My name is Melissa. I’m 41 years old. I’m a wife, a mother and a Guide Dogs Client. I’m also a business owner. I want to share my journey with you; one that has been full of ups and downs in the last year. But there has always been hope and I know that I would not be where I am today without the help and constant support of Guide Dogs.
I have no vision in my left eye and only blurred vision in my right eye as a result of Glaucoma and Keratoconus. I also can’t see at night. My eyesight started to deteriorate from a very young age and once I turned eighteen, I needed a white cane to move around safely. When I was in my mid-twenties, my vision deteriorated even further, to the point where I needed to look at the possibility of a Guide Dog to help navigate my life. I lacked the confidence, independence and happiness that a woman in her twenties should have and got to the point where I would never even venture beyond my front gate.
Throughout my late twenties and early thirties, I worked with two dogs from another organisation. When my second dog retired in 2018, I went back to using a cane for a short while. It was at this point that I turned to Guide Dogs. After being on the Guide Dog waitlist for five months, I received a call to say that there was a suitable match with a Guide Dog called Hendrik. Hendrik and I clicked right from the start, and we worked intensively with Guide Dog Trainer, Jhaneen, around my local neighbourhood, getting to know the places and routes that I needed to be able to get to – the train station, my favourite café, my daughter’s kinder, and of course the shops. For the first three weeks, we worked in five-day blocks, which meant that Hendrik went back to Guide Dogs for the weekend. I hated being apart from Hendrik from the very beginning! I just had so much confidence with Hendrik as soon as we met.
Hendrik and I had such a strong bond. I knew he was always there for me, helping me get where I needed to go, and providing so much joy to the family. But sadly, our time together only lasted for two years as Hendrik lost a very short battle with an aggressive form of blood cancer. I was completely devastated by the loss of Hendrik and suffered from severe depression in the months that followed. I started using my white cane again, but I struggled with confidence and also started to put on weight. My diabetes also flared up. I was at my lowest point, but while all this was going on, Guide Dogs’ Client Services Team Leader, Aaron, was working hard to find a new Guide Dog match for me -he knew just how confident, independent and happy I was with a Guide Dog.
In October 2021, I received a call from Aaron with the news that there was another Guide Dog that was an appropriate match for me. I just couldn’t believe it, even Aaron was choked up on the phone. My Guide Dog match was called Joyful, and his name could not have been any more appropriate, given the need for joy to come back into my life! I was already convinced that this partnership was meant to be, as both mine and my daughter’s middle names are Joy!
Eamon from Guide Dogs brought Joyful to my home for a first meeting. I remember I was so nervous on this day – shaking uncontrollably. But my nerves quickly went away when Joyful came up and gave me a kiss on the cheek! From that meeting, Joyful came back a week later but it felt like an eternity. We began some intensive training with Eamon, walking the streets, routes and places that were a daily part of my life. Joyful and I bonded straight away, and although we have only been working together for seven months now, I can’t remember what life was like without him. Although he has a different working style to Hendrik, it has been an easy transition.
A typical day for me involves a lot of walking. Our six-year-old daughter Jennifer has autism, and my husband Michael has Multiple Sclerosis – it is really starting to impact him now. So my day involves walking to the shops, caring for both my husband and daughter and also lots of therapy and doctor visits. But Joyful is by my side every step of the way and my confidence has dramatically increased because of him. I am so much happier and feel like I am much fitter because I am hardly home, always on the go! Joyful has given me back my independence and it has meant the world to me.
Joyful has also given so much confidence to Jennifer. When Hendrik passed away, Jennifer no longer wanted to leave the house. We needed the help of a carer to accompany us wherever we went. But with Joyful, Jennifer is now very confident and is very happy to leave the house, even without a carer. Jennifer also has emotional episodes from time to time and whenever this happens and Joyful is out of his harness, he will go over and sit next to Jennifer and it relaxes her immediately. Joyful also spends a lot of time with Michael. He is a very cuddly dog and loves to snuggle! We all love this about Joyful. When he is out of harness he also loves to run around the backyard and will often get the “zoomies”. When Joyful is awake, we are all awake!
I’ll never forget Hendrik; he is and will always be a part of the family. I have created Hendrik’s Legacy in his memory, and also to give back to Guide Dogs as they have helped me so much. My first event raised over $2,000. I conducted a raffle and also donated 15 percent from every sale from my business to Guide Dogs. I want to keep the memory of Hendrik burning bright for many years to come.
The Guide Dogs team are like my second family. They have been amazing and are always there for me and my family. I’ve also met so many incredible people, and have developed many wonderful friendships and close connections – connections that I would never have had if I wasn’t receiving the wonderful support from Guide Dogs. I am truly grateful and can honestly say that I am now back to living my happiest life and I am feeling really positive. Joyful really has brought joy and freedom back into our lives!
Please support Guide Dogs so that they can continue to give the gift of independence, confidence and joy to many other Clients like me. The support that we have received has completely changed our lives and brought so much happiness to my whole family. They really do need your support to continue changing the lives of many Clients and their families.
Thanks for reading my journey,
Melissa and Guide Dog Joyful