Saturday, 13 October 2012

13/10 LSD - a great way to meet friends!

Life takes many twists and turns that changes your direction without you planning it. Doors open, new people come into your life, and enrich it adding another layer to your perceptions. I love having friends from so many different places, those who know your past, and have seen you after ten tequila slammers, and those who are new and see you a little older and wiser, and you can pretend you have lived a squeaky clean life. A Smörgåsbord (can't think why spell check doesn't like that word?) of friends for all occasions.  And over the last few weeks, a new door has opened and I have met a number of interesting people.

Support Dogs is located way way away on the other side of the Pennines - practically another country to us Lancastrians. So when we came home with Lucie, the first autism assistance dog in Lancashire it did seem at first we were out on a limb here. After asking Support Dogs, I was put in touch with other assistance dog users in the area, from different assistance programmes. We have since met up, and started going for the occasional dog walk and coffee. We have aptly nicknamed our new ad hoc group - The Lancashire Support Dog Group - The LSD Group - a name which for obvious reasons will have to be changed...though for a mild sniggering we will keep it for a couple of weeks and see who else joins us on the walks ?!

Anyway, for now our little satellite gang consists of three people, and it has been great to meet up and share stories. You realise the world of owning an assistance dog - the truth of it - not the perception so many people have, can sometimes be remote as it is unusual. So when we get together we are just gabbling sharing our experiences, high and lows, tips and just about anything. Whether we are discussing our various vets, and how well they understand working dogs, talking dog diet, training tips, or places we have had successes or failures visiting in our area, there is so much to share. So here I have a new group of friends, and a door open because of Lucie.

I hope in time the group can grow and other people in our area can join us for a walk who have assistance dogs. Maybe we can even go further and fundraise or raise awareness of the roles of assistance dogs, who knows. Given I haven't even passed my test yet I won't jump ahead, and with my life I am always reluctant to take on too much, but it seems there are some people out there I would never have met on my usual path who have very different lives to me, and yet we all have one thing in common which presents both opportunities - whether that is emotional support, a shared interest in the charity we all owe so much to, or just simply fun and friendship, it seems worth exploring.  So we will see what unfolds, and who else lives nearby who may want to come and experience LSD without the side effects. 

So here is a picture of Lucie with her two new friends, Billy and Sparky, from the disability assistance programme.  It is great to seem them all have a good run out together and let their hair down...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

9/10 Lucie's deserved holiday

I am buzzing at the moment, so many great things are happening, and Lucie seems to be at the heart of it all. After a summer that left us flaked, Dave suggested now the kids are back at school we needed a few days away to reset the clock and spend a little time together. No hesitation on that plan, so we managed to persuade an excellent friend to rent us her caravan in the Lake District and swiftly disappeared off to the beautiful area of Appleby-in-Westmorland. We organised a complete team effort in making this work, with both Daves and my parents sharing staying with the kids at home. A first in trying to plan it that way with all four grandparents, and with a bit of military planning, it worked a treat. At least the bits they told us about ;)

So off we went on our little threesome, with Lucie, off to the Lakes. I confess I hate the Lakes - well that would be doing it a disservice. I have come to hate the Lakes over the years, as I think it is one of the most beautiful natural areas you can imagine, which has been mucked about with and stuffed with tea shops, tourists and overpriced fish and chips. The truth is I still have memories of an ex boyfriend attempting to romantically whisk me off to Windermere for a day out, not realising that a sunny bank holiday Monday going to the Lakes meant 3 hours at standstill on the M6 followed by daft parking charges and a wrestling match with 'blue rinses'. But being persuaded the Lakes were pretty big and I had obviously gone to the wrong bits, I tried again. And wow. Off the beaten track it earns its reputation. For four days we fell into a lovely routine of epically long walks (for me!) - Appleby was flooded as were many surrounding areas, so much was tricky terrain, but all the more fun. I think Lucie thought it was like being at a mud spa. So for hours each day we stretched 4 legs and 4 paws, and built up an appetite, and then indulged in the best food Cumbria could offer. This was a great opportunity to really give Lucie time out, but then do lots of jacket work in the pubs and town areas.

We also realised Assistance Dogs must have been even less common here as we got questioned a lot more. I phoned one restaurant to make a booking, and knowing it was a very small busy place, told them we had an assistance dog, so would prefer a table at the side if possible. The man was sweet but panicked. Without putting the phone on mute he asked me to hold, and then said to his colleague, 'They have a dog!' The colleague said to put us in the bar area, to which he responded 'We are not allowed to discriminate, are we?' I had to smile at this exchange. It reminded me that lack of knowledge is a stress. He came back to me and said, not to worry, we would make a plan. I assured him Lucie would tuck away quietly, and he was fine. On the night, they were so wonderful with us. I think almost excited to see her, but were also really kind in leaving us alone and not fussing. A great evening out, and Lucie was as always, beyond perfect - thank goodness!

We were also stopped going into another pub/restaurant, and told we could only sit at the table at the entrance where dogs were allowed. Again, gently trying to explain we would prefer to sit inside the restaurant, they obliged, but it can all get a little awkward. In truth I feel sorry for the staff, as they have not been told what the situation is, and why would they just know about assistance dogs? It is still relatively rare to encounter. But then they get embarrassed and overcompensate with friendliness, so it all feels a bit weird.

My favourite encounter was in Sainsburys in Penrith. We had been stopped a number of times in the town and asked about Lucie, and Dave had criticised my attempts to explain her succinctly. He said I needed to work on a clearer way of explaining her role. All this was in the usual context of the assumption she is a Guide Dog in training. So after the umpteenth question I started feeling mischievous and thought I would try a different approach. A group of school girls came over, started stroking Lucie, and asking about her. In a wildly misjudged attempt at trying to end the conversation quickly I said yes, she was a Guide Dog in training. As if that would be the end of it. No - I misjudged the curiosity of school girls and dogs. Tonnes of questions later, all while standing at the checkout, and me getting confused in my own web of lies - Dave is just staring at me with the - what are you doing?! look - as I am trying to stifle a giggle. So lessons learned - there is no quick way to make questions go away, I am utterly rubbish at lying, and on the upside there is a group of girls in Penrith who now know everything you want to know about training a guide dog from someone who hasn't the slightest clue. I apologise to all involved in misleading the vulnerable youth! Back to plan A - finding a quick way to say - she is an autism assistance dog!

So after recharging our batteries, we are now feeling ready for the next bit. The next six weeks are so busy, so hopefully time will fly by. My test is in one month for Support Dogs, so this is my time to get practice in and hope for the best! I have some exciting news of an event we have been asked to attend, but going to hold that secret for a little longer :) All I will say is Lucie is going to get a new diamante collar for the night....