Jane Ring is a very special member of the LOOK Family. Mum to Chloe, Jane also facilitates our Parent Support Groups and volunteers at a number of LOOK events. In this blog, Jane tells us about the life-changing arrival of Sapphire, her daughter’s Buddy Dog.

‘Last year, when I began to feel very concerned about Chloe who couldn’t be left in a room alone anymore, I learnt that Guide Dogs had restarted their Buddy Dog scheme for Visually Impaired Children and Young People.

I was describing to a zoom meeting with parents and VI professionals just how much lockdown – and, prior to that, the transition to secondary school – had negatively affected my daughter Chloe. A voice of hope from Guide Dogs calmly asked, ‘have you thought about applying for a Buddy Dog for Chloe?’ I did what any parent would do; I attended the webinars / training sessions. I researched what it would mean to have a buddy dog and we had several family discussions as it had to be something we all agreed to. Chloe was keen but there was a lot to consider.

Sapphire, our new furry family member was placed with us at the end of November 2020. We were lucky; Guide Dogs found a way to do a personal experience with her in our garden one Saturday afternoon. Sapphire was gentle and calm, didn’t bark and was so friendly that Chloe was confident with her straight away. We played a few games with her, learnt about feeding systems and challenges to keep her interested,  talked about weight control and treats and went for a walk with her wearing the gentle harness. I think for Chloe and I it was love at first sight. The cat and my husband were a bit more wary but resigned and I confirmed with Jo from the Buddy Dog team that evening that we wanted Sapphire to be placed with us. 

I feel like she is a wonder dog because she is the bit of our family that was missing. A companion for Chloe who is an only child, someone for her to play with and cuddle when she is feeling sad. A window into the world which Chloe so desperately needed. Peer relationships are very challenging for her and she misses so much of the culture other 12-year-olds are immersed in. Now when we go out she happily talks to other dog owners about Sapphire, she talks with confidence and animation and it is so lovely to hear.

We thought Sapphire would encourage Chloe to leave the house more, teach her responsibility and help her to think outside herself (something that is a real challenge when her hearing and vision loss cuts her off from the world). Chloe is in charge of feeding Sapphire which she does, on time, twice a day, carefully measuring the food using talking scales. She plays with her and takes her for walks with myself or one of her support workers 3 times a week at least. Chloe is so much happier to leave the house when she has Sapphire with her. Before the latest lockdown we had taken her to a local beach to meet my parents for a walk. This is something that Chloe would have refused to do before as she doesn’t like the beach. Now Chloe has Sapphire to consider and it is helping her to be slightly less rigid in her thinking. 

For me the biggest reward is to see the change in Chloe’s mental health. During last year she totally shut down; she lost faith in her peers and her anxiety and stress went through the roof. She regressed massively and I didn’t know how she was going to manage returning to school. We are so lucky we have Sapphire now who sits at Chloe’s feet while she is home-learning. There are lots of difficult changes happening at the moment and to have that big waggy tail and adoring eyes just makes it all slightly easier to manage for myself as well as Chloe.

Sapphire has got me out more and helped me stay calm. When I am feeling overloaded I come down stairs for a cuddle or find time in the day to take Sapphire out to the river where I can then breathe again. When a dog is so pleased to see you, offers you toys and rolls over for a tummy tickle somehow the world is ok again. Also, when so many things feel out of control it is so helpful to remember there are ways our children can be helped and supported.

Sapphire is now officially Chloe’s Buddy Dog; she even has a smart coat that we can put on when Chloe is out and about with her. I think it will help Chloe make more connections with our local community. It is all small steps and a buddy dog can’t take away all the difficult things Chloe has to manage but Sapphire, the Wonder Dog, has made an incredible difference already.

To find out more about the Guide Dogs Buddy Dog scheme, click here.

Video

Phill Ward, Guide Dogs Specialist Family Support Officer joined the LOOK Parent/Carers Support group in February 2021 to deliver this presentation detailing information about the Guide Dogs Buddy Dogs scheme. Phill’s presentation explains what a Buddy Dog is, who is eligible for a Buddy Dog, and the process for applying for a Buddy Dog.

Click below to watch.

An introduction to the Guide Dogs Buddy Dog scheme