The Sensory Challenge

As I write this post Guide Dogs Week 2014 is in full swing, with teams all over the country aiming to educate, inform and fundraise.

Craig and Commando at the Newcastle Open Day standing with someone dressed in the Guide Dogs dog suitOne of the flag-ship events in the North-East was the Newcastle Mobility Team's office open day and sensory challenge. As I mentioned in my previous Guide Dogs Week post, Commando and I would be attending this event.

The prime focus of the Newcastle Mobility Team's event was to raise awareness, not only of Guide Dogs as an organisation, but also of what simple everyday life is like for those of us who live with limited or no eye sight. To that end, an industrious group of Guide Dogs volunteers, ably assisted by the staff of the Newcastle office, devised a number of small challenges which sighted people could undertake, either completely blind folded, or wearing simulation specs. These are glasses which have been designed to simulate a number of different eye conditions.

The challenges people could undertake included identifying certain objects by touch. Identifying some items by smell, and others by taste. In addition they could also undertake some relatively simple tasks, such as making some jam and bread.

Part of my role at the event was to aid in the provision of yummy treats, to be sold and or enjoyed with a nice cup of tea or coffee by those attending the event, so prior to the event I had been kept busy in the kitchen, with Commando keeping a close eye on what was going on, and no doubt enjoying all of the nice smells my activities were generating. 

Once the event was under way, my role was to assist in answering any questions people had about Guide Dogs and the way they can improve lives for the better. Of course, the most important role of the day fell to Commando, and his fellow guide dogs. The utterly vital role of looking cute, friendly and oh so strokable… A job that he and his fellows took on with the greatest enthusiasm and professionalism. As did the guide dog puppies who also joined us at the event.

Initially I, along with another guide dog owner, were stationed around the area which had been set up to sell merchandise, in order to help raise the much needed funds in order to allow the organisation to continue changing lives. Here I had a number of conversations with people who were keen to know about Commando and I, including how Commando came by his very distinctive name. My fellow guide dogs owner, a friend I made at a Guide Dogs media training event at the office last year, was also fielding questions from members of the public, including some children who were oh so happy to be able to meet and stroke our dogs.

Craig and Commando standing outside with the DalekA little later Commando and I moved to the front door where we served as a meet and greet for those arriving at the event. Whilst there we once again fielded questions from members of the public as they arrived at the event, and Commando performed his usual fine role as a welcoming, friendly and strokable guide dog. We were also joined by, of all things, a Dalek… That’s right folks, a chance conversation earlier in the year had allowed me to procure the assistance of a Dalek, just to add that little extra touch to the event.

Now Commando is not an easy dog to unsettle. Regular readers will recall his utter disinterest in the whistles and bangs of fireworks, and when we have been out and about I’ve never really seen anything faze him at all. But dear readers, when the Dalek started moving towards him, and the gentleman who owned and operated him started speaking with the Dalek voice, my boy was a wee bit unsettled. For Commando this resulted in nothing more than a single step back as he tried to work out what to make of this newcomer that was heading in our direction. Fortunately, this lasted only as long as it took for him to decide that it wasn’t really anything major to be worried about, at which point he resumed his ambassadorial stance, as the Dalek trundled off to find a cosy spot in the car park.

Another component of the day was the opportunity for people to get a flavour of sighted guiding. The office sighted guide ambassador, along with some sighted guide volunteers were offering people the chance to be sight guided and perhaps to volunteer themselves for training in this important role. 

There was also an opportunity for people to take blind fold walks with trainee guide dogs, assisted by our ever capable Guide Dogs Mobility Instructors (GDMI). Since my GDMI was among those giving the walks, I was especially pleased that Commando was remembering all of his manners and was behaving very well, despite the heavy presence of his most favourite distraction, other dogs, and not just any dogs, guide dogs. I am happy to say that despite some dog distraction, which is only to be expected, he did very well, and by the end of the day he wasn’t too interested in the other dogs at all. With the exception of my friends guide dog, a lovely black lab/retriever by the name of Berry. I think the two of them may have a little thing between them… Although the fact that our friendly local Dalek had settled down near the area where the blind fold walks were taking place did mean that it was fun and games trying to get Commando to look at the camera for a picture with the Dalek.

Over all I believe the event was a great success. I am told that the number of people who came to the event had exceeded the expectations of the organisers. Additionally those who had experienced everything the event had to offer were very positive about their experiences, and hopefully left the event far better informed about life with sight loss and just what a difference Guide Dogs can make to people in this situation.

I think it only fair to publically acknowledge the hard work of those involved in this event. The Newcastle Mobility Teams volunteer co-ordinator, community fund raiser, sighted guide ambassador, the engagement officer, the head of the mobility team, the GDMIs, the trainee Guide Dogs, the office staff, the volunteer group who conceived of, designed and ran the sensory challenge, and all of the other volunteers who along with the staff gave up their Saturday in order to bring this event to a successful conclusion, and of course all of the working guide dogs who were present and happy to allow so much fussing and stroking from those who attended the event. The efforts of such people really does demonstrate how much both volunteers and employees believe in the work of this organisation, and how often they are all willing to go the extra mile to raise awareness and funds, for the benefit of everyone and anyone who may need the assistance of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, either now or in the future.

I speak for myself and Commando when I say that it is our privilege to be able to help them in this most worthwhile endeavour.

Thanks must also go to Dalek Bruce for turning up at the event, and not exterminating a single person whilst there…

Of course, Guide Dogs Week is just beginning, and the Newcastle Mobility Team still have other events planned, including a large scale collection in Newcastle’s Eldon Square later in the week.  Commando and I also have other engagements planned, and in the next of the Guide Dogs Week mini-series of blog posts you can all learn about how we spread the word about the work of Guide Dogs and the difference Commando has made to my life, as well as see how I stood out for Guide Dogs during Guide Dogs Week.

If you know of any Guide Dogs Week events in your area be sure to pop by and say hello, and remember, without the willingness of some people to go that extra mile to raise funds. Or the people who take that single moment to decide to put that little bit of loose change into a Guide Dogs collection box, or those who give up their time to volunteer…there would be no Guide Dogs.

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Craig And Commando

Craig is in his early thirties and he is completely blind. His blog details the day-to-day adventures he experiences with his first guide dog, Commando.

Read Craig and Commando's most recent adventures.