Happy Retirement Big Pup

It’s hard to believe we’ve come to this stage already. Seven years and eight months of great work and great fun.
I thought I’d know what to write, because I’ve been thinking about this day for the last five weeks. Now that It’s here, I have absolutely no idea.

I hadn’t really planned anything in particular for O.J’s last day being a working guide dog. The fact that we had hailstones was a bit of a surprise. O.J isn’t a fan of miserable weather, so apart from a two minute walk to visit my aunt, we went nowhere. He did get very close to a baby chick when we were there, but was more distracted by the cat than the bird. Technically his final walk in harness was yesterday, when we went to town. He spent an hour in my aunt’s house (we still call it granny’s!) which was the first house he ever visited in town.
My friends came to visit this afternoon, and my aunt called over with a retirement card, addressed to Oliver John as she likes to call him! I brushed him, we went to my parents for dinner, and my mum took some photographs of us.
So it was a normal enough day.

Now, I’m sitting here in a quiet house, after leaving the dogs to my parents. O.J has gone to his new home. It’s a place he’s familiar with, and he’s totally happy being there. I think that’s why I’m not upset like I expected to be. It was hard packing up all his things and leaving his harness behind, knowing that I won’t be putting it on him again. It just doesn’t seem real, and I suppose it won’t until I come back from training in Cork. Now it just feels like I’m going on holiday and leaving him behind. In reality, his life is just about to become one big extended holiday!

Working with O.J has taught me so much about dogs, about independence, and about getting out there and making the most of everything. He gave me so much confidence, and I was always proud to bring him with me, especially to new places. I could completely trust him, even when he was easily distracted, and he made me laugh every day, even when he was being cheeky. I hope the blog posts I’ve written since we started working together have done him justice and described his personality.

I’m so grateful to Irish guide dogs for giving me such a great first dog. I couldn’t have asked for better. Our family has raised just over 20,000 euros since O.J came to our town. Hopefully that contributed towards other people having the same opportunities that O.J has given me.
I know that all guide dogs are amazing, and my future dogs will be too, but O.J will always be special because he was my first. There have been days particularly in the last few weeks when I wished I could work him forever.

All I can say now is Thanks O J. Thanks for being the best first dog I could have hoped for. Hope you have a long happy retirement, with lots of cuddles, runs on the beach and swims in the sea.
I can’t think of a dog who deserves it more.

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We Always Had Fun in Dublin!

In the last few years particularly, O.J has traveled to Dublin a lot, whether it’s on our way to Carlow, to visit friends, to go to a concert, or for work. He always seems to enjoy the change of scenery, and works enthusiastically when we are there. I never really took time to teach him particular routes there, but he remembers certain places, and is always happy to follow whoever we are with. We’ve been to Dublin twice within the last ten days, so I thought I’d write about both trips since they will be O.J’s last.

For my birthday in February, Nicky got tickets for the Barrytown Meets Musictown event in Vicar Street on April 12th. It was a musical and literary celebration of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy (The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van.) I love his work, and love all three books, and the musicians were some of my favourite Irish musicians too, so it was a perfect present.
Before we went to Vicar Street, we had a lovely afternoon and evening with Darragh, Emma and Meabh, and Nama the dog. Orrin isn’t well at the minute, so unfortunately Nicky had to share a dog, but we managed. Well just about! After a lovely lunch, Darragh and Emma walked us to our hotel to check in, and we had a funny encounter with somebody on the way, which made the two boys almost collapse with laughter. I’ll say no more, but Darragh hasn’t left me a blog comment in ages, so maybe he’d like to tell more!

O.J was as happy as I was to be back in Vicar Street, where the staff fussed over him as usual. I think he missed Orrin when he stayed in the store, but they checked on him and took him out to see me during the interval. Our seats where right in front of the stage which was brilliant. The sold-out gig had a nice atmosphere, and we were all kept entertained. There were some hilarious readings from Roddy Doyle’s books, as well as his own input. The music was great, but I particularly enjoyed Imelda May, Damien Dempsey, and Colm Mac Con Iomaire who opened the show. There was a tribute to Tony Fenton, as well as a nice mention for Christy from Aslan, who unfortunately couldn’t make the gig due to ill health. It was also lovely to hear Imelda May and Glen Hansard sing together. The gig will be broadcast (and probably heavily edited!) on RTE Radio 1 at 3 PM on May 4th if anyone’s interested in hearing how good it was.

I was back in Dublin last Monday for work. Our funders for the schools disability awareness and development programme run an annual conference, where we were asked to have a stand and talk to students about our workshops. This week is the end of a very busy school term, so my colleague and I enjoyed relaxing when we got to Dublin. We met up with a good friend from home who I hadn’t seen in a while, and she was glad to see O.J before he retires. The next day was a busy day in the Aviva Stadium. I’d never been there before. It’s an amazing building, and the staff were very friendly and helpful. We met lots of students, teachers and people doing great work. I was particularly inspired by how much confidence some of the students have. O.J attracted a lot of attention as usual, and brought many people over to our stand.
When the workshop was finished we had a quick cup of tea before getting the bus home. It was O.J’s last trip on McGinley coaches, who have always looked out for us on our many trips to the capital.

O.J has a few more last time things to do before the weekend. Tomorrow will be his last bus journey to work, his last school, and his last day in the office. Then we have three more days together before I go to Cork for training, and he goes to my parents house to play and sleep and do lots of fun things, just not with a harness on.

Will He Like Retirement?

I’ve been asked that question about O.J over and over again during the last few weeks. The answer is, I don’t think he’ll mind one bit!
It’s not that O.J is totally tired of working and ready to retire. He could still easily do another six months or more of good work. But recently he’s definitely become more distracted while working, sniffing a bit more than he usually does. And trust me, that’s a lot of sniffing!
Like many guide dogs, O.J has always made a huge distinction between work mode and play mode. He sniffs while working, but generally he’s very calm and quiet with his harness on. Take it off when we’re at home though, and he’s like a crazy puppy who just wants to play. All the obedience he ever learned while working was totally forgotten the other day, when he jumped up on my parents’ kitchen and tried to steel a slice of bread, with his harness on! He’s never ever done something that naughty while working. To my mother’s disgust, all I could do was laugh! Sometimes I’m convinced he knows he’s retiring, and just thinks, “I can do what I want now, who cares.”
Other times though, he does some amazing work, and we’ve made the most of it this week because the weather was so good. I’ve walked the legs off the poor dog!

The schools are off on their Easter break, so I only went into the office one day this week. O.J slept on his bed and snored like he was part of some snoring Olympics.
On Thursday I went to Derry to get a couple of things, but more importantly to take O.J to visit some places for the last time. We went to Cool Discs, which is obviously somewhere he’s spent a lot of time, and I bought some new music to keep me entertained in Cork. Then we went to the arts centre where I worked for over two years after I trained with O.J. This would have been one of the first routes he ever learned with me, and we hadn’t walked there in around five years. It’s pretty straightforward, but O.J was so excited and enthusiastic, I was very impressed. He chilled out in the cafe and enjoyed being in the recording studio again.

It’s strange walking him places and knowing that it’s probably for the last time. I found myself taking my time on our walks this week, not rushing him, and letting him dictate the pace at times when we weren’t in any hurry. On our way to meet some friends and their new babies for dinner yesterday evening, I purposely took a longer route. I know I’m very lucky that he still wants to work and that he’s still enthusiastic. I’m also lucky that my parents are keeping him, so I can see him as often as I like. He knows their house well and is completely happy (if a little mischievous) there. They know how well I’ve always looked after him, and that I wouldn’t give him to anybody to keep unless they can physically care for him in the same way that I did. He has never been a clingy dog, so as long as somebody is giving him attention, he’s happy. He will be living in a quiet area, two minutes walk from the beach. What more could a dog want?

So I think I can almost say for definite that O.J will really really like being retired.
He just has two more very busy weeks to get through before he can earn that freedom.