Chuuuuuuuck is Retiiiiiiiring!

Last Updated on: 30th June 2024, 04:49 pm

If you don’t know what that title said, it was my best impression of my reaction to the news that Chuck is Retiring at the end of July. When I got the email that Chuck Farrugia, my field representative for Guide Dogs for the Blind was retiring after 33 years of amazing service to all of us, I made a sound as if someone close to us had died. Poor Steve was sure we had been hit with more bad news. These last few years have not been easy, so I understand why he thought the worst. When I could finally find words, I think he was relieved. He was sad for me, but at least everybody was ok.

For anyone who doesn’t know Chuck, I really sound like a selfish asshole right now, being sad that he’s retiring. On one level, I’m very happy for him, and I hope he has a wonderful retirement. He deserves it and then some. He has worked his tail off for us, and has probably seen way less of his family and way more of the inside of hotel and motel rooms and his car than anyone should. He has probably heard way too much bad stuff, since we usually only call when something weird is going on with our dogs. And I’m sure everything after covid has been no picnic. But on a selfish level, I know how hard he’s going to be to replace, and there are rough years of adjustment ahead for all of us. GDB will find its way through, but I’m sure there will be lots of people saying “God I miss Chuck!” Apologies in advance to the new person who’s filling his absolutely massive shoes.

I know I have written a bunch about Chuck over the years up here, but all my Chuck stories are embedded in other random ramblings. Let me try and summarize all things awesome about Chuck right here.

For people who don’t know what a field representative or field service manager does at GDB, they are a main contact person for all the clients in a huge chunk of territory that the school serves. Clients can call that person and that person can coordinate things. Sometimes it’s something as simple as sending equipment or information about laws in the area or knowing other contacts, but many times, the rep will spend a lot of time going from area to area visiting people, seeing how their dogs are doing, helping clients solve problems, doing home interviews for people who want a guide dog for the first time or a new guide dog. It’s a big job and Chuck has always been a busy guy…a busy guy who always had time and patience for all of us.

I have known Chuck for 19 years, and even when I started on this journey, when I talked to other graduates, they would always talk about the legend of Chuck. The first time he saw me was…not at my best. Oh holy crap was that not good. I had just sent Babs back, and I was bent and determined that I was getting a new dog ASAP so I could get on with my life, goddamn it! But the school where I got Babs had less strict standards than GDB, and when Chuck and I went out for a walk, Chuck soon saw that I needed some improvement. I got myself supremely lost in a thunderstorm and he had to get me back home. But he never made me feel stupid or inadequate, but all the same, he was very honest. I remember when he asked me, in his classic Chuck way, “How do you think that route went?” I answered with “It sucked!” He just said something about “I think you need to have more practice and learn some longer routes.” I can’t remember precisely what he said because I don’t have the crazy Chuck memory, but that’s what I remember. He shook my hand and said he would tell me the results of the report later. As expected, the school told me to learn some more routes and they would come back again next year.

When he came back the next year, I had practiced my head off, and took him on a long walk and everything went fine. He didn’t judge me for the first route, even though he still very much remembered it, and I know this because we talked and joked about it years later. My point is he had faith in me and realized I had done the work and in September, I got the news that I was accepted for a class somewhere in the spring of 2007. That started my Trixie journey.

Chuck has an amazing memory for details. He’s always paying attention and learning about us, our families, our hobbies, all the things, and he remembers! He will ask a question about something we talked about last year! That’s impressive enough, but since I have an idea of the sheer number of people he sees, it’s mind-blowingly good. One time I joked with him about how I think he’s part cyborg, and he just laughed in his signature Chuck way.

Chuck has helped me through all sorts of situations with Trixie, Tansy and now Domino and never made me feel like an idiot. Usually, when he’d come to see us, there would be some part of the work that had gotten a bit sloppy and he would help us tighten it up and miraculous improvements would happen. He would notice teeny tiny details about the placement of a foot or hand or something about my voice. One time, he commented that the treat pouch was dangling right in front of Domino’s nose, so of course he couldn’t pay attention. He could tell the difference between a temporary problem and a career-ending one, and he would be willing to change his mind about one if he had to.

Whatever the problem was, he had a very reassuring way about him. I remember talking to him after a rough day with Trixie in the snow. In that first winter, we were having a hell of a time. I’d never been shown how to put boots on a dog before, and she wasn’t used to them, and hated them with everything she had. She would leap into snowbanks to knock them off. I had a little rig that she would wear that would keep the boots attached even if she knocked them off. But if she didn’t wear boots, she would hit salt and scream. Those screams are burned into my memory.

In desperation, I called Chuck. I don’t even remember what blubbering jabberings I spewed out over the line, but he waited for a while and then said “Carin, are you ok?” and I said “No I am not!” After he sifted through the complete mess, he slowed everything down and he was able to offer me solutions that just might work. He made me feel like I wasn’t the first one whose dog was not going to put up with boots and he helped me find a way out of this chaos.

Or there was the time a vet got it in their head that I had pulled too hard on my dog’s neck with my corrections, and instead of talking it over with me, wrote a letter to the school’s vets without telling me. Chuck called me and said this didn’t sound like me at all. He said he would come see me, but he listened to me and didn’t make me feel like the dog police were coming to get Trixie. When we saw each other, he reassured me that I was doing fine and there was no problem.

Or when my gallbladder saga happened, after I talked to him, he called Steve and checked in on him too. He had this way of helping to break apart the impossible problem into bits that could be conquered.

And of course, he was there for the hard parts at the end when it’s time to make the retirement decision. For Tansy, it was easy because the pandemic caused her career to be extra long, but Trixie’s retirement was kind of unexpected. I laughed when we were talking about the next dog after Tansy, and as a joke, when we were going over preferences, he said “Does it have to be female, black and start with t?” I laughed so hard.

I could go on all day about Chuck, but I think you get the point. He did this for a ton of clients, year in and year out. There aren’t a lot of people like him. We all owe a lot to him.

I’m trying to put together a goodbye Chuck party here in Kitchener. I know there is one in Toronto, but some of us can’t make it there easily. If you went to GDB, live in the area and would like to join us, shoot me an email. I’ll get you all the details. You can find my address on this contact page.

I hope Chuck’s retirement is as happy as possible, and he can do all the things he’s always wanted to do. I also hope this last lap around his territory, we have all made him feel very very appreciated.

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  1. Oh lord, the night you got that email. Like Carin said, the last few years have been all kinds of awful for us in terms of death, major illness and general unpleasantness. In fact, if you’ve been wondering why posting here has gotten much more sparse in the last several months, that’s why. It’s taking lots of energy to muddle through it all and we just needed to take a step back from some things. We’re quiet about it here, but it’s absolutely taken its toll on us.

    But back to that email.

    Carin is looking at her phone, and all of a sudden she erupts into a chorus of “no! No! Nononononono no!” I’ll confess, my first thought was oh christ, who died now? Can it please be some random dog person? I don’t want Carin to be sad, but I do not need any more of this shit! Apologies to any random dog person who might read this comment. I’m glad you’re alive and hopefully well.

    But I understand why she reacted like she did. Chuck really is a one of a kind guy. I’m not one of his clients, but because I’m part of the Carin package, he always treated me as though I was. Whenever he would come over to check on Carin, he would always take time to ask about me, and like she said, he would always remember things from visit to visit that you wouldn’t expect someone with his schedule and customer list to remember. That he took the time to call and check on me while Carin was in the hospital is something I’ll never forget and always appreciate.

    I don’t know how you replace a guy like him, but good luck to whoever gets that job.

  2. I’m not crying. You’re crying. I literally have not had a dog for 12 years and I am going all the way to Toronto, I’ll be at getting the crap spoiled out of me and you, to say goodbye to him. My first meeting with him was actually when he was interviewing a certain other female devil demon that we all once knew. He hung out with her in the residence, and I remember pacing up and down in Trouten house needing to know how it was. She then brought him to meet me for some reason because of course she did. And I adored him ever since. I also had a moment where he didn’t think I did great on my first route. But we did a Juno walk and he saw that I was totally capable of walking home with no issues when we did that. So he came back the next morning and had me do the route again and I did it perfectly And this is when he sent me for a continuing assessment.

    And let us not forget the time that the mouse, my old nickname for my old dog, had to go for retraining and was able to come back two weeks early. Chuck went all the way from his house in Michigan to Pearson international, picked up the mouse, brought her all the way to me and Kingston and then went back home just to make sure I could get her two weeks earlier than planned. I will be buying that man the best beer that granite brewery has. Chuck will be missed. I have always wanted to see him again so I’m glad they are having this dinner for everyone in Ontario. I know we will only get to say hi to him for probably about four seconds. But four seconds is better than zero seconds. Also, don’t tell him I’m coming. I want to surprise him.

    1. I’ll be seeing him on the 17th…twice. Once for an actual walk and once for the local goodbye Chuck party. I will do my best to keep my lips zipperooed. Chuck is da man.

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