And so the third stage of applying to be pulled around the mean streets of Millbrook by a small hairy quadruped came upon us at Millbrooker Towers.
The three stage process of getting a guide dog is not an arduous one, but it is (quite rightly) thorough. On Thursday we were visited by two representatives of the organisation. One in human form who talked with Mrs The Millbrooker and me for a couple of hours - getting facts about our lifestyle, physical activity levels (stop sniggering in the cheap seats - he wanted to know about walking and the like, not horizontal jogging); whether we used trains, buses, went to the theatre, concerts . . . and on the investigation went.
The purpose, of course, is to try and match yours truly as well as possible with a dog that's able to cope with whatever I throw at it (metaphorically speaking; chucking objects at your guide dog is generally regarded as poor practise).
The other visitor was definitely not in human form. Ladies and germs, allow me to introduce you to Sidney.
I've never owned a dog, I've never worked with a dog in any shape or form and the last time I even held a dog's lead was something like thirty years ago. You'll be getting the picture that I didn't (and indeed, don't) really know what to do with a canine creature.
This being just an assessment, Sidney and I didn't get up to very much. I handed over my white cane to Mr Ball who was the human-formed visitor and he tagged along behind letting me know what instructions and body language I needed to use so that Sidney would understand what I needed him to do.
We walked (I was tugged along, if I'm truthful - Sidney is a young dog with lots of energy) from New Road into the lower end of New Street and then along the short footpath past the pharmacy and thence back to our starting point a hundred metres or so back along New Road. Just a wee triangle.
After that, I said cheerio for the day to Mrs The Millbrooker as Sidney, Mr B and I headed off into Plymouth and a pootle around the railway station. This allowed a quick assessment of my workplace to make sure my dog (when I'm assigned one) would have suitable facilities (somewhere for a bed, somewhere to wee and poo). And then Mr B and Sidney were off and I started my shift.
I have to say that using Sidney's guiding was a feeling of freedom that I'd barely noticed that I'd lost over the last few years - it felt like a little miracle all of my own and I loved it.
I'm now on the waiting list for a guide dog of my own - I've been told to expect the wait to be around a year. I'm very excited by the whole thing and can't wait to get started for real with the training (oh yes, I have to be trained - not as much nor as intensive as the dog, but trained nonetheless). Watch this space for more doggy news. Huzzah!