Casper the friendly guide dog!
At RNC (Royal National College for the Blind), we are joining in with the rest of the country to celebrate National Guide Dogs week (7-15 October)! It is estimated that in the UK there are almost 2 million people living with sight loss and in the most extreme cases there are those people who rarely leave the house and many suffer from depression and feelings of isolation.
Having a guide dog is not like having a pet, they are a lifeline for their owners to be able to move around safely, with confidence, and to enable them to be fully independent. There is a special bond that exists between a guide dog and their owner, in the blog below RNC student Lorren tells us the journey she and guide dog Casper have shared together.
“Hello everyone, for anyone who doesn’t know me I’m Lorren, I’m 19 and I’m a third year student from Hereford. This means that I travel to and from college every day. In my first two years I studied Performing Arts and Art and this year I am studying History, Extended Project and Support Work in Schools. My eye condition is Aniridia which basically means that in both my eyes I have no iris I just have a pupil so I have no eye colour, they are just black. A result of this means that sunlight and very bright lights can really hurt as my eyes are constantly absorbing the light. I also cannot see in the dark so walking home late at night with car lights coming in the same direction can really disorientate me. I also have nystagmus and cataracts and I can get quite bad headaches if I strain my eyes for too long.
Both of my parents are visually impaired (my dad even works at the college) and I’ve always been brought up to not let my visual impairment stop me from doing what I want to do in life so from a young age I’ve always been very somewhat independent yet I’ve always struggled asking for help when I’ve needed it so in the past I’ve had a tendency to strain my eyes because I’ve felt nervous to ask.
From a very young age I’ve always been a dog lover. This is because my mum is a guide dog owner and is currently on her third guide dog. Growing up with a dog in the house has made me know no different – I’ve never known a time without a dog in the house and probably never will. Growing up I was always quite reluctant to have any help from anyone and wanted to be very independent. That was until my eye sight started to deteriorate and I was becoming more and more afraid to walk home at night as I couldn’t see where I was going – this is why I decided to get myself a guide dog.
The Guide Dog application process
My own process of getting a guide dog was actually quite quick and I know people who have waited a long time to hear if they will be matched with the best suited dog for them. Just to put it into context I decided in January 2017 that I wanted a guide dog and by June the same year I was already training with one.
So the process that I went through was that I rang up my local guide dog centre to say that I wanted a guide dog and within a month or two I had two different meetings with two different members of the team who came out to see me. In these meetings they asked me straight away why I wanted a guide dog and how having one would be beneficial to my life. I gave them my reasons; that my eye sight is deteriorating and that I didn’t want it to stop me from walking or travelling to different places, especially if I decided that I possibly wanted to go to university. Taking these reasons into account they observed my mobility skills and took note of what my walking speed was like. They also noted down my height, weight, any medical conditions etc. In the last meeting I had they finished with asking me if I had any requests of what kind of guide dog I would like. Looking at the different dogs that my mum has had I wanted a female black Labrador, who was small, could walk fast and had a sense of personality. I wanted a female mainly for the reason that my mum has only ever had female dogs and I didn’t particularly want a male dog in the house. With all of this they decided to put me on the waiting list for a guide dog which I was very excited about!
When Lorren met Casper
As I said I didn’t have to wait for too long because within a month I had a phone call to say they thought they had a dog for me but there was a problem. I had asked for a female but the dog they had for me was male however they did make a big point of saying that this dog was very feminine so it would be like having a female in the house. I had a think and I decided that I wanted to meet him to see if he was the right one and whether this dog being male would actually matter. I met him a week later and just fell in love with him. He was the cutest looking dog, who was small for a male and even looked very feminine. We did a small route together and he was the right speed for me especially as I do walk quite fast. He even met my mum’s dog and even they fell in love straight away. So I decided that I did want him to be my guide dog and within the next 2 months we had trained and qualified together – and this is where I introduce you to Casper.
Casper is a black Labrador and is two years old. He was born on 29 August 2015 to father Perry and mother Annie and born into a litter of 7. The litter was given the letter V which means that all the puppies are named beginning with the letter V however Casper was a sponsored dog so escaped this. His siblings are: Valiant, Vadar, Vickie, Vogue, Velvet and Verity; almost all of them are doing something very important to help others.
When they said Casper was feminine they weren’t lying! Looks-wise he doesn’t particularly look like any of the male dogs that I know but also personality-wise he acts very much like a female. By this I mean the way he acts is very much how a female dog would act – he’s very gentle and I suppose the little mannerisms he does make you forget that he is actually a male. He also loves attention whether that is from humans or other dogs; he doesn’t care as long as he is the centre of attention then he is happy. If he hasn’t got the attention however he will whine and flick his paw up to you to try and get you to pay attention to him. This can sometimes be very adorable and very funny to watch. As I just said he loves other dogs and I’d even say that’s his favourite thing, especially finding a dog and playing with it. This is surprising however considering when he was in training he got severely attacked by another dog which put him out for a few months. This hasn’t fazed him though and he will still try and play with whatever dog he sees – even when he is supposed to be working! His other interests are of course eating and sleeping; I mean what dog doesn’t like that?! Now the one thing that Casper probably hates most in this world is…puddles!! The rain, puddles and generally anything else that will get him wet he absolutely hates, so much so that if we do come across a puddle he will literally jump over it but doesn’t mind if I have to walk through it! He’s also developed a strange fear of canes which is weird considering he has to witness them every day at college. To be honest he’s that gentle that even his own shadow could scare him in the wrong lighting!
Lorren’s relationship with Casper
I may have only had Casper for a matter of months but I can honestly say that he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It may sound cheesy but he is! As I said at the start, being a day student means that I have to travel from home to college and back again every day and having Casper means that I can walk home in the dark and feel somewhat confident about it – yes I still get scared but that’s generally because I hate the dark. He is most definitely going to help me in the dark depths of winter when it’s dark in the morning and especially in the evening when it gets dark earlier. Equally he will help my confidence in the sunniest parts of summer and will just improve my confidence when travelling to areas that I’m unsure about. I’m thinking about going to university and I know he’ll be an asset when moving away from home. He’s going to be my best friend through thick and thin and I can’t wait to see how our journey together continues.
Having Casper for just a few months has already shown me how certain members of the public can act towards you – some will be absolutely lovely and help you if you look like you need extra assistance yet others will just ignore the fact that you have a guide dog by your side and barge straight past you without you even seeing them. I can speak for myself and a few others when I say that whilst training and even now I get asked, “Oh are you training him?” which can sometimes be quite funny but quite frustrating when you have to respond with, “No he’s my guide dog” on more than one occasion. I’ve also had others ignore the fact that he’s a guide dog and stroke him as they walk past him which can sometimes distract him and this isn’t the best when trying to work him. I do find though that a lot of small children are very interested in him and his harness when I walk past them and you get mothers saying, “It’s a special dog who helps people who can’t see” which can be very sweet to see. I do think that people’s attitudes do change when they see a blind person with a dog rather than a cane as let’s be honest a dog does look cuter than a cane but I can see how frustrating it must be when people are reluctant to help a person who has a cane rather than a dog.
If you are thinking or looking into getting a guide dog just remember it has to be right for you. It has to be your decision, no one else’s, and you have to make sure that a dog will be beneficial to your life. The dogs are trained for so long and in such a way and at the end of the day they’re not just a pet; they are a huge responsibility. However, it will change your life for the better and you will forget what life was like before without them. They will become part of your life and will ultimately be your eyes when you can’t see. They will be your best friend, fur baby and partner in crime and they will love you for the rest of their life. And I know that I wouldn’t want to be without my best friend!”
If you are interested in finding out more about RNC, please call our student enquiries team on 01432 376 621 or email firstname.lastname@example.org