I made the call. Ive been putting it off for weeks. I knew it had to be made, but I didn’t want to do it. And when I did it, I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing myself saying. I’m calling to talk about returning for my fourth Seeing Eye ® dog.
How could I do that to Pippen? Here she sits at my feet, happy to be near me. She is snoring gently, and she sleeps much of the day. I have to face it. She is old, 10 1/2, which is old for a golden/lab cross. She certainly is not able to work like she used to. We no longer take two or three walks a day, walking at 3-1/2 to 4 miles per hour. No longer do we walk to the center of town for a coffee or lunch. Jogging together on the school track is a distant memory. She is content to limit her exercise to sniffing trips around the back yard and brief walks in and out of the assisted living where my mother lives or doctors offices. But am I content to hang up my independence and my active life style along with her old worn-out harness? No. I need to stay active for my own health. Sure, I can use my treadmill and my ski machine, but theres nothing as refreshing and beneficial as a good brisk walk outside. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I can walk to a destination to meet a friend for lunch or to get myself to a meeting at church. Thats why I chose using a guide dog over a white cane in the first place.
My first dog, Mindy, was 11 when she died, as a result of surgery she shouldn’t have had. My second dog, Sherry, was 13, when she collapsed in my office at the end of a work day, just before we were to go home. By 8:00 that night, I had made the decision to put her down, because she was very very sick, and I wasnt going to put her through surgery, like Mindy. During the time of each of their slow declines, I would take them for brief walks, and I turned to other forms of exercise. My cane travel technique is awkward at best, and I missed the independence I feel when I travel with a dog. So, here I am again, following the same pattern. Whenever I show up somewhere without Pippen, she is always missed, not just by me, but also by the person I am to see, whether its the doctor or the hair dresser. She is still able to walk to church, about a half mile, but she is motivated, because she loves her church friends. Some of them have snacks for her, which fuels her love affair with them. I look the other way, because after all, shes almost retired. When I get a new dog, well all have to push the reset button by following the rules.No feeding the new guide dog. No talking to the new guide dog. No petting the new guide dog.
I imagine that Pippen will be relieved to have the new dog take over the duty of guiding me. You take her, I’m tired.– but she’ll wish she could go with me, just not work for me. If I decide to keep Pippen as a pet, it will be hard work, dividing my affection between the two dogs, caring for an elderly dog, and keeping up the training for the new young dog. It will be expensive too, especially if Pippens health declines. The other option, that of asking someone to adopt her, is equally hard to imagine. How can I say goodbye to my little buddy? Will she pine for me? Will she be sad? I don’t want that either. Nobody said this part would be easy. Its part of the deal. Because the classes at the Seeing Eye are full until the end of the year, its not likely that I will have to face this dilemma for a few months, but it will come. It always does.