A Guide Dog Retires

Opal has been my Guide dog for two years. It has suddenly hit me that we are 1/4 through her working life. This realization both shocks and frightens me. It seems like “we’ve only just begun”.. as the Carpenters crooned long ago. The frightening part is that I can not imagine my life without her, or with a different  Guide. I’m sure I will wrap my head around this reality one day.  A friend who lives in my apartment building, also has a guide dog. Actually he has an authentic Seeing Eye dog. I have explained the difference between a Guide dog and a Seeing eye dog in a past blog.  Next week, he retires his dog, Russo,  and he will leave for Morristown, New Jersey to train with another guide dog. He summed up his emotions very well in an e-mail to me…. “I am very happy, and I am very sad”. Russo is now 10 years old. This is the typical age when guide dogs retire.  Some dogs work longer. Others retire early due to health reasons, or other factors (change in handlers circumstances or for whatever reason, the dog no longer works efficiently). Many people ask me, “what happens to guide dogs when they retire?”  The answer?   It depends. The Guide dog schools have various policies for retiring dogs. Sometimes, the dog is allowed to remain with the handler as a pet. This does not happen too often. If the blind person goes to re-train with another guide dog, there would be two dogs in the household. One working, one pet. The pet (retired dog) must still be fed, exercised, played with, groomed and provided with veterinary care. That dog no longer has ‘service dog’ status. No more vet discounts, no more provisions under the access laws if living in a no-pets allowed building. It would be impossible to have a retired dog AND an active guide dog, without a sighted person in residence.  The Guide dog’s harness is returned to or collected by the Guide dog school. It would be impossible for the lone Blind person to ‘walk’ the retired dog (without a harness) multiple times per day, AND to provide both dogs with adequate attention.  Such a situation, would be unfair to both dogs.  Imagine too, when ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ come home with the ‘new’ guide dog,  the difficult transition for the retired dog as it observes a strange dog taking over the guiding job. Most often, the retiring guide dog goes to another home. Sometimes, the dog will go to live with a family member. Other times, the original puppy raiser is given the opportunity to take the dog if their situation is suitable.  Very often, a friend of the handler who lives in the retired dog’s area, will be approved by the Guide dog school to take the dog. If the dog is ‘locally’ retired, then the ex-handler might have the opportunity to visit. I don’t know if that is a good idea or not, given the potential emotional difficulties involved for the dog (and handler). Russo, is going to a rural town one-hour’s drive away to live with his handler’s friend.  They have been visiting, and attempting to familiarize Russo with the new home and location.  I think a solo weekend visit for Russo was undertaken recently. To tell you the truth, I don’t particularly like Russo’s handler much, but I feel for him this week. His church is planning a final ‘goodbye’ service for the dog that has been attending for eight years. When I heard this, I felt a lump form in my throat. The day after the next church service, Russo will travel to his new home without his handler. Opal will no longer be smelling “the big boy” on Sunday afternoons (after Russo has run around off leash in Opal’s relief area, as he has every Sunday since we have lived here). The following day, ‘A’ will leave for Morristown and train with a new Seeing Eye dog.  He will return several weeks later with ‘dog’ (specific information about the dog is not given to the client until they arrive).  I think I will go say goodbye to Russo and wish ‘A’ good luck.


15 responses to “A Guide Dog Retires

  1. Hi–I run a community news Web site in Morristown, NJ. Do you think your friend might consider blogging for us about his guide dog training at the Seeing Eye?

  2. Hi Kevin, I will pass on the request, though I can tell you that guide dog training is an incredibly stressful and tiring time. Perhaps he would consider writing something up when he returns home and has a chance to settle with his new guide dog. That can be a difficult period too, depending on how easily handler and dog adapt to working together on home turf. It’s a time when the new dog ‘tests’ the handler. I promise to pass your request on to him.

  3. Awww it’s great to know what retiring a guide is like from your guys’ perspective. I can’t imagine having to make the choice to let your guide be finished!!! I might link to this article for the puppy raisers on my blog, if that’s ok. It’s one of those things that we raisers love to hear about….

  4. I should clarify that some guide dog schools retain ownership of the dog throughout its working life. An agreement (with some obligations…2 yearly check-ups, heart worm testing, vaccinations, worming and heart worm prevention…) is signed and a token ‘payment’ (example, $1.00) for the dog is made. The expenses for other costs are primarily bourn by the handler. The positive aspect of this, is that the dogs are well protected until they retire and the school must approve the home where the dog retires to. I believe that other schools, like The Seeing Eye pass ownership onto the handler for a marginal fee ($50.00?) Some prefer the philosophy behind ownership. I do not know what contractual obligation for care that SE stipulates. And yes, please feel free to link this to your blog, Anna. Thanks.

  5. That’s one thing I talk about in groups. When that time comes for retiring, whether it be due to health issues or when they just decide that they want to not work any more. Even though I trained all my own dogs and had one retire when she was 14 years young. The process of getting a new dog was hard when they both had to not have any jealousy! Yes I kept both my dogs though using my retired dog as a helper in the teachings. But that makes looking for the right animal a longer process.

    Though I know that some schools have home school working straight out of your home so they work with making sure that the retired dog and the newbie will be fine with each other. But you have to have gone to the school at least once before they have the home school. However the bigger issue besides the dogs maybe jealous of each other would be the financial burden especially if one has a health condition.

    As for being hard walking the retired dog on the leash, some schools now teaches leash training. Reason for this is because many students live in an apartment complex and for going out to relieve the dogs putting on the harness only to take it off then on again to come in actually defeats the purpose of relieving only. So some schools are starting to teach this technique. Not to mention that a couple of people told me that their harness broke (not a usual thing but it does happen), when they were out and about downtown. It was extremely hard for them to come back home because they weren’t use to working with leash training. They made it but it was scary!

    It is amazing though how our dogs adapt much better then we do. My first dog had health issues (seizures) so he had a change in career. I had to tell him he was staying home many of times. Being he didn’t feel sick and mostly healthy except for the disorder he figured he could still work. What I had to do is take him on short safe walks with his harness and he was fine or had him open / close doors for me. Just as long as he did something once or twice a day he was fine. And he also help with teaching the other pup what and how to do by show and tell. lol. Then we slowly cut most of it out at his pace.

  6. Thanks, I relieve my guide dog on leash when from home, even though we live in an apartment building. Opal does a fine job of getting us out without a harness. Gosh! if I had to saddle her up every time…I’m interested in your self-taught dogs. Where do you get a harness from? Is your dog registered as a guide? I ask because, without proper ID the access problem (especially air travel) would be major.

  7. My needs have changed throughout the years in which the standard type harness isn’t suitable for me now with limited hand movements. But these are the places that I recommend for getting the standard leather style
    This is another place in which they do nylon as well as what is called a bridge style bar (optional on bars):
    http://www.things4yourdog.com/product/7075547 (this one has a bridge still bar with is optional).
    http://www.petjoyonline.com/Service_Dog_Therapy_Dog_Equipment_s/207.htm (ID Tags if one wants). Though good idea to have a photo ID in case in an accident and gotten separated.

    To answer your registering question. No I do not have my dogs registered! Though I do have an ID but not used for gaining access! First of off one does not Need such Certification Documentations nor ID to have equal access to public accommodations. Even though many schools will say one does that’s not the facts!

    When the ADA was written into law, Justin Dart (advocate as well as a person with a disability), foreseen the future and made sure that the rules and regulations wouldn’t be restricted to only a few. Foreseen that one day there would be a need for a Psychiatric Service Dogs, Parkinson Animals, Medical Alert Animals, etc.) that were not even thought about back then in 1989!

    Therefore the Dept. of Justice recognizes this in which they stated (IE 1996 and continued in Business Brief 2000 ~ ADA). No Business is allowed to Require either an ID or Certification for the person with a disability access! One reason is as they stated not everybody would remember such documentations in order to gain equal access.
    They are though allowed to ask certain questions which are: Are you a person with a disability? Is this a Trained Service Dog for your needs? What tasks does your Service Animal Do for you? They of course cannot ask what your disability is even though it’s a catch 22 by asking what your animal is trained to do. I have only had two business within 25 years that caused me issues with access problems however it was taken care of by me contacting their corp. and both times the person was fired! All without Certification nor ID!

    Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) (IE updated 2003) included Emotional Support Animals (ESA) as service animals. There are two previsions: 1. Section 382.55(a)(1-2). Carriers shall accept as evidence that an animal is a service animal by a credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal…

    2. With respect to an animal used for emotional support (which need not have specific training for that function), airline personnel may require current documentation (i.e., not more than one year old) on letterhead from a mental health professional stating (1) that the passenger has a mental health-related disability; (2) that having the animal accompany the passenger is necessary to the passenger’s mental health or treatment or to assist the passenger (with his or her disability)….(Appendix VI)

    Second of off those certification papers only proves that the dog at that date in time had the right temperament and training to be a service animal! It does not guarantee that the dog will have the same right temperament when out in a public place or will get the continuous training (proofing) to grow. That is why there is a clause that protects the business as well if an service animal is unruly. However many people with their service animals don’t look at that! Third off is that there is no such qualified state, school nor federal government that could evaluate our service dogs properly. Not only that there is no provision for service animals. Just look at many state laws excluding service animals. (eg mini horses, cats, monkeys, etc.). Giving more restrictions though the ADA overrides the lesser laws or restricter laws.

    Now as for my dogs teachings, wow there is a lot into their teachings. What basically do you want to know? Also You are most welcome to join my forum (http://www.animalsspeak.org/portal.php). We have a Guide / Service Animal Chat board there.

  8. Ooops I just realize you did sign up after sending. Sorry about that. LOL. See you there sometime.

  9. Very nice! Fascinating. I think that the ADA provides greater protection of your rights, than what other countries provide, given what you have outlined. I agree that emotional support dogs and other non-traditional service animals should receive equal access status. I have a friend with a special skills dog. The dog is trained to provide assistance for my friend’s condition. She experiences ‘panic attacks’….sorry I don’t have the clinical word for the diagnoses, but they are severe and debilitating. This dog has changed her life. Her illness has ameliorated significantly since she has experienced the dog’s tactical support in critical episodes. (the dog is trained to stay by her if she collapses, and to lead her to safety at the earliest opportunity) Over time, just knowing that he is ‘watching her back’, has opened up her world. She is willing to stretch her boundaries where she never would have before. I think that society sadly undervalues the significance of such a service animal. She has had major problems with renting apartments and has also faced probing questions about the nature of his work. I will be in the forum at my earliest opportunity!

  10. Many countries looks at our ADA as it is much better then most countries! I was told by a friend living in Germany if a place of business refuses your guide in a store then you must either keep him/her in a vehicle or tied outdoors while you shop. You have no rights to fight for your guide to be helping you in doors.

    In the UK you have to carry your guide up escalators they were not allowed to hop on and ride it! This to me is more dangerous then teaching guides / service dogs to ride them properly.

    Sounds like your friend has a psychiatric service dog (for panic attacks), which basically is a sub catagory of a Medical Alert / Respond Animal. One of the tasks there is staying (protecting as it were) by her side when she collapse this is the same type of teachings as seizure alert animals will do. So in all due purpose her service dog is a Medical Alert / Respond Dog. As her dog is trained to respond to her needs when she needs and may or may not alert to an attack 30 minutes before hand.

    Actually the FHA has been updated 2007, three sections that covers Service Animals! It’s on the site you could have your friend check it out! If she would like to join that’s great too or anybody else you know of! It’s under Disability Rights & Responsibilities (Fair Housing Act (FHA) Update~08-01-14) There it explains all three sections. This may help your friend out. Still working on all the links as FHA doesn’t just have it in one easy access spot.

    Anyway by showing the landlord the laws in black and white they seem to then say hmmm and back off. If not then she should or have somebody on her behave call the HUD in her local area. I know this could be hard for people that has panic attacks! So hopefully she has somebody that could help her on her behave.

    I had an issue with one landlord. They had a new one come in and of course they try to be a real smarty pants. After being there for awhile she then started to try to tell me I would now have to pay for my dog. I told her Nope you need to know the FHA if you are going to be in this business. She then tried to put me and another owner trained team up against each other. We really didn’t know each other as I was on one end her on the other. But she claimed that this other person is now paying for her dog. I said well you do know that all the moneys you collected under the FHA you will have to pay it back and may indeed with interest if not in a reasonable time. She also did another thing wrong and asked her , her medical issue. (which was seizures) however she gotten this off of another tentant but tried using that with me. I have to laugh when they try things and it back firers on them.

  11. Hi, my friend lives here in Nova Scotia. I think her dog is covered by the same type of access law that protects me (under the blind Persons Rights Act). In Canada, we have the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which has broad protection for the disabled. Each province has its own Human Rights Commission which will tackle an issue depending on jurisdiction. Example: Telecommunications is a federal concern, as is transportation. (for accessible phone bills, you contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and for accessible utility bills–power–you go to the provincial HRC. Tenancy here is provincial within the Nova Scotia Tenancy Board mandate. So, problems with landlords (as my friend experienced) are dealt with there. Though, the tenancy act is vague and protects the landlord, unless the tenant has five years tenure. My friend is the first in Canada to have a dog trained for her condition….not emotional support or seizure alert dog…so this dog was a bit of an experiment. I will ask her to look at the forum. Thanks.

  12. I should have first asked if your friend lived in the United States or someplace else. As the rules and regulations wouldn’t apply there in Nova Scotia. I did live in Canada for a couple of years in the mid 80’s though I know the laws have changed since then. I would love to get more information on Canada’s laws that concerns assistance animals. That’s about all I found that the terminology was still the same “assistance animals”. lol. If you have such information I set up a board for that we could share to others. (must have the URL resource with it). Was doing some research and boy they do not make live easy. Finding where it would be and it’s not all in one place is like finding a needle in the hay sack. (eg equality is only one or two wordings). They mention only guides there but that maybe how they word things like one state law they say guides which means all service dogs. Strange but true! Sigh! Making the interpretation harder.

    It’s been a while since I had been up there so forgive me for not remembering but if Human Rights Commission doesn’t help her she should call the politician/solicitor (can’t remember what their real title is). I remember talking to one when I was there about my first dog not that I had issues. Nobody from landlord to restaurants employees ever gave me an issue. But I guess it depends where you are located at. Hope things works out for her.

  13. Yes, my friend lives here in Nova Scotia. I plan to write a blog on the access laws in Canada….as always, it depends where you live, and what the issue is. Some things fall under Federal law, some under provincial law. We have MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly-{province} and MP’s (Members of Parliament- {Federal}.

  14. Great article. I know there must be a special bond with a guide dog and his owner.

  15. ‘Special’ is hardly the word for it. There are no adequate words to describe my relationship with Opal…unless of course she has just mangled another pair of my panties! then, she becomes canine non-gratis.

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