Shit People Say About Retiring A Guide Dog

Now that I’ve got it out there that Trix is retiring, I decided to write one of those “shit people say” posts. John Q. Public is a wealth of…sometimes amusement, sometimes frustration, sometimes bewildering stupidity. And I have seen a lot of this now that Trix is retiring and I’m out with the cane. As I write this, I want to say two things. Maybe some of these things bother me more because I’m more stressed than usual so it’s easier to set me off. But writing them down might illustrate how stressful retiring a guide dog really is. And I don’t want people to be afraid to ask questions. Just before you ask or make the comment, wonder how it would feel to be on the receiving end. Or, wonder how it would feel if someone’s family member was terminally ill, and what questions might be hard or uncomfortable to answer. If the question you’re about to ask might fall into the category of awkward, reconsider asking it, would ya?

She’s 7? Boy I wish I could retire at 7!
Um, chief? Dog 7 and human 7 are two different beasts. Dog 7, if I just did the rough estimate, would be human 49. So since she’s a bit older than 7, I’d say she’s in her early human 50’s. So now imagine saying “Boy I wish I could retire at 53!” Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? People do retire in their 50’s. It’s a bit early, but not holy crap your life is barely starting and you’re done type early.

Pets live until they are 10 or 15. Why can’t she work past 7?
Do you not understand the difference between working and living? People retire at 65 ish but you hope they will live until they’re 80 or 90. Why doesn’t the same apply to animals? I know people have a hard time getting this, but guide work is stressful. Not only do they have to not do things that are doggy things, like sniffing bushes and greeting every Tom, Dick and Harry that goes by, They have to be constantly on alert for stupid drivers, steps, whether we can fit through a narrow space, stuff like that. It’s a stressful job and it has its effect. So for all kinds of reasons, they can’t work their whole life, and honestly, would you want them to? Making a dog work past its time would be the equivalent of telling your 75-year-old grandma that she’s healthy and strong, why doesn’t she go back to the factory and work for a few more years?

This leads nicely into people’s odd choices of things to laugh at. I was explaining the stresses of being a guide dog to someone, at which point they uproariously laughed and said “Oh! What a tough life!”
Yes, it kind of is a tough life. That was not a joke. And I don’t think you’re listening so I’ll stop talking.

Is she just getting lazy? What a weasel of a dog. She’s totally milking it, taking you for a ride. She’s so smart she knows how to push your buttons.
No, dogs don’t get lazy or take people for rides. The most they might do is bug you for food a bit early or see what they can get away with, but I don’t think there are too many dogs who can carry out an elaborate con that lasts for months. They don’t have words to communicate their thoughts, so all they have are behaviours. They can only show us how they’re feeling by slowing down, refusing to move, not wagging, etc. If she wanted to do this, if this made her happy and didn’t stress her out, she’d still be working. Since she isn’t, I have to respect those signals and do what I must, for her own sake.

Have you taken her to the vet? What? They couldn’t find the problem?
This one baffles me for the same reason the one about working and living does. How many times have you gone to your doctor with a pesky problem and it takes a while to diagnose? And you can talk! You can give detailed accounts of your symptoms. All a dog can really do is exhibit them. I can tell the vet stuff, but it’s from my perspective and not the dog’s. I don’t know if it burns when the dog pees. All I know is it takes a while for her to pee and she has to pee more. I don’t know if she’s perpetually tired. All I know is it sure seems like it. So, if a doctor with a human patient has a bitch of a time finding a problem, how do you expect a vet to fair much better?

People are adorable in trying to find simple solutions. I know they mean well, but if the solution were that simple, would I be retiring her? Would I be willing to start over? The one I felt worst about was one that happened with a kid. I ran into a kid and her grandma, and the grandma was asking me what was up with Trixie. I was trying my best to explain it, but there’s so much I don’t know. I said I would retire her completely before the winter because she hated winter even on a good day, at which point the kid piped up with “Oh she’ll make it through the winter fine, look at her nice thick coat!”
I could feel my blood pressure rising, because I’ve heard similar things from adults. Few people understand there are physical reasons for retirement and mental ones. There are aspects of her job that are harder in the winter for physical reasons and for mental ones. She doesn’t just walk. She has to navigate snow piles, make sure I don’t fall on the ice, all that stuff. How many different ways can I find to say her job is hard?

Luckily I have sense, in the form of a voice in increasing volume in my head saying “She’s a kid, calm down. She’s a kid, calm down. SHE’S A KID, CALM DOWN!” So I managed to explain the winter stuff in a logical manner. But sometimes the super simple solutions that I get thrown in my direction day in and day out drive me insane, probably more because this whole retirement process is so hard on me too. So I don’t blame John Q. for this one, just if you ever offer someone a simple solution to their dog retirement problem and get a look fit to kill, understand they’ve probably tried that already…and they’re probably super stressed out and you hit them at a bad time.

Is that a different dog?
This one’s a bit of a deviation from the theme, I only put it here because it makes me a little sad each time I hear it right now because there will be a different dog.

Throughout Trix’s career, I have gotten asked if she’s a new dog by people who haven’t seen us in a while. Sometimes it’s when she’s being a tool and they wonder if she’s new. But sometimes people think she just looks different or bigger or smaller. Really, can the same dog look that vastly different? It just amazes me.

Maybe she just needs a vacation!
I understand this one. At least it’s logical. What do we do if we have burnout? Take a rest, recharge the batteries. But I have tried reducing her schedule and she’s still saying it’s too much. How do I know how much vacation time she needs? And dogs don’t have that sense of time like we do. Their memory is short.

One time when she was ordered to rest her neck for 2 weeks, when we hit the streets again, she was being extra good, extra diligent. It was as if she had to show me she was good at her job. Now when I give her a break and go back at it, I see the same problems. I wish a little vacation was all she needed.

Where it goes into dumb territory is when I’ve told them she has an eye condition and they think maybe a few months off would do her some good. Yeah, because progressive eye conditions go away with time. I know they’re just trying to be helpful, but oy.

You know, I know the perfect guy who could take your dog if you’re looking for a home for her. He loves dogs, but he’s got such a busy life that he doesn’t feel like he has time for a puppy. He works all week and travels on the weekend. She’d be a dream for him!
And he would be a nightmare for her. She has been used to having some contact with people. She’s been taken most everywhere. Short stints alone are fine, but not days and weekends. And, she’s retired now, so all those abilities to take her everywhere are gone. She’s a pet. So…likely she would spend her weekends being kept at a kennel. What a horrible way to live out her retirement.

How will you ever get home without your puppy?
How did I get here without my puppy? Travelling with a cane for me is harder and slower, but I can still do it. When I went with Trixie, I didn’t just saddle up and ride. Our work is a team effort. I tell her where we’re going, she makes sure I don’t fall down or get crushed by stuff. Sure she recognizes destinations, but that’s *after* I have taught her them. So I am not helpless and housebound without Trix. I do know where home is.

Random person (tentatively): So, now that she’s not working…what…is going to happen to her?
Me: She’ll be going to a relative. They love each other and he’ll have the time to give her lots of exercise and…
person: Phew! So she will have a good home then! I was worried!…I was worried that…I…I was worried.

This one makes my blood boil. After all the service she’s given me, after all the time we have been together, do people honestly think I would just sluff her off like dead skin? Yeah. I’ll turn her into the SPCA at my earliest convenience. Or one person even thought I was going to shoot her or put her down. Yeah, because I treat my guide dog like they treat greyhounds. It makes me sick to my stomach.

I don’t even mind so much if they wonder what the next step in the plan is. It’s the assumption that I would allow bad things to happen to Trixie, or am powerless to prevent them, that makes me want to scream and throw things. And this isn’t just a one-off. A lot of people who ask this question give me the impression they are preparing themselves to hear about attrocities and horrors…and once again breathe when they find out that she will be well-cared for. Have a little more faith in me, people.

I think that runs down the list of questions and comments that I have been hit with and have left a mark. I guess it isn’t even the question or comment, it’s the sheer volume of them. Everywhere I go, at any hour, there is the potential for someone to start asking long, involved questions about the fate of my dog. Sometimes I just don’t have the reserves to deal with it.

But one observation I’ve noticed. When I had Trixie, everyone wanted to offer an arm, even though the dog could totally follow them. Now that I don’t have the dog, no arms are offered, and this isn’t even among the people who I have told that I didn’t need an arm. It’s among people I’ve never met who might be helping me navigate a crowd, or something. What’s up with that?

I think that wraps things up. To those who have gone through this too, have I hit ’em all? Or are there any doozers you have gotten that I have yet to hear?

I hope this comes across as somewhat informative and not just some crazy person ranting. I know there’s some venting in here, but I hope this gives people some understanding of what subjects might be kind of sensitive. Or maybe I’m just a great big wussbag. But I have mentioned some of these things to other people who’ve been through it and they don’t seem to think I’ve gone cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

Really I’m not totally fragile. It’s just that I am grieving the loss of something. Maybe that helps make it make sense. How many people have lost a baby or a loved one or maybe they’re going through a rough divorce. Life is hard, and the stuff people say hits harder than it probably should. There are just some things that you hear over and over that are kind of irritating. But I’ll get used to it and things will get easier. I just felt like writing them down.

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