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I'm just one of the group
with an extra buddy in tow
Billy is 6 years old (2021) and we have been together for four and a half years.
I was paired with Billy when I was 15 and we commenced training the following week. At the same time I was studying for my GCSEs; the five weeks of training flew by and fortunately I passed. Since then, Billy has helped me with my independence and my social life in many ways.
Generally people that don't know me very well have struggled to strike up a conversation, however, since I got Billy that has changed; Billy is a good ice breaker and from there the conversation flows. I am definitely more relaxed when I go out with Billy. At times I used to worry that I was a burden to my friends if we went out together. They were really great and would always try to include me but I would often not go out as I felt I was slowing them down and making it so that they had to look after me. Now with Billy that has all changed, I'm just one of the group with an extra buddy in tow.
It was interesting to see how people reacted to Billy when he first went into school with me, reactions from students were mixed. Many students - especially the younger ones - were excited to have a dog in school, and it took a while for them all to get used to seeing him in the corridors. Some students, including my best friend, were not dog lovers and would shy away from Billy; gradually he won them over with his gentle manner and after a few months all would pass him in the corridor as if he was just another student.
I was fortunate in that the school was very accommodating; they had a spending pen specially built for him and they provided space for him in an office to have some down time when I was in lessons that he could not attend. Assembly time was given to explaining simple rules, no petting, no feeding, some would try and get a quick stroke if they thought they could get away with it - the staff were the worst!
Billy is a lively dog who loves everything an average dog would love - he is especially fond of water and it doesn't matter if it is a fresh stream, the sea or a stagnant pond! Just like all dogs he needs to burn off energy and if I am not in the mood to play he will taunt me with a toy to play tug-o-war - he usually ends up winning. If he can't find someone to play with he will tease our family dogs until they join in; fortunately they all get on really well.
He is a very sociable dog, when I joined RNC, Billy soon made friends with other guide dogs there. Consequently, I made friends with their owners and it wasn't long before we were all exercising dogs together in the park.
I am very glad that he and I were paired together as he has made a huge impact on my life and I would not trade him for the world.
Alice Hopkins - April 2021
(written for International Guide Dogs Day)
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