My name is Nathan Tree, I am 32 years old and from Oxford. At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with a degenerative sight condition known as Cone-Rod Dystrophy, a condition affecting my central vision that would progress until I got to a place where I would be registered blind.

This means that I have problems with navigating and seeing details such as text and peoples faces which can be challenging when getting around, meeting people and doing my job. In the 13 years since I was diagnosed I have lost enough vision to be registered as severely sight impaired and life has presented itself with a new series of challenges.

When Nathan met Maisie

Black lab guide dog Maisie lies on a footstool with her 'Coaches Pet' certificate.

When I was 28, I noticed that I was struggling with mobility and that using a cane did not suit my needs as I am quite a fast-paced walker and have a good grasp of the environment around me. So I decided to apply for a guide dog and six months later, at the age of 29 I was invited to come and meet Maisie.

Maisie is a small black Labrador who is just as excitable and energetic as I am and has a cheeky and sassy personality to boot. We sailed through our training and were then let out into the world as a qualified partnership.

Living with a guide dog

Nathan with black lab guide dog Maisie on a lead, standing in a field with marquees and cars in background.

Since then out adventures have had us getting around independently for our daily commute to work, to seeing friends and even getting away on holiday. Maisie loves to work and often tries to jump into her harness! She loves going to new places.

Since I’ve had Maisie, she has:

– Starred in a guide dogs commercial with me at Oxford Ice Rink.

– Attended many talks and training sessions on visual impairment in schools and community groups.

– Awarded ‘Coaches Pet’ by the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club.

– Been photographed by many members of the public.

– Kept me safe and allowed me to build my own confidence and independence. 

What is a typical day like with a guide dog?

On a typical day, I wake up and say hello to Maisie and make her some breakfast. She is so well trained that she stays away from the food until it is ready and I whistle three times. Then all hell breaks loose as she goes for her bowl of food – as if it were her last ever meal. After this, she chills out or goes into the garden for an hour or so whilst I get ready for work. 

Then I call her to the door and she eagerly sticks her head into the harness so I can do it up and we can leave for work. We are out in the world now and she does a great job of keeping me on paths, finding kerbs and alleyways before getting me to the bus stop. She helps me get on to the bus and patiently lies on the floor whilst we ride into Oxford, sometimes sticking her head up to say hello or look out the window.

When we get to Oxford we have a fast paced walk down the riverside which she loves before getting to my office. She has a bed and a gate in my office so has free range of the room where she can play with toys and chill out whilst I work. I take her for a quick walk at lunch time and she will occasionally come to other areas of the building if my clients want to meet her. At the end of the day we do the whole process in reverse before going home for dinner, rest and some play time or grooming. I love having her by my side for all of this as she is so enthusiastic and helps me to get out and about at a pace I am happy with.

In our days off we like to go for walks in the countryside so she can have a run around and play with other dogs. It is great to see her socialise and experience more of her personality coming out. She likes to run through the fields with all the different smells and terrains.

Having a guide dog can be a lot of work

It may sound like a lot of fun having a guide dog and it is incredibly rewarding but Maisie can be a lot of work and sometimes can be rather demanding.

– She knows breakfast is at 7am and won’t let me forget about it!

– She can be picky about where she does her business and sometimes it is in front of someone’s house as they are stood outside it watching you.

– On a hot day, she likes to find a cool place in the shade to lie down and she won’t want to move from there. This can sometimes be in the queue in the supermarket or on the bus which can be awkward.

– Sometimes she is cautious to avoid walking in a puddle, but not always cautious enough to stop me from walking in a puddle… wet shoes aren’t the most fun!

– She is a living being and she does get sick. Sometimes you have to clean up some dog vomit or even one time I had to ask for help as she had a bad stomach in the supermarket. That’s is when I found out that even dogs can feel embarrassed.

The positive impact of having a guide dog

Maisie is always there and happy to see me no matter what is going on with my day. This picks me up a lot and always makes me excited to get up in the morning. In this way she has had a vast positive impact on my mental and physical health which makes her so much more than a mobility aid. I find her a positive sign of my visual impairment in public and she means that often people will want to talk to me; something I find more of a challenge when using a cane.

Considering getting a guide dog?

My advice to someone thinking of applying for a guide dog is that a cane will help you to find obstacles whereas a dog will help you to avoid them. They may be more work to look after and manage but in my opinion the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.

Maisie is now 5 years old and going strong. We get to know each other a little better all the time and I cannot imagine life without her.

You can follow Nathan on Twitter: @BlindEdSheeran and you can check out another of Nathan’s passions at Blind Ice Hockey UK on Facebook.

You can find out more about Guide Dogs from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.