(pictured: guide dog pup, Arla)
Guest columnist Lauren Woodhead shares her experiences and adventures with her furry friends, set to be future guide dogs.
It took perhaps a week after we had said goodbye to Zoe, our first guide dog puppy, for Mum to cave.
It took another two weeks of stocking up on toys and treats before Mum came home with Arla, a bright, blonde bombshell of a puppy who could not have been more different from Zoe if she tried.
It might have been my wistful phone calls every time I saw a guide dog, or maybe Mum was missing those chilly evening walks, but we had once more given over our home and hearts to a trainee guide dog puppy.
It might be useful to briefly rewind 15 years, when my Mum’s then undiagnosed multiple sclerosis (MS) resulted in her eyesight quickly deteriorating.
Faced with the serious possibility that she may go blind, she turned to every doctor’s nemesis: Google.
But instead of the usual ill-advised internet black hole, she found herself scrolling through the Guide Dogs website.
Amidst the admin of our swimming classes and her hospital appointments, Guide Dogs softened the sting of the worst-case scenario, offered hope that even as her independence was curtailed by her illness, she may yet regain it with the help of one of those gorgeous guide dog puppies gazing up at her from the computer screen.
Thankfully, Mum’s eyesight stabilised, her MS was correctly diagnosed a few years later and she never had to call on Guide Dogs for help.
But the experience made her – and the rest of our family – all too aware of what those less fortunate than her had to face.
And so, in April 2018, we welcomed Zoe into the fold, a Golden Retriever-Black Labrador cross with a black coat, golden paws and the disposition of sunshine.
For the next 18 months we watched her grow, despaired in the face of her giddiness and delighted in her progress.
In September 2019, she made it to the training centre and I spent a week swinging from ‘proud parent’ to ‘sobbing mess’.
The most common question we were are asked, from the moment we collected Zoe to the moment we waved her off, was “how on earth will you say goodbye?”
It is an understandable, if wholly unhelpful, question – and the answer was that the bundle of fluff chewing my fingers off would one day, hopefully, give someone the freedom and independence that my mum thought was being taken away from her all those years ago.
And so despite the heartache of saying goodbye to Zoe, six weeks ago Arla arrived ready to tug on our heartstrings and shoelaces.
She is as different to Zoe as possible – where Zoe was dark and glossy, Arla is golden and fluffy; where Zoe was gentle and sometimes submissive, Arla is confident and energetic.
Zoe would always involve you in a game – Arla is more than happy to chase her own tail or fetch her own toys.
At just 14 weeks old, Arla is already in charge – she has a favourite spot on the hot tile by the fridge and has the staff at the local supermarket wrapped around her paw.
On our daily walks (to the end of our road) she will see off any leaf or stone in her way – and although she might not be fully housetrained, she has mastered the commands ‘sit’ and ‘down’, as long as something yummy is promised.
Arla is just as delicious, just as gorgeous and just as infuriating as Zoe was and I cannot wait to share her exploits, mishaps and successes with you over the next few months.