A Donegal woman is planning to pay tribute to her much-loved guide dog in a special way.
Guide dog O.J. was a true ‘life changer’ for Buncrana woman Jennifer Doherty, who is blind from birth.
O.J. sadly passed away last summer after almost a decade with Jennifer and her family. The gentle black labrador opened up a world of possibilities for Jennifer, who now runs her own business and is a well-known advocate for people with disabilities.
This week Jennifer tells Donegal Woman why she has started a unique awareness and fundraising campaign for Irish Guide Dogs in O.J.’s honour.
O.J. came into her Jennifer’s when she was 21, at a time when she was ready to embark on new adventures.
She describes him as “a seventeen month old black Labrador/retriever with a shiny coat, a great personality and a tail that never stopped wagging.”
“I wanted a guide dog for as long as I can remember. I got OJ in July 2007. I had just finished college and started working. My friends were becoming more independent and getting jobs but I didn’t have as much independence to get out and about on my own,” she said.
Jennifer had been using a cane up to this point, but OJ gave her a renewed freedom to pursue her passions in work, education and volunteering.
“I moved into my own house six years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible without him.
“With OJ, I was able to move to a new job in Letterkenny, do volunteering and do courses, even if none of my friends or family were going along. When you have a dog you’re not alone,” she said.
OJ was a companion to Jennifer that also opened doors for new friendships.
“He was an ice-breaker. People would come up talk to me because he was there and he’d be the first topic of conversation,” she said.
After seven years together, OJ retired and was fortunate that Jennifer’s parents were able to keep him.
Jennifer said: “It was ideal that we didn’t have to give him away. Sybil took over from O.J. and has allowed me to have the same independence. She’s a lively golden retriever, a very different character.”
Jennifer made the difficult decision to put O.J. to sleep in July 2017, and is now hoping his memory will live on with another pup in training. She is aiming to raise €5,000 this year to support the care of a future puppy and have it named after her first ‘life changer’.
Each litter of pups that are born to be Guide Dogs or Assistance Dogs are given names starting with the same letter of the alphabet. All of O.J.’s siblings had names beginning with ‘O’, and there has never been another O.J. since.
Jennifer said: “They are guessing that the new O.J. will be born later this year. I’m just hoping it’s a boy! The puppy will be raised by a volunteer before it does its training, so I’m hoping to meet it in Cork and present the cheque with my fundraising total.”
“There is a chance the pup will be better suited as an Assistance Dog for a child with autism, depending on their temperament. I’m aiming to raise awareness for all types of support dogs.”
— Jennifer Doherty (@OJdoherty) June 22, 2017
Jennifer runs her own transcribing business (JD Audio Transcription) and volunteers with Foroige. She often gives talks about life with a disability and creates awareness of guide dogs in local schools.
No stranger to fundraising, Jennifer took on a high-flying challenge by piloting a plane in 2014 to raise money for the Donegal Centre for Independent Living. The motivated young woman has been fundraising for Irish Guide Dogs since 2003 and raised €30,000 up to this point. It costs €38,000 to raise a guide dog from birth and support it during its working life.
“I have had a dog for ten years, when you have one and see the difference it makes you want to give back for it,” she said.
Watch this space for fun local events to raise fund for the next O.J. Jennifer is planning a variety of events in the Buncrana area – from quizzes to school events and talks to coffee mornings and something for dog lovers. She has a busy few months ahead but is looking forward to creating more awareness for heroes like O.J.
Follow https://www.facebook.com/ojthelifechanger/ on Facebook to keep up to date with Jennifer’s fundraisers.
If you would like to learn more about Irish Guide Dogs or donate, visit guidedogs.ie