Gift of a Guide: A Year On
Another milestone has come and gone; Lacey and I have been a team for a year now. As the day crept upon us, I really couldn’t believe it had been a year since she came into my life, but then again she has become such a part of not just my life but my family that it feels like she has been with us forever.
I want to take some time to reflect on the ups and downs of the past year with Lacey, because it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Despite what people may think, getting a Guide Dog is a stressful yet rewarding experience, there are things to learn, new habits to develop and an integral bond that needs to develop.
There are so many ups I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe with the obvious; having this beautiful furry soul by my side every minute of the day, who stares up at me with eyes (that actually work) that beam confidence and love that pushes me to keep going. Lacey has the perfect temperament that compliments my sometimes erratic and anxious personality; she is always calm and knows when I am feeling off and becomes even more affectionate.
Since having Lacey I have noticed how much more comfortable I feel walking and navigating the world. I trust her 99% of the time and it has become natural walking with her. If I go out for a short period without her, I feel naked and exposed and end up holding onto the person I’m with and giving them commands like I would Lacey (they are not usually impressed when I tell them to ‘stay’ or ‘sit’). I have also noticed that I no longer intently stare at the ground directly in front of me, straining my neck and eyes to see, instead knowing I can trust her to steer me around any obstacles. To become this confident together has taken close to a year.
There have been times when I have been frustrated because Lacey is misbehaving and I don’t know how to interpret her behaviour. There was a time when she would not go to the toilet in her usual spot and would dig her paws in the ground. We would get into arguments (yes I argue with her and she gives me death stares in return) in the pouring rain. We got some advice from the trainers at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and discovered possible triggers. She also went through a stage of pooping in the house, hiding after she did it because she knew it was wrong, and then me in hysterics having to clean it up after stepping in it and not knowing why she was acting out. Again, we figured that stressful situations taking place had set her off and with extra, extra love and patience she got her pooping back to normal.
At the end of last year my Uncle was struck down with pancreatic cancer at only 37 years old. He came to stay with us in his final weeks before needing to be in hospital. While he was here, Lacey was worried about him and would sit next to him at all times. She would follow him to the bathroom, to the kitchen and to the lounge. The last night he was here, Lacey followed him to bed and slept next to him. She wouldn’t leave his bedside and go to her bed. She sensed everything that was going on. It was that night he was in extreme pain that he couldn’t be at home anymore. My beautiful Uncle Jim passed away a couple of weeks later. During this time Lacey was my support, I snuggled with her and cried to her and she snuggled back. She would check on all my family members and give them extra cuddles and kisses. We had a furry counsellor in a traumatic and devastating time.
The bond between Guide Dog and Handler is essential. It makes or breaks the relationship and the experience. At first I really struggled to trust Lacey and in a way I feel that she did too. I always questioned whether she liked me and was happy to be with me (I sound like an insecure girlfriend!). The experience with my Uncle and her support really solidified our bond. We had only been together for six months and with the abundance of emotions flowing we really relied on one another.
This year has been a whirlwind, full of ups and downs. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to have a Guide Dog knowing the time, money and effort that goes into just one puppy. I know Lacey and I have many exciting things ahead of us, with a massive to-do list we need to check off. Bring on another year together!
Side note: As I am writing this Lacey is sleeping in front of the heater. She has a big smile on her face (she must be dreaming about me) and watching and writing this is making me smile.