In these posts, I often talk about misperceptions, misinformation, and misguided notions about blindness or blindness related issues. Today’s topic is the life expectancy of a guide dog.
I got my first Seeing Eye ® dog, Mindy, in 1982. Since then, I’ve worked with 4 more. Dora is my fifth Seeing Eye. I’m always surprised when a person engaged in conversation about my guide dog is confused about why I’ve had so many. Why didn’t I just keep the first one, they want to know. My sarcastic self wants to say, “think about it. If my first guide dog was 2 when I got her in 1982, she would now be 35 YEARS OLD. Dogs do not live to be 35. I must admit that the people who are surprised by this fact are not dog people. Most people who have dogs as part of their family understand that dogs do not live as long as people do. In fact, one of the saddest truths about being a dog guide handler is that it’s pretty certain that you will outlive your dog.
My first Dog lived to be 11. She died as a result of surgery that should not have been performed on such an elderly dog. My second dog, Sherry, became gravely ill, at age 13, suddenly, and I had to put her down that night. My third dog, Pippen, is still living and thriving as a retired dog guide. When I get to this part of the story, the uninformed person wonders, “If she is still living, why isn’t she still working as a guide dog?” Pippen is now 13. That’s like saying, “So what if you’re 100 years old. Why aren’t you still working?” Dogs, like people, get old and tired. For those of you who knew Pippen, you’ll be glad to know that she is loving her retirement. She lives with a family out in the country, where she can sniff around in the woods and lie in the garden in the sun or curl up by the fire in the house. My 4th dog, Cisco, was with me only 6 months, and then he returned to The Seeing Eye to be matched with a person with different needs from mine. So that brings us to my darling Dora, who is now 2-1/2. I suspect we’ll be together for at least another 8 years. Depending on my health and stamina, she might be my last, but I can’t dwell on that right now.
When I went to The Seeing Eye for my first dog, when I was 37, and I met people who were getting their 5th or 6th dog, I thought, “Wow, they must really be old.” And now here I am. Where did those last 33 years go? BTW, Dora and I came home from The Seeing Eye 1 year ago today. Funny, we had exactly the same weather, freezing cold and piles of snow. She learned in Morristown, NJ, how to guide me in snow and ice, but now, she’s a real expert.
Each dog I’ve had provided me with individual and specific memories. Mindy was the most serious one. I had to teach her how to play in the backyard. She liked to collect shoes. She never tore them up, just hid them behind the chair in the living room. Sherry was my chewer. There’s a little spot in my carpet at the foot of the stairs, which I cover up with a throw rug. But each time the rug gets scooted over, I see that little hole that Sherry left for me. Pippen was my happiest girl. She is a cuddler, and she hated walking in the rain. If we would step outside the front door, and we discovered it was raining outside, she would turn around and face the front door, as if to say, “I’m not going. Take your own self for a walk.” Cisco was a magestic looking golden retriever, tall and lanky. Because of his size, you might think he would drag me down the street, but in fact, I had to drag him. His singular joy was to run figure 8’s in the back yard. And now Dora, my little charger, will keep me young forever, or for as long as we both shall live.