Last Updated on: 7th August 2022, 11:42 am
As I get ready to write this post, I realize that for each guide dog retirement, I’ve needed to write one of these. Here’s the one for Babs, and here’s the one for Trixie. Now, amazingly, I have one for Tansy…and the things people are asking are all basically new. It’s incredible how each situation can spawn new questions. I’ll warn you right now, this post is a bit of a behemoth.
“So now that she’s retired, you’re giving her away? Why on earth would you do that?”
This one hurts. It cuts to the bone. I know they don’t mean to hurt me. Objectively I guess it’s a fair question. But they have no idea how much I have agonized about her retirement and what would happen after she retired. I did think about keeping her. I mean, when I was just starting the process of retiring her, she was headed for 9 years old. Now, she’s 11. I would think about Trixie and how she made it to just about 13. I would think “That isn’t long. I’m sure I could stick it out with the cane another 2 years. It would be slow and painful, but I could do it. What’s two more years so she could stay right with me until the end?”
But then I started to think about it more. I live in a high-rise apartment. Every time she would need to go to the bathroom, she would have to either wait for the elevator or go down all those stairs. Sometimes, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go, especially when getting older. What if she couldn’t hold it? What if she had more trouble walking and being way up here was no fun at all?
And about those stairs. She already was none too pleased with going down all the stairs when we had a fire alarm back at the end of June. The stairs never used to be a problem. In fact, I looked like more of a wreck going down the stairs when we had a fire alarm earlier this year than she did. What if we had a real fire and I couldn’t get her out?
Another thing nobody takes into account is once she’s no longer a guide dog, she loses all of those access rights that made it so easy for me to get her around, Uber drivers notwithstanding. Once that’s gone, she’s a pet, and I have to negotiate every time I have to take her anywhere. She wouldn’t be going too many places by car, but the ones that do require a drive aren’t ones that I want to be spending time haggling over. If I need to take her in the car, we’re probably headed to the vet, and maybe it’s urgent. Do I really want to be fighting with someone over whether they’ll take her as she’s potentially taking her last breaths? I thought about assembling an emergency dog squad that I could call on if I needed something, but even that runs the risk of failing. If it’s midnight, none of them may see my text and then I’m back to haggle and fight.
The other trips that would put her in a car are trips to family. For those, I either take transit, Uber, or sometimes family picks me up. Uber and transit would immediately be out, so the only trips where she might be able to come are when family comes to get us. So, we would be finding her a sitter, especially in the case of trips to my parents’ place because they’re far. This would also be the case if we were going to see far-away friends that require a train or bus ride. Suddenly, the life she would be having at the end might not be so awesome.
And I was worried about what would happen when I had to go back to the office if that happened within her lifetime. She could end up all alone if Steve had to go anywhere. While pet dogs get used to that, these dogs really don’t. We are told to give them some alone time for short bits, and she has had to be alone when I was in the hospital when Steve would visit me, but that was temporary, and she was much younger. What if she needed more bathroom breaks now? Older dogs need different things.
What if I did decide I couldn’t wait that long for a new guide dog and went and got another one? Our apartment is a decent size, and we have had two dogs in it for short bits, but I don’t think they would be happy together in it for the long term, especially if one was 2 and the other was 11 or 12. I could see Tansy feeling like she’d had enough of this young whippersnapper. Suddenly, I could find myself in the situation where I have to find Tansy a home, and quickly, which is not the best way to do something like that.
Yes, people have kept their retired guide dogs. But I think the circumstances have to be just right. They have to have enough space for them and the dogs have to get along, or they have to be ok with waiting until the old dog passes away before getting a new one, and they have to have a good enough network of support for transportation needs. Sometimes that happens because their spouse is sighted or there’s lots of family right in town or something like that. If things aren’t just so, it feels like a disaster waiting to happen.
So, to everyone who thinks I’m throwing her away when she is no longer of use to me, that is the furthest from the truth. I’m trying to make sure that she has the best possible last years of her life. Now, she has moved in with a lady who makes a habit of taking in older dogs. It’s like a doggie retirement home. It’s a bigger place, even has a little ramp in case they can’t do the stairs, and although there’s another dog, they have space to get away from each other but they play together if they want. Both dogs are older, so their level of play is more similar than what it would be between a young dog and an old one. Think of the good seniors homes, where the people don’t have to worry about working and meals, but they have access to all the friends and fun activities they want. This arrangement feels like that. And since she’s right here in town, I’ll be able to see her again.
On top of that, I had time to ask lots of questions and do some trial runs. Unless something absolutely catastrophic happens, this arrangement is going to work out for all involved. And maybe nobody thinks I’m throwing her away when she’s no longer of use to me. Maybe that’s what I think they think, and nothing like that entered their minds. But there is so much guilt when I can’t keep her until the very end.
“She was working fine for you! Why would you retire her?”
Are you a service dog trainer? How do you know she was working fine for me? Just because she’s walking upright out to the dog potty doesn’t mean she’s up for the stress of doing the guide dog thing. She may be able to walk quiet streets, but squishing herself onto buses, being in crowds, navigating busy intersections and having to save me from stupid distracted drivers aren’t top of her list of things she still wants to do. Also, she’s 11. Guide dogs usually retire when they’re 10 or younger. So even if she was totally working fine for me, I want her to have some fun time. I don’t want her to work until she physically can’t, or worse. I don’t want to work her to death!
“you don’t seem to be doing fine without her.”
This one is one of those ones where they don’t have to say it precisely. It just sort of is carried along in the words they do say, like “And why did you retire her again?” as I’m trying to get across the crosswalk to the mall. Dude, I basically haven’t used my cane for 9 years. I have used it for very short bits, but Tansy guided me for nearly all of those 9 years. So, I need to bring those skills back to life. It would be like if you suddenly couldn’t use your computer and had to operate an old typewriter, especially if you used to use one before. All those things that computers just do, you would have to remind yourself that you have to do them. You would have to remind yourself that there is no copy and paste, and if you make an error, that you have to use correction fluid, and some errors just make you start over. Those skills are there, but need to be dusted off, and at first, the dust will be very evident. Cut me some slack!
Yes I know, in a perfect world, I would have gone out with my cane on a regular basis to keep those skills sharp, but I wonder how many of us actually do that. To those who do, you’re awesome. Maybe some day I’ll be that awesome. But when it’s faster and easier to do it with the dog, it’s hard to make the conscious decision to break out the cane.
On top of that, because of our lovely pandemic circumstances, Tansy and I weren’t running around everywhere. So I’m having moments where I’m trying to remember exactly where things are because I haven’t gone there in a while.
“Why don’t you have a new one yet?”
That question totally makes sense from the outside, but is slightly exasperating for people who understand the process. I think most people think I just call up and say “I’d like to trade my dog in for a newer model. When can I make an appointment?” But this process, even at the best of times, isn’t all about my schedule. They have to have a dog ready that’s right for me, and they have a maximum of six students per class. So there’s a lot of behind the scenes magic happening to get the right people with the right dogs.
But this isn’t the best of times. We had this crazy little thing called COVID which kind of put a stop to anyone getting new guide dogs anywhere. But while nobody was able to get guide dogs, people’s previous dogs retired and passed away at the same rates as they always did in normal times, which caused the backlog to grow. Also, they stopped breeding as many dogs, which caused there to be a shortage of dogs when everything started coming back to normal. That doesn’t even take into account that not every pup that’s born is able to be a guide dog.
The short version of that is it may be a while until I get a new dog, but Father Time really gives 0 craps about my schedule. So there comes a point where, whether or not I know I’m going to class, Tansy is past the point where it’s good to have her keep guiding. So I can’t make the timelines link up nicely.
“Your school is in the states? Why didn’t you just go to a different school that was in Canada?”
For a couple of reasons. When the pandemic hit, a lot of schools weren’t even serving new clients and were focusing on serving their existing ones. So even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have been accepted.
Also, not all schools are created equal, and I have a history with this one, so I wanted to stay with them. Remember. Getting a new dog is a multiple year commitment. I want to choose my school wisely.
“She didn’t look like a service dog. She was so quiet!”
Admittedly, this was only said once, but it was so weird that I had to write it down.
What kind of “service dog” did you have in mind? Or were you more thinking of a police or guard dog? Service dogs are supposed to be quiet. If they started acting like a guard dog, their career would change in one heck of a hurry!
“You? Dog? Where?”
This one happened to me today. This lady who didn’t speak English very well was obviously asking me where my dog was. But how do you explain something like retirement when you don’t know what words they will understand. Heck, the concept of retiring a guide dog is hard to articulate when the other person understands you perfectly. The answer to the question is not as simple as “She’s upstairs” or “she’s sleeping” or even “she died.” What is the easiest explanation that can be given? And it’s hard to find the words when I’m also sad.
It’s funny. This time, after Tansy moved into her new place, whenever I left home, I prepared myself for the onslaught of “Where’s your dog?” I even had an internal monologue of “Get ready, they’re going to ask you.” I was more ready, but people can still find brand new things to ask me. Hopefully soon, I will know when I’m headed to class, and the act of writing this down will cause me to not flounder for answers to the other questions.