Mission ‘Pawssible’ – how my guide dog helps me conquer life

A smiling woman with her guide dog

This week celebrates National Guide Dog week. Several people with Usher Syndrome (a genetic condition that affects both sight and hearing) have been in touch with me to ask me how my life changed once my guide dog Ike came into my life. This is my story so far.

Our three year anniversary

It will be three years this year since my guide dog, Ike, and I became a partnership. He’s already had an incredibly positive impact on my life.
I find it sad to read that in London, there are 180,000 visually impaired people living in isolation. This is often because they’re too frightened to venture out. As such, I’m very grateful for my four legged friend, Ike!

To a stranger, they’ll simply see Ike as a ‘dog’. However, in my world, Ike is my enabler. Ike is the one who changes my life’s outlook from Mission Impossible to Mission Pawssible! Taking me on a journey that gives me the ability to go out and conquer, as opposed to a life of potential isolation.

Importantly for me, Ike helps me maintain employment as he navigates me through the streets of Westminster safely each day, avoiding all the bollards, building works and tourists – all in a day’s work for Ike, wagging his tail with great enthusiasm as we head to the office.

Ike helps me navigate the urban obstacle course to work

People probably don’t give a thought as they put their bins out for collection, and why should they when it doesn’t affect them? However, for me, it can be a bit of an obstacle course navigating my way along the streets… such fun… NOT! And why not add some cars parked on the pavement to the mix? Oh, and while we’re at it, they want that old bed mattress picked up, don’t they? Go on, let’s really clutter the streets! Such days were hell for me when I used my red and white cane as my mobility aid, shuffling my way along the streets. However, thanks to Ike, I now glide along as he sleekly navigates me through all the obstacles.

Thanks to Ike, I can now walk tall (despite being short) and I can do so with pride. It’s great to feel safe in the house as my guide dog listens out for me
Ike’s hearing work (he is dual trained) never fails to both astound and amuse me. He simply sees his hearing work as a game.

I live with Usher Syndrome which affects both my sight and hearing, so it’s great to feel safe in the house Ike alerts me to the doorbell with such great enthusiasm. His reaction to the smoke alarm is astonishing and exceedingly valuable, as there have been a couple of occasions when it wasn’t a game but the real thing! London Fire Brigade came a couple of months ago to change the smoke alarm and they were really impressed watching Ike kick into action. In the days when I used to dye my hair (no jokes please!) he was the saviour that prevented my hair turning green as he would alert me to the timer. As for the alarm clock? Well, I really wish he understood the concept of the snooze button – but alas, I won’t win that battle! Though, he can be very cheeky and pretend a sound is going off in the hope he can get a reward – thankfully, I now recognised the signs!

Ike has the knack of knowing when I’m feeling anxious – he calmly nudges me before placing his head on my lap wagging his tail, offering that unconditional love and assurance that everything will be okay. The last 6 weeks have been my most challenging with regards to my sight, but we’re okay. I also experienced my worst case of ignorance from society – it is incredible how you can get through 364 days feeling confident and then it takes that one day to bring you down. I responded accordingly and the matter is dealt with. However, no matter how strong you are, it still stings. Life is not about asking for special treatment, but simply wanting the opportunity to live life as ‘step free’ as possible, and to be allowed to do so with dignity. Ike is my number one ally to achieving this.

If you think a guide dog’s life is boring, you should see Ike’s toy box!

People’s perception is that a Guide Dog’s life is all work and no play, therefore boring. All I can say is, come into my office and see Ike’s toy box! He is the most enthusiastic on a Monday morning as we humans are mumbling and groaning. He is bumbling around insisting that everyone talks to him and look at the toy he has in his mouth.

My office deals with very stressful situations, so it is lovely how they see Ike first and foremost as a working dog, but also as a great stress reliever who is always amenable to a belly rub or two! He is also lucky to have so many doggy friends and he really springs into action when we go to the park where he runs about like a loon – determined to be the fastest dog in the park – it is lovely to watch him in this space. Though, I don’t share the same enthusiasm when I watch him smother himself in ‘Eau de Fox Poo!’ That said, it never fails to touch my heart when he walks over to me, as I bring his harness back out, and he does so without any prompting from me. A clear sign that he loves his work.

He can be a bit naughty, but my guide dog Ike gives me independence

Obviously, it would be wrong of me to paint Ike as the perfect dog because he can be exceedingly naughty and will try to push the boundaries.

Over the past three years, Ike’s stolen food, hidden shoes and broken the cat flap (to steal food)! But the top embarrassing moment was when he decided to clean a government minister’s shoes – honestly, they needed cleaning! As for trying to steal the feathers from a colonel’s cap – he failed to see the issue!

My personal challenge for the next year is to overcome my fear of attending events involving large groups of people. I get very stressed and anxious when faced with such scenarios. When it involves my job, I do it because I must, but in social circumstances, I tend to avoid such situations. I’ve every confidence that Ike will offer me the support I need as I deal with the psychological barriers that I face in this space.

Ike is so important for people like me. You cannot put a price on independence!

Find out more about mobility and Usher syndrome and what aids are available, from different types of canes to guide dogs.

Author: Jo-Ann Moran

Jo-Ann Moran was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to disabled people in the public sector. She lives with Usher syndrome, a condition that affects sight and hearing.

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