July 25th, 2023 Posted In: Uncategorised
It is never easy to say goodbye to something or someone, even when the end is anticipated. It is at best a feeling of gentle loss, at worst, traumatic.
As emotional beings we experience loss more often than we realised. Moving house means leaving one behind. Or Breaking something precious to us; changing career; stepping away from a relationship; the passing of a friend, relative, colleague or someone who lives nearby. Or a child going on to university or starting work. All bring with them a core-felt sense of loss at varying levels.
This month I took the guide dog puppy I have been raising on to her next stage. Her second stage of development involves training school, where the work I have done is used to increase her learning and ready her to be matched to someone who will rely upon her as their eyes. Her training school is two and a half hours away and my sense of loss is heavy.
We have worked on so much together. When she left me, she was not fazed by bus doors swooshing open and closed or the bus rattling and banging along. Not a comfortable ride for most of us, but to a dog resting on the floor, every single vibration must have travelled through her body. She learned that it was alright, nothing bad was going to happen and that she could relax.
It was similar with trains. Think of being a puppy on a platform and facing a train coming towards you. Again, there are door noises and gaps, possibly gaps and step-ups to get on the train and without doubt there will be people. Not at all easy for a puppy to remain calm, concentrate on me yet learn to be aware of surroundings to keep me safe.
Our walks towards Dover docks were at first terrifying for her. When walking on the pavement and those huge lorries hurtle passed, the noise, vacuum they create and sheer size of them is unpleasant for me. Think of this puppy, learning to accept that these great beasts were not aiming for her!
Car rides could mean shopping – supermarkets, high streets, Bluewater, markets. All the different scents and sounds, people milling around. She learnt to be relaxed and by me, not to worry about what was going on around her, whilst being aware of it all. Her eyes were on me. Her natural focus me.
My shadow and I worked together until this week when the inevitable parting took place. I always knew it was coming. She, of course, did not.
However, her trainer immediately bonded with my shadow. There was something about her that gave confidence, a sense of security, and it was obvious that my companion of the first months of her development was ready to move on. There was an excitement in her, and inquisitiveness, it was as if she knew that she had arrived at this place for a reason and purpose.
The training area was equipped and set out in a non-confrontational way, as if it were inviting the dogs to ‘find the fun’, something training is centred around. Their rest area was peaceful, calm, with cushions and bedding that simply invited rest and relaxation. The air filled with the aroma of lavender. They had their own ‘pamper’ area for grooming and any health/wellbeing events. It was beautiful.
Was it a wrench? Oh yes! Did I cry? As the song goes – I cried a river, sounding like a donkey!
But I have such memories. Maddie around the house. In the pond. Getting up to mischief generally. Playing with other dogs. Running like a greyhound across the fields. The fun she had with other guide dog puppies at puppy classes. Her smile and sheer joy at being alive. Her nose on my computer while I attempted to type. Curling up to me when she sensed I’d had a difficult day. Maddie at the practice, quietly saying hello and goodbye to clients and resting in-between treatments with them.
The training school have already sent me pictures and telephoned to let me know that she is happy and responding well to her new environment, where she will spend the next sixteen weeks, possibly longer, before being matched to someone.
It all takes time, thought and care. And the result? A companion who will help to change the life of someone with sight loss. A blind person’s life will be opened, and although the selfish side of me did not want to let Maddie go, what an amazing thing she is going on to do, what an absolute super star.
I will follow her progress from a distance, and watch her when she starts to work. At that point, it really is goodbye.
Would I do this again. Yes. Will I cry again – yep, without a doubt.
To find out more about fostering a guide dog, visit the Guide Dogs website here.