Gavin and Richie - a great team with a great attitude

Today, with his golden retriever cross Labrador, guide dog Richie, Gavin is living proof that a positive attitude goes a long way when it comes to overcoming life changing events.

Gavin And RichieIn 2008 Gavin was struck down by a hemorrhagic stroke while working alone in his home in Witney, Oxfordshire. "I had just finished grouting some floor tiles in a new conservatory and was feeling particularly pleased with myself when suddenly I had pins and needles in my left arm and leg so badly that I dropped to the floor with the pain.

"I knew I was in real trouble and I had to make it to the phone. My left side was paralysed and unbeknown to me blood was flowing into parts of my brain like coffee spilled inside a PC - with pretty much the same effect. I remember dragging myself along the floor desperately trying to get to the phone.  I managed to dial 999 but couldn't speak to tell the operator what had happened. Thankfully they traced the call and managed to get into my house via my back door

"I always think of myself as a 'glass half full' sort of guy, and even as I lay on the floor with my faculties fading fast I knew I had to hang on because, despite whatever was going on in my brain, there was a life on the other side."

The stroke affected the right side of Gavin’s brain; causing a weakness in the left side of his body and right-sided hemianopia, meaning he has no left-side vision in both eyes.

Before his stroke Gavin had led the sort of 'action man' lifestyle that few people even dream about, let alone realise. After working in oil exploration as a geochemist analysing rock samples, he worked as a chef, photographer, and scuba diving instructor, diving in Egypt, Denmark Mexico and the USA! He also worked as a whale ecologist for the charity Earthkind on their ship Ocean Defender after gaining a degree in environmental biology and moving on to habitat management for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust.

Gavin continues: “As I'd started to do bits and pieces of media work as The BBC Oxford’s Wildlife Detective on BBC Radio Oxford as well as the One Show and Countryfile on TV, I thought I’d begun to carve myself a nice little niche as a wildlife presenter. Then came my stroke and my whole world was turned upside down."

Gavin spent the next four months in a special stroke unit undergoing rehab and physiotherapy to help him regain as much movement as possible. Despite this, and him subsequently losing his job and the break-up of his marriage, Gavin remained positive.

Gavin applied for a guide dog as soon as he was discharged from hospital in 2009 because he soon realised that he was going to need help getting out and about.

"I remember going to Oxford on my own before I even had any long cane skills and trying to cross Cornmarket Street. With my lack of visual field it was like being on the Dodgems at the fair.  I just kept crashing into obstacles and people; most of whom didn't help matters because they were listening to music on their iPods or texting on their phones.”

Gavin qualified with his first guide dog, Peter in 2011 but Gavin recalls that training was not without its challenges. "Training with a guide dog was a huge challenge" explained Gavin. Loss of my short term memory and some cognitive ability made it hard for me to retain all the information I needed to take in. The amount of concentration needed just to walk was also very taxing as just scanning to the left tires out my brain - let alone worrying about what Peter was doing at the same time. 

“I wondered at times if it would have been easier if I had been completely blind as I was reluctant to let the dog steer me. However we soon got over that barrier. Not only does having a guide dog help with physical challenges like my walking and balance, they have grown to become my loyal buddy, best mate and my day-to-day companion in everything I do. Peter also played his part in helping me deal with all the emotional consequences of my life-changing and career-ending stroke, and subsequent divorce.

"Having Peter and now, Richie, has totally enriched my life; they gives me so much independence. I don’t know where I’d be without a guide dog.”