A gift of freedom

Losing my sight in 1996 due to retinal detachments was a very dark time in my life. I went to bed as me and I woke up as someone completely different.

I dealt with it, I got on with my life and I hid my visual impairment by folding up the cane and taking an arm.

Jackie & Guide Dogs Bangles and Rhum
Jackie & Guide Dogs Bangles and Rhum

In 2007, I had finally accepted I was blind and it wasn’t coming back. So, this is when I applied to the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and in December 2007, I had my matching walk with the most cheekiest little black Lab Retriever, her name was Bangles.

I was terrified and excited in equal measure and grinned at the thought of trusting in a dog to get me around. I can still clearly remember that matching walk. I still remember feeling free and safe at this little dog’s side.

Bangles and I worked together for seven years and those seven years were filled with yahoos and I’m sorries. Lol! Bangles may have been of small stature but she had a big personality.

When Bangles retired in 2015, I was devastated and felt afraid that very soon I’d have a new dog at my side that would never work like Bangles.

In February 2015 I met with Rhum. My first thought when I placed my hand on her head was: You’re a hairy one. God bless my hoover.

I walked with her and felt tense, it felt all wrong but I was told we looked good so I was matched and in March we trained together. Fast forward five years and Rhum at my side feels like the most natural thing in the world. Rhum is the complete opposite to Bangles but both dogs have given me the same freedom. Rhum is even the opposite to me – she’s quiet and steady. She also has an attitude which makes me smile, as I walk down the street justifying to a dog why I need the bakery.

With Bangles at my side I no longer feared the dark and now with Rhum I’m no longer afraid. I pick that handle up and I can see, the world no longer feels so isolating. I smile as I say about how the isolating seems as we are now in a pandemic but yet because of Rhum I’m able to get out for my 2km walk. She may feel bored but her friends from Sligo Garda station ensures she has some fun times something currently I cannot give her as I have no family close by.

Rhum has also given me a passion for writing. Rhum has a Facebook page where she uses her iPaw to write about all her adventures. The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has awakened a part of me I never even knew existed. They have given me the gift of two very special dogs and these two girls have transformed my life into what I have today.

Sadly, on the 2nd of July 2019 Bangles crossed the rainbow bridge. I never felt pain like it as I held her in my arms, thanking her for all she had given me. I told her she did a great job and that I was so proud she was mine. Rhum felt my pain after the loss of Bangles, she did something very rare – she clambered up on my knee like Bangles used to do, she was reminding me that she was still there. I cried into her fur and she lay still, her steady breathing soothing the pain I was feeling. The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind will never truly know the gift of freedom I received the day I picked up my first handle of my very own Guide Dog.

So, thank you Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind for everything.


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