A STORY OF SEVEN WEEKS, BY GILL SHEPPARD, CHAIRMAN, SEEING DOGS

It is often said that troubles come in threes. Well, it’s true – at least, it was for me back in the spring.

Census time was approaching and the Government had provided a helpline for those like me who cannot manage digital or paper to complete the census over the phone. What a good idea, I thought, but will it work? I made an appointment for them to contact me and they made an attempt so feeble that they rang off before I could answer. I made another appointment for the following afternoon but that proved totally fruitless; they didn’t even bother! I tried for a third time only to be told that I was too late for that day and to try again tomorrow.

A memorable supermarket ‘trip’…

Next morning, I harnessed Alba and we set off for the usual walk to the supermarket. We hadn’t gone far when I caught my toe in an uneven part of the pavement. I have twice before fallen in this street and expected my response to the same – to just get up and be on our way. Alba waited patiently for me to stand upright but my right arm felt very strange and I couldn’t leverage myself up off the ground. Nothing for it, I thought, but to stay-put and await a kind passer-by for help. Thankfully, a kind motorist pulled up and offered to help.

In the hospital, Alba had a whole new experience as we were taken to the X-ray department: she had to walk beside a wheelchair without getting in a muddle when it turned corners. She soon learned because it was no short distance. Immediately on seeing the X-rays, the radiographer said, “It’s broken.” And that was that! I exchanged a functioning arm and hand for a sleeve of rubber bands – or that was how it felt!

On arriving home from the hospital, it was obvious that I could hardly look after myself, let alone Alba. Fortunately, I have very good relations with Alba’s puppy walkers who live in the neighbouring county.  I called Keith and Linda with an SOS to collect Alba which they did the next morning. (Alba was going to have a nice time cavorting with her mother, Orla, whilst she was away).

Having spoken to Keith and Linda I summoned the strength to have another go at the census helpline. This time I was successful – bingo! Job done and out of the way. However, next I dealt with Social Services about carers come by morning and evening, plus meals on wheels. It took 11 days to sort that out, such is the stat of social care.

There’s somebody at the door

So, I settled down to the tedium of life confined to barracks, unable to do much and unaware of the battles which lay ahead…

One morning in late March the doorbell rang. The morning carer had been and gone, as it was lockdown, so it couldn’t be a visitor.

It was a government official come to say, “We have reason to believe that you have not completed the Census.”

I told him that I had via the helpline on 11 March but he didn’t sound convinced and left. A week later he returned with the same accusation to which I have the exact same response. I had no intention of coughing up £1,000 or being a guest of HMPs! On went my fighting irons, rubber bands notwithstanding! First, I contacted the helpline to discover that they had a full record of all the calls I had made, including one on the 11 March when the census was completed. Next, a call to my MP’s constituency where I insisted that the matter be looked into and I be given a full apology. After a few days, the official came again. When he heard what I had done since our last encounter, he was now more inclined to believe me and so apologised and departed.

Alba’s brief encounter in the park

Meanwhile, at Keith and Linda’s, Alba was in a spot of bother of her own.

While I was accused of failure to do something I had done, Alba was accused of doing something she had not done!

Alba and Orla were taken to the park one day and whilst there a man arrived on a mobility scooter giving the impression he was disabled. A little dog was with him which he had let off-lead. Alba, seeing the chance to play with a new friend, went over to introduce herself. The little dog screamed with fright, so inducing the man to jump off his mobility scooter and run to his dog’s rescue. He scooped the dog up in his arms and returned to the scooter.

Later that day, when it was dark, the same man came to Keith’s door insisting that Alba had attacked his dog and injured it! Moreover, he thrust an £82 vet bill at Keith with order to pay it there and then or else the police would be called! No money exchanged hands and no police appeared. Keith took the precaution next morning of going to the man’s house to see the dog in question for himself. The dog was bouncing with good health, and not a mark on him. So sure was his owner that he had the upper hand, he soon sent an extremely unpleasant letter demanding yet more money and a day in court! He made the mistake of thinking Alba was a pet dog belonging to a private individual who could be bullied. What a surprise to him when he found himself having to deal with a large well-known and well-resourced charity of almost 90 years. Alba was provided by Guide Dogs, and no more was heard from the man in the scooter.

Welcome home, Alba!

Then the day came wen the rubber bands disappeared, new bone was growing and I could finally use my arm again. I said goodbye to the carers and the meals on wheels people and very much looked forward to saying hello to Alba. A few days before her return, I had a letter from the Director General of the ONS with a fairly fulsome apology for all the distress they had caused me.

I’m just glad it’s all over and I can get back to life with Alba. It’s good to have her back.