Having OJ gave me a new lease on life. He gave me the confidence, freedom and independence to live the life I chose for myself.
I’ve wanted a Guide Dog for as long as I can remember.
I lost my sight when I was around three months old. Too young to remember ever being able to see anything.
Growing up I was lucky. I had a close-knit group of friends. We were together since we were four. They brought me around everywhere I needed to go, which was great, on one hand.
On the other hand, I never left the house on my own. Someone always had to be with me. I didn’t even feel safe walking down the road to the shops.
Because I always had my friends around me, I never realised how isolated or alone I really was. Or how much I depended on my friends and my family. But that was my life, and at the time, I didn’t know any different.
It wasn’t until I got my Guide Dog, OJ, that I realised the independence and freedom I had been missing out on.
I had to rely on a long cane throughout university, which was tough.
I was never comfortable or completely confident with the long cane. So it meant I never ventured out on my own to meet new people or experience new places.
I went wherever my friends wanted to go. I did whatever they wanted to do.
Thinking back, I know I missed out on a lot. If I’d had a Guide Dog earlier, my experience at university could’ve been so much different.
When I finished university, I applied for a Guide Dog.
Then I waited.
From the minute you fill in the forms with Guide Dogs and are told you’re suitable for a Guide Dog you’re waiting. Every call you get you think, ‘Is this the one?’
I was 21 when I got the phone call that changed my life forever.
I’ll never forget it. It was the middle of June.
I was in the kitchen. I wasn’t expecting the call at all.
I always had dogs growing up, but with OJ it was different. I went for a walk with him around the Centre. I was nervous at first. But after a few minutes I knew we were a match. You just know when it feels right.
There is nothing more amazing than the feeling you get when you know you’ve found your perfect match.
When we left the training centre, the trainer came with me to my house in Donegal.
He stayed for three days. The day after he left I brought OJ for our first walk. We were only out for about twenty minutes but straightaway it just felt right with him.
From that moment, everything in my life changed for the better.
Meeting people became so much easier. OJ was such an ice-breaker. I’ve met so many people through OJ, and have made so many friendships, that I never would have done before he came into my life.
And the confidence he’s given me is unreal.
After I got OJ, I moved out of my family home and into my own house. I live beside a busy main road. There’s no way I could have ever done that without him.
With OJ by my side, I started my first job out of university. He came with me to all my job interviews. I even started doing a bit of volunteer work.
Having OJ meant that nothing stopped me from doing something I wanted to do.
I remember taking my first plane ride with OJ. We were going on holiday. He just sat patiently by my seat the whole time from take-off to landing.
We went on lots of holidays abroad together, concerts, nights out.
And it’s not just the big moments either, but the little everyday things that you might just take for granted.
Like meeting up with friends and not having to ask them for a lift. Being able to take my nephews out for hot chocolate. Or simply deciding I wanted to go somewhere, and just getting up and going.
When I think back to all the milestones I’ve had in my life – big and small – they’ve all been with OJ at my side.
For seven and a half years we were a team.
When OJ turned nine it was time for him to retire. I loved him so much I couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing him again. Thankfully my parents took him in. He got to enjoy plenty of walks on the beach. And my parents spoiled him rotten! I could go and visit him every day.
Straightaway I went onto a waiting list to get another Guide Dog.
You see, once you’ve experienced life – and the freedom and independence of having a Guide Dog – you can never go back to not having a Guide Dog. I know I couldn’t.
Without a Guide Dog by my side the life I would’ve spent seven and half years building with OJ would have come crashing around me. I may even have gone back to that person who was afraid to leave her house alone. Never meeting anyone new, never trying new things.
The best day of my life came when I met OJ. But as you know, with the best days come the worst days.
My worst day came in July of 2017.
OJ was slowing down. He was sick and in pain. My parents and I couldn’t stand by and let him suffer any more. I had to make the most difficult decision of my life.
If you have a dog, or if you’ve ever had a dog, you know how quickly they become a part of your family. That’s exactly how it was with OJ. He was so much more than a Guide Dog to me. He was my companion, and my protector. He not only showed me the world. He brought me into it.
OJ really was one of a kind. Funny, cheeky, and a great worker.
OJ was the reason I was able to live the life I had.
After ten amazing years of having OJ in my life I said goodbye to him. I said thank you to him one last time for the life he made possible for me.
He made such an impact in my life I wanted to honour him. And I wanted someone else like me to benefit from a Guide Dog the way I’ve benefited from having OJ.
So I started fundraising on my own. I wanted to help train a Guide Dog to change a young person’s life the way OJ changed mine. I want to keep his memory alive.
Very soon after OJ had retired I welcomed my second Guide Dog, Sibyl. She and OJ became great friends!
In the last three and half years, Sibyl has helped me to do even more things I never imagined possible. She even gave me the confidence to start working for myself. I’m a transcriber – I’m my own boss now!
When I think back to what my life was like – what I was like before I got OJ – I’m a totally different person now. That’s the power of a Guide Dog.