Retiring a Guide Dog

“What will you do when Pippen retires?” The question people often ask is not about what I’ll do, but what will happen to Pippen, my Seeing Eye ® dog.

Pippen is 10-1/2 years old, and she’s still functioning as my guide. Many guide dogs retire at a much earlier age, but Pippen has had a pretty stress-free life. We don’t encounter heavy traffic very often, crowded hallways, or complicated routes to work or school. Most of her life, all she has been required to do is guide me into and out of buildings and on long walks around my neighborhood. We live in a quiet suburb, where there are blocks and blocks of sidewalks, and where there is very little traffic. These days, I don’t ask Pippen to take long walks, because she just isn’t up to it, but she still does a fine job of taking me to my mother’s apartment in an assisted living home, to my church, which is about a half mile away, and in and out of doctors’ offices.

Pippen and I have been a team for about 8 years. In the early days, we’d get up at 5:30in the morning and take a quick brisk walk around the neighborhood, before getting on the bus that would take us to my office. We’d take a walk at lunchtime and another good long walk in the evening. But in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that Pippen hasn’t been very peppy on our walks, and she certainly would rather sleep in than jump up and go dashing around the neighborhood. Tell you the truth, so would I. I still take her for walks around the block, because it’s important for her health. I now get my exercise in other ways, such as swimming and working out on my treadmill and jogging trampoline. This is what I call phase one of her retirement.

Eventually, I will have to return to The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ to get a replacement guide dog. I have several options, that is, if Pippen is still living a comfortable life. I can keep her as a pet. However, when I bring a new dog into our household, and the new dog is the one who gets to go with me whenever I leave the house, and Pippen has to stay home, it could be very sad for her and result in doggy depression. I could ask a friend to adopt her, but it might be difficult to find someone who is willing to adopt an elderly and possibly ailing dog. I could return her to the Seeing Eye, where there is a waiting list of people who would love to adopt a retired Seeing Eye ® dog, but that would absolutely break my heart, and maybe hers too. The truth is, I really don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll just have to see what my life situation is at the time when I really need to make that decision. It’s tough, really tough, but we know going into this kind of relationship that that’s part of the deal. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier though. My first two dogs died near the end of their retirement, so the decision was made for me in each case. One lived to be 11, and the other to 13. Both times, I had made a vow to them that I would wait until they were gone before I replaced them. That’s just me. Ask another blind person who uses a dog guide, and you may get a completely different answer. We are all individuals, and there is no uniform way of dealing with this emotion-filled time.

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