Guide dog owners love to talk about their dogs. We are happy to fill you in about the rules of working dogs, talk to you about our dog’s personality, and discuss with you about how wonderful they are in general. However, there is one subject we don’t much like to talk about. Retirement. Now I know what you’re thinking. Retirement is a wonderful thing. Retirement reminds you that you’ve worked hard all your life, and now it’s time to hopefully enjoy the benefits. Of course, for some of those who have retired, they don’t stop working. Instead, they continue to give back to the community via volunteering or doing whatever they can to help. So yes, retirement is a positive thing, though it is not something we guide dog owners want to think about when it comes to our dogs.
This is one thing pet owners do not have to be concerned about. Sure, your pet gets older, and maybe they start slowing down. However, you still play with them and cuddle them. Nothing is really different. For guide dog owners, it’s much different. These dogs are our partners. Oh yes, if we so desire, we can still keep them and treat them like we always treated them when at home, spoiling them rotten. However, when a guide dog is retired, this means you have to say goodbye to your dog as a partner and allow him or her to live the rest of their life free from work. Of course, saying goodbye to that partnership, to the familiar pull of the harness handle that you become so used to, isn’t the only difficult thing about guide dog retirement.
Maybe you are the type of person that takes your dogs for a lot of walks. Let’s say that, one day, you decide to go without him. Could you imagine his face? His expression would probably turn from excitement when you are putting on your shoes, to a shocked expression when you open the door without grabbing his leash to put it on him, and finally, that sad, dejected look as you leave him behind. Honestly, it’s no different from how a guide dog acts. These puppies love to work. It’s what they were trained to do. Joba gets very sad if I happen to leave him home alone. It doesn’t make sense. He’s thinking, I’m your eyes, your guide. Why are you leaving me? A guide dog is not going to understand why his owner is not allowing him to work anymore, and that will be probably the hardest part of retiring a guide dog. Also, following the retirement, there are choices a blind person must make for their dog.
What is going to be best for the dog? Many guide dog owners return to the Seeing Eye to get another guide, so what is going to happen to the retired guide? First, a blind person has to consider the challenge of having both a retired dog and a new working dog in the house together. You may think that guide dogs are little angels, but they can get into fights like every other dog. They can also get jealous. If a blind person knows that his or her dog will be fine with having a new dog in the house, they may decide to keep their retired guide. Or, if they know for a fact that their retired dog will not be accepting of the new guide, it is time to decide that maybe finding a new home for their retired guide is the best option. Either that, or they can decide to wait and get a new guide after their retired guide has passed away. None of these options are easy, especially on a guide dog owner. If the owner decides to keep the retired guide while going to get a new guide, they may run into issues such as the retired dog being upset that the new dog is taking over the job that should still be, in his opinion, his job. Also, maybe the new working dog will be frustrated because you have to split your bonding time between both him and the retired dog. While this can be a difficult challenge, it is very possible, and many owners will tell you they do it all the time. It also varies between dogs. Some owners, while previously having kept their retired dog, may decide not to do that with the next dog they retire. It really depends on the dogs.
So, let’s say that a blind person decides they are going to find their retired guide a new home. They decide this because they want to focus all of their attention on learning to bond with their new partner. What can this person who decides to find a new home do to successfully find the perfect place? There are a couple of options. First, if a person has another friend or family member who knows and adores the dog, he or she can ask them if they would want to keep him or her. Now, keep in mind that the Seeing Eye does not allow a person to sell their dog to anyone. In fact, it’s in the contract. So, the friend or family member would receive the dog for free but would then be responsible for the care of the dog such as providing medical treatment costs and food for the dog. It would no longer be the responsibility of the previous owner. However, if a blind person doesn’t know of anyone who would willingly take the dog, the Seeing Eye would find a home for him or her. I don’t know if this is true for all schools. I know that, for some schools, a person never actually owns the dog and is required to return the dog to the school following retirement. However, let’s say now that a person decides to keep the retired guide while at the same time going back to get another working dog.
As I mentioned before, there may be issues that would have to be overcome, or maybe there will be no issues at all. Whatever the case may be, in order for the retired dog to still feel like he or she has value, it is important to keep giving the dog that sort of attention. This can be accomplished by taking time to walk the retired guide. Perhaps, for example, the retired guide has no visual problems. Technically, you could put the harness on and walk a simple route. However, maybe it wouldn’t be as long because the dog would wear out easily, and that’s why a person had to retire him. Allowing a retired guide to do something productive will keep the dog from feeling depressed. A guide dog owner must realize that this would probably be extra work for him or her because they would have to take the time to also work their new guide. A person choosing to go this route would have to find that perfect balance. Also, I know at least one owner who walks their current guide in harness while having the retired guide on a leash walking on his other side. This is doable, but the working guide would really have to be able to pay very close attention to the owner. This may be difficult if the current guide dog is very new. Still, it’s not entirely impossible.
I guess the important thing to realize is that, no matter how a guide dog owner decides to retire his or her dog, they must have their retired guide’s best interest at heart and figure out what will be most beneficial for all involved. Retiring a guide dog isn’t easy, but schools such as the Seeing Eye are always there to aid an owner in successfully retiring his or her guide dog.