My boyfriend Nicky’s dog retired at the weekend. He retired a couple of days after his tenth birthday, after being a working guide dog for over eight years. Ralph could be described as a gentleman of a dog. Every time I’ve seen him he was so quiet and obedient you’d hardly know he was there. He was an enthusiastic worker, and loved to be petted and fussed over like most dogs. I don’t know any dog who enjoys rolling or eating icecubes as much, and the big shake he sometimes did while working used to always make me laugh.
O J and Ralph had a funny relationship. They got on well together, but O J didn’t constantly wind Ralph up and want to play, the way he does with other dogs if he thinks they’ll react.
I was there on Saturday when Ralph’s new owners came to collect him. He is living in an ideal situation for any retired guide dog, on a farm with lots of space, four other dogs and most importantly, with people who absolutely love animals! He retired when he was happy and healthy, the ideal situation for any dog.
The lead-up to Ralph’s retirement has made me think a lot about O J’s, and how much I need to consider beforehand. I hope its at least three or four years away, but its worth thinking about in advance. I’ve learned that its easy to assume that you know who will take care of your dog if you can’t, but its good to have a backup plan encase that person’s circumstances change over time and they are unsuitable to keep your dog. I’ve always thought that the ideal situation would be to notice that your dog needs to retire, and go on the waiting list while you are still working that dog. That way you’ll hopefully go from working one dog to another, and not have a long wait in between dogs. When a guide dog is your preferred mobility aid, going back to a cane or assistance from friends and family can be stressful, so the less time you have to do that the better. On the other hand, I think maybe a short break between dogs could be nice, even if its only for a couple of weeks. Maybe going from one dog to another is more emotionally draining than you’d think. There’s probably no correct way of doing things, everyone is different and experiences things differently, and whatever way you do it, its going to be tough. I would hope that guide dog organisations are helpful during the retirement process, but I’m not sure if they understand what its really like from a blind or visually impaired person’s point of view.
I have also thought a lot about what I want in my next dog, and what to specify in my matching visit. Like I said, I hope this is all a few years away, but the weekend has made me think about it all a bit more. In the meantime, O J and I will look forward to getting to know the new dog that Nicky will be working with.