A Guide Dog ‘Retirement Plan’
What happens when a Guide Dog retires…?
Well, the answer isn’t always simple.
Sometimes, a retired Guide Dog will stay with his handler, spending what’s left of his life in the same home he’s lived in for the past eight or so years. He won’t wear the harness, of course, and he won’t be able to go wherever his handler goes. But he does get to stay in familiar surroundings and close to the one human he truly sees as his best friend. Surely, this would be the best outcome for any Guide Dog that’s just “hung up” their harness?
Think about it from the dog’s point of view. For the last eight years, he’s had very little time spent alone. In fact, he had almost become a part of his handler; an addition. They didn’t go anywhere without each other. He provided his handler with independence, safety, mobility and companionship (something that went both ways). If his handler then wants to continue enjoying the lifestyle that a Guide Dog has provided them, which they most likely will, they will want to apply for another.
From the client’s point of view, keeping their much loved companion would also seem to be the ideal situation. And for some, it is. They may decide that their recently retired Guide Dog was, in fact, their last. Perhaps they’re getting on themselves and aren’t in a position to take on another Guide Dog; a younger, motivated, enthusiastic dog that, in some cases at least, may outlive them. Retiring their current Guide Dog and getting to spend their last years together may be the perfect scenario.
But for some clients – due to various reasons such as the size of their house, work hours, cost of upkeep and number of pets in the home already – making the difficult decision to hand the dog over for adoption may be the best thing for both of them.
The retirement of a Guide Dog is something that can happen multiple times during a client’s life. But it’s not just like chucking out a well-loved, worn pair of shoes and replacing them with a new pair. A Guide Dog is a beautiful, loyal companion, and not something that is simply forgotten about. It’s never an easy time for the client and the dog, but it’s always inevitable.
And so while one journey ends, another begins.
Every scenario is different, and one Guide Dog’s retirement plan may look nothing like another’s. At Guide Dogs Tasmania, we take on the important job of locating the right loving family to care for the retired dog in its final years. What’s best for the client and the dog is always how the decision is made.
Recently, a big, black, bear-like Labrador called Major retired from his duties as a Guide Dog. He hung up his harness and was about to start a new life.
Due to his handler’s ill-health, Major couldn’t stay living in the place he had known as home. He came back to Guide Dogs Tasmania and was boarded with volunteers until his retirement plan was put in place.
Major had specific requirements. He was eight years old, and had never just been left alone at home like many pet dogs. He couldn’t be placed with any family that might leave him for more than two hours at a time. It’s not what he’d known, and he would become stressed if he were to be placed in this kind of environment. It wouldn’t be fair.
While there certainly isn’t a shortage of people wanting a pet Labrador, Major’s retirement plan had to be about what would be best for him, not just whoever was going to adopt him.
Each day, Major would come in to the Guide Dogs office and look up at the humans around him with his big dark eyes as though to say, ‘Have you found me a home yet? Do I belong to someone again?’
And finally, after much searching, he did.
Major is now living his new life. That’s not to say he doesn’t miss his old life, or his old handler, but it’s the best retirement plan for him.
Not every retired Guide Dog’s story is the same. But we do make sure that every Guide Dog, once they’ve “hung up the harness”, is living the best retirement possible.
They deserve it.
If you’re interested in being part of a Guide Dog ‘Retirement Plan’ and would like to be placed on the Adoption List for a retired Guide Dog, please fill out the Companion and Therapy Dog Application Form and post it back to us.