How my assistance dogs changed my life
For Assistance Dog Awareness Day, we’re sharing stories from owners about what life is like with an assistance dog. Here, Sîan talks about how her dogs, Arnie and Uri, changed her life.
I became a guide dog user 12 years ago as my independence and confidence had deteriorated. My anxiety was high, and I wanted to hide away.
I have been sight impaired since birth as I have the genetic condition oculanius albinism type 2. Having a guide dog has often been discussed throughout my life. Still, it wasn't until the moment I felt overwhelmed, when my children were young, that I applied for an assistance dog.
My first guide dog
My first guide dog Arnie bounced into my life, stubborn, wilful, but an amazing guide – he changed my life. He guided me to hospital and doctor's appointments and even supported me at parents' events and family holidays. I started going out more, supported my children better and attended adult education classes. I began to volunteer and feel more positive.
But along with an assistance dog comes public perceptions and issues over access.
I have unfortunately been challenged when entering shops, refused taxis and even had hotel reservations declined because of being accompanied by my guide dog. These occasions are few but, unfortunately, weigh heavily on me and cause anxiety. Most people and establishments are really supportive, often offering water for the dog and checking they are comfortable.
Arnie and Uri have allowed me to cope better with a hostile, inaccessible world in the last 12 years.
The impact of the pandemic
When Arnie retired after seven amazing years working beside me, I got matched to the lovely Uri. A sensitive, attentive hound who has been by my side for five years. We travelled independently around Britain, and he particularly enjoys trains as we visited friends and attended conferences. He is solid in his work, but unfortunately, our adventures were curtailed during the pandemic.
At the beginning of Covid, I was shouted at for going too close to someone in a chemist. I tried to explain that my guide dog doesn't understand two-metre restrictions, and I obviously can't see. This knocked my confidence, and I avoided shops for some time.
But being able to get out for an independent walk with the support of my guide dog helped me cope through the next few difficult years. Luckily as the world opened up, my clever assistance dog had not lost any of his training and skills. We have steadily got more confident and are out and about far more.
The special bond you have
You get so much joy and independence from these special partnerships and bonds with your guide dog. But unfortunately, you also have to face the extreme sense of bereavement and loss at the end of the working relationship. You lose the companion who has supported you and becomes part of who you are for many years. Then sadly, you have to face the final extreme bereavement at the end of their lives.
With these partnerships comes an enormous amount of respect and love for an animal that has transformed your life. Arnie and Uri have allowed me to cope better with a hostile, inaccessible world in the last 12 years. Guiding and navigating me around an environment full of physical and emotional obstacles.
I am very grateful for the opportunity and privilege to live and work alongside two amazing guide dogs.