Several people have asked how such a good match was made between Spencer and me? Well, here goes!
In April 2013 further to applying for a Guide Dog, I had a Home Visit from a Guide Dog Mobility Trainer who was based in the Southampton Office. He quickly made my wife Jo and I feel at ease. While carrying out his assessment, which considered my height, weight and walking speed, he asked if I had sometimes mistaken trees for people? I was surprised by this question as I had told no-one that I had said “hello” to several trees from time to time! (Could be worse – I recently spoke to a dog-waste bin secured to a post!) We all laughed! I guessed that having a Guide dog might not stop the odd habit of talking to a tree, but it would prevent me from walking into them.
The Trainer and I then walked to my grandchildren’s school, which would be one of the future routes for me and my Guide Dog, if I was to be given one. On the way back home, he attached a guide dog harness and lead to his right hand. I held them in my left hand and was then asked to give the Trainer instructions as if he was the Guide Dog. As he was much taller than me, it must have looked funny to the children and parents who were still lingering around at the end of the school day! I imagine that they looked at us in disbelief! At the end of this excursion the Trainer introduced us to a large black Labrador already matched to another person – my first close encounter with a Guide Dog, or in fact any dog, in our own home. At the time he seemed enormous as he sprawled across the lounge floor, but his lovely gentle nature encouraged and excited me as I looked ahead to the day when I might be matched with a dog of my own.
Two years later I received an invitation from the Southampton Office to meet some other applicants, staff and Guide Dogs in a local hotel. The staff were so understanding, kind and considerate, I soon felt at ease. They emphasised that there were more applicants than Guide Dogs available for matching with us and we were not to view the event as a Matching Day. We were told about the basic dog commands and were then given some practice working with the young Guide Dogs available.
After lunch, one of the Mobility Trainers asked me if I would like to accompany her on a practice walk with one of her trainee dogs. This was my first introduction to a handsome young dog called Spencer! On our return I was shown how to groom Spencer in the correct manner and they also suggested I gently massage his legs. This was a really special moment between us and was the first time that I dared to hope Spencer would be matched to me. After a few days it was confirmed that Spencer and I would be a partnership subject to successfully completing further training in a residential setting and in my home area. I was delighted. The subsequent training was sometimes challenging and tiring but was the beginning of a new adventure and a re-claiming of some independence and confidence when out and about on my own. In a sense, training didn’t really end there as I feel I am still learning new things all the time,
Spencer was 20 months old when he joined our household, and it doesn’t seem possible that he has been with us for 6 years now. He looks at me quizzically when he sees me running on the spot or trying to skip, clearly unsure whether I have “lost the plot” or whether I am failing to include him in some new crazy game! He might feel a bit left out when I resume outdoor running practice with Cliffe, but I will whisper in his ear that it’s all for a good cause and leave him for a while to dream about cats or possibly his next delicious meal. If our running efforts go even a little way towards funding another special dog like him, the aches and pains will not have been in vain…