he is meant to be working.
Eldin was adjusting so well that we soon were heading into town Christmas shopping, going out to sessions to play music and meeting up with friends. I was so proud of Eldin and so eager to talk about him and to show him off to everyone (and still am to this day!).
I can’t stress how much safer I feel now that I have Eldin by my side. It is a totally different way of interacting with the public. People tend to see past my disability and just view me as someone with a cute dog. In some ways, this makes no sense to me as I am the same person as I was in November before I had Eldin in my life. The only difference now is that Eldin enables me to stride ahead with a new-found confidence (and there are no more imprints of poles on my forehead!). I feel much more independent now and I don’t get anxious about going out in the dark anymore. Eldin is an incredible social asset and a great ice-breaker with new people. I don’t have to expend as much energy focusing on navigating my environment and I can concentrate on talking to whoever I am walking with.
I am a happier and safer me with my 37kilo four-legged friend by my side. I am so proud of him going into work every day; melting hearts and bringing joy to so many people.
Eldin is a constant source of emotional support. He makes me laugh all the time and even holds my hand on the Luas every morning.
I know that our partnership will develop over the next 6 years and that Eldin will blow me away with the new skills he acquires as he settles into his working life. We have a lot to achieve and I am so excited to have him by my side for the rest of my 20s.