National Guide Dog Month 

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Dave Steele, on the beach in sunglasses, with a black cap with his yellow lab guide dog Christopher

Dave Steele, on the beach in sunglasses, with a black cap with his yellow lab guide dog Christopher

September marks the beginning of National Guide dog month.  This is a time to celebrate the incredible work our four-legged friends do for so many people around the world.

I, myself, am a guide dog user and have had my guide dog Christopher now for almost 7 years. I’ll never forget the sense of freedom I felt when I qualified with him, and when we headed out on our own for the very first time. It reminded me of how I felt when I passed my driving test many years ago. That feeling of independence and confidence to go anywhere was something I had lost since my diagnosis with Retinitis Pigmentosa.

But with my guide dog Christopher, I found that confidence once more.

Like so many things around disability, there are many misconceptions about guide dogs and how they work. Believe me, I’ve heard them all. I’ve had people ask me all sorts of questions like “How does he know the way to all the places he goes”. They think he’s a doggy satellite navigation. But the truth is that we work as a team. Guide dogs are trained to follow several set commands and ultimately see dangers that a person who is blind or visually impaired may not be able to see.

When I took part in the training process with my guide dog, I remember feeling so nervous about the whole thing. I’d been on the waiting list for a guide dog for around 18 months and the day I got the call to inform me that they had a potential match for me in Christopher.

It was the same day as my first poetry book Stand by me RP was published and the emotion of two amazing pieces of news in one day was too much for me and my wife to take. We were on our way to a restaurant to celebrate my book when my phone rang, and a member of the guide dogs team broke the news of my match. A few days later Christopher was brought to the house to meet me and my family for the first time and a week later I was on the training course.  

Almost 7 years have passed since then and the difference this incredible dog has made in all our lives is hard to put into words. 

For anyone who is interested in the process there is a superb documentary on Netflix entitled Pick of the litter about a group of guide dogs going from puppies through the process of becoming working guide dogs. It really is an incredible watch and highlights the incredible work that all those involved in the raising, training and support give to the dogs and service users like me. 

I’ll be writing a lot more about Christopher and my experience as a guide dog user over the next few weeks, but until then, I’ll leave you with this poem. 

My Guide Dog 

My heart felt cold when I was told my eyes would soon be lost.

But sight was not the only price I felt that blindness cost. 

I lost my independence, lost my job and lost our home. 

Though surrounded by my family, sometimes I felt alone

As debt mount up, I got stuck in rut, felt anxious and depressed 

Found company in poetry my deepest fears confessed

This hereditary blindness could one day be my kids fate

No treatment or a cure for them just hope and time to wait

But with a paw where once unsure, today no longer hide. 

For I now have my guide dog my best friend right by my side.

These challenges though hard together nothing can’t achieve. 

With my best friend to guide me in myself I now believe