One of the pleasures in acquiring a new puppy or kitten is spending hours with your family deciding on a name for the critter. The kids want to go with ‘Bandit’ or ‘Princess’, but you’re leaning towards a loftier, more meaningful handle, like… ‘Mandela’ or ‘Climate Change’. If you live alone, you find yourself scouring the ‘Names For Baby’ book at the library. When people ask me what my Guide dog’s name is (and they do so incessantly) I sometimes give my standard fake answer, ‘Lucy’, particularly if we are captive on a bus when the likelihood of loud, repetitive calling out of ‘Opal’ is great. On occasion, I fess up and say, ‘Opal’, and some people comment on her “lovely name”. When I have a moment, I explain that I had no say in choosing it.
Guide dog training centres all have breeding programs. The larger schools, like ‘The Seeing Eye’ in Morristown have hundreds of their own dog ‘stock’ at any given time. Opal originally came from Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s program. She was raised in North Carolina before being sent to Canadian Guide Dogs For the Blind in Manotick, Ontario (a little like being traded to another ball team in the major leagues). Her pedigree information (like player stats) proceeded her, revealing that her mum (Dam) is named, ‘Regina’, and her dad (Sire) is ‘Buzz’. (Buzz has fathered hundreds, if not thousands of dogs and his sperm is shipped around the world, or so I am told) . Opal is in fact, Opal IV. The litter into which she was born at GEB, as in all cases, was assigned a letter of the alphabet. It was time for an ‘O’ litter. All the dogs in Opal’s litter were given names that started with the letter ‘O’ (She has a brother named, ‘Othello’). The naming process for guide dogs is not whimsical. Care is given to check records of active and retired dogs’ names before naming them. Sometimes a name is re-issued. I imagine it’s a bit of a challenge to name the ‘X’ litters… ‘Xena’, ‘Xaviar’ … then what? The sponsors and financial contributors of the schools and training centres sometimes influence the choices too. After all, if a generous company or individual donates a large amount of money to provide guide dogs to the blind, then why not? Not that I would want a dog, named…um, ‘Acme’.
I recall a conversation at the CGDB training centre in Manotick. A fellow trainee (whose own dog was a step-sister and kennel mate of Opal’s), said something about black opals (referring to the gem stone). I had never heard of such a thing but it stuck in my mind. In my Internet research, I discovered that New Zealand and Australia are lousy with them. In fact, I received a comment on this blog from an Australian jeweler bound for Canada who happened to Google a bunch of search terms that included, ‘opal, Halifax’ and ended up on my blog reading about Opal. I’m not rushing out to order a black opal-studded collar for Opal, but someday I may just buy myself a nice ring with a black opal set into it.