As a child, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up (the answer changed every other day, obviously), I would always finish with the firm assertion “and I’ll get a Guide Dog too”.

Guide Dog Owner Christina standing on a pavement with Guide Dog Effie beside her

Fast forward a couple of decades to December 2019. After around ten years of using a cane full-time, I got the call I had hoped for. Outwardly, as myself and Thibaut and Liam, the trainers from Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind made arrangements to bring the dog to Dublin to have a practise walk, and to meet my husband’s Guide Dog Vann to ensure they would get on well, I was fairly calm – but inwardly I was dancing! My turn had (hopefully) finally come!

The matching visit went well, with Vann and Effie (my soon-to-be dog) getting along famously, and even the first walk on harness wasn’t as bad as I had feared – it was just a bit of an odd sensation to put any level of trust in something with four legs and a tail!

On the following Friday, Thibaut rang to see what I had thought and to give his view on how it had gone; we were both in agreement that it seemed to have gone well and so my journey to Guide Dog ownership began.

On 23rd February 2020, me and 3 other hopeful Guide Dog owners set off from Heuston Station to Cork, where our dogs waited, brushed, washed … we were unaware that our lives were about to change completely.

The two weeks spent in Cork were more challenging for me than I had imagined. I don’t have a great sense of direction at the best of times, so throw a dog into the mix who wasn’t totally sure why they had been handed over to this stranger who couldn’t even put on her harness right, and an unfamiliar building, and it was, let’s say, character-building! However, with a lot of support, encouragement and patience from Thibaut and Liam, we were suddenly at our last day, with a new challenge awaiting us – our first time at home together.

While the time at the Training Centre was invaluable, I was looking forward to getting back to familiar surroundings, and to introducing Effie to family and friends.

The first few weeks at home were another learning curve – in the first couple of weeks, we worked on local routes around where I live to get both our confidence up and went into town to my workplace where Effie was an instant hit. I learned a lot, and not just about getting around either – for example, I learned that it’s a really stupid idea to leave anything edible in reach (or smelling distance) of a labrador. I learned a lot of other good things too: that there is a grace that comes with using a Guide Dog which I could never find with a cane; that people will approach you more easily, and that having a creature with four paws and a tail at your side can be more reassuring than I had ever thought possible.

In the year or so since I’ve gotten Effie, a lot has changed; COVID-19 has had a massive and often devastating impact on everyone’s way of life, and Effie and I have both adjusted to working from home. Effie has grown in confidence, and I have found my feet with a new way of getting around – I really never thought I’d say this, but I can’t imagine life without my cheeky, clever and funny little lady by my side. The word ‘life-changing’ means different things to us all – but my life has definitely changed for the better since I got this cheeky pup.

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