Guide Dog Ralph opens up Nicky’s world
I was born blind, so I’ve never been able to see. That’s not always been easy.
I know better than anyone the difference having a Guide Dog makes — and how hard it can be to cope without one.
Thankfully, Irish Guide Dogs did an amazing job matching me with my first Guide Dog Ralph. They understood I needed a dog who could cope with my active lifestyle. As soon as I met him, my fears vanished.
He opened up my world. He gave me independence, and a confidence I’d never had before.
With Ralph’s help, I could catch the train to work in Dublin every day without having to rely on anyone. Having the freedom to live in my own house, travel to work, and go out with my friends was brilliant. Nothing phased him, and the two of us became great pals.
It was hard to say goodbye to Ralph when he retired. We’d been a team for eight years. But after all that hard work, he deserved his rest and went to live with one of my good friends.
I was then paired with Orin. Unfortunately, she was only with me for a couple of years when she suddenly fell ill and couldn’t work, my trouble really started. There wasn’t a new dog available for me and I had to carry on alone.
I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait for a replacement dog. The weeks turned into months, the months into a year. I realised that with demand so high, the need to find the right match with my lifestyle, and it taking two years to fully train a dog like Ralph, I could be without a Guide Dog for much longer yet.
Over time, I lost so much of my independence. Everyday activities that had been easy with Ralph and Orin now became out of reach. Without a Guide Dog alongside me, I was forced to ask people to assist me with basic tasks. They didn’t mind — in fact my friends were all very kind and wanted to help.
I minded, though. I didn’t want to have to rely on others. It felt like a step backwards. It felt degrading.
You see, it takes an average of 15 months for a person living with sight loss to be paired with the right dog. In my case, my height and active lifestyle meant it took that little bit longer to find the perfect match.
Guide Dog Phoebe gives Nicky back his independence
After almost two years, Phoebe was brought into my life. Once again everything changed — and this time for the better.
What was challenging with my cane, was made easy with Phoebe.
Getting my lunch from the busy shop, commuting to Dublin every day, whizzing up and down Ireland and travelling over to England and Wales — the two of us can do it all.
With Phoebe by my side, I’ve got my freedom back. My confidence back. My life back.
Photographs by Fran VealeView all stories