Yesterday I told you about my first experience at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Of course, what I wrote does not even come close to what I experienced or went through, but it gives you a bit of an idea of what it was like working with my first guide dog, Jetta.
I left off telling you that in 2008 Jetta started showing signs of not enjoying her work anymore. She would walk very slowly leaving our house when in harness, but zoom on the way back. She did not do this when only going out for a walk out of harness. There was also one incident where she made a movement like she had to "park" (AKA do her business), so I took the harness off and let her leash out to give her some room and she just sat down in the grass. She was also making small mistakes that she had never made before. When crossing a street, instead of stepping up on the opposite curb, she would take me to the grassy edge and try to walk on that. She also just did not seem happy. Outings were stressful for her and competitions and training camps seemed to torture her. Jetta used to be ready to go and greet the world, take on anything that came her way, but in those last few months, her zest for adventure had sort of died out.
I can't say I blame her. She flew all over the place with me and experienced things that most people do not have the opportunity to. It wasn't that we were unsafe traveling together, but I knew she needed to retire. Asking her to continue on when she just didn't want to would not have been fair. A lot of people have asked me how I knew. It's not something I can explain, but when you spend 24/7 with a being, human or not, you start to understand them in such a way that is not easily put into words. Jetta made it easy for me to make the decision to retire her. She always worked because she loved it, not because I wanted/needed her to. I think the last few months she did it because I needed her, but up until then, Jetta did what Jetta wanted; and for six years she wanted to work.
In August of 2008 my parents came to get her and she went back to my home town with them. I was glad they had agreed to take her because that meant I knew where she was, how she was and I could get frequent updates. Originally, I had thought to keep her as a pet, but a few things stopped me. First, I was moving to a new area and starting a new college, I didn't know I would have enough time to give both Jetta and my new guide the attention they would need. Also, just because she retired herself, I wasn't comfortable putting a harness on another dog and leaving her home alone for eight hours. She wouldn't understand. At least at my parents' house, if they left, she would be home with another dog and my parents wouldn't be leaving the house with their new set of eyes. She also refused to walk on the right hand side. The majority of guide dogs are trained to work on the handler's left. This is because the majority of the population is right handed and need that hand free to open doors, carry bags Etc. A handler can request to have a dog specially trained on the right if they need. The problem with her refusal to switch sides was an issue because my new guide would have to walk on the left, thus, I would not be able to take them for walks. So, off to Grandma and Grandpa's Jetta went.
I didn't really have a strong emotional reaction. I think it's because it was something I had been preparing for. I remember being at a three week training camp, the last Jetta would ever attend with me, and I was reading Marley and Me. I cried then. I hugged her and snuggled on the bed with her, but deep down I knew the decision I was making was the best for both of us. When I went to Leader Dogs for the Blind just over a month later, I cried then. We had been there for a night I believe and I sat on my bed and thought about Jetta and our experiences together and I cried. But, it was tears of gratitude and love, not of pain. She was happy and so I was happy. I missed her and still do, but I knew my parents were giving her what I was not equipped to give her at the time. Plus, I had to get myself together to welcome my new partner in crime into my life. If I didn't go into our meeting with an open mind, our working relationship could be quickly doomed. I wasn't sure how it was possible to have such a close bond with one dog and have to form one with another. If I had any doubts, they were erased when Glacier came bounding into my room. And when I say "bounding" I quite literally mean "bounding."
My love for Jetta has never gone away or diminished. We just have a different relationship now. I don't have to be the enforcer. I am not in control of her any longer and that is kind of nice. Sure, she still has to be a respectful house dweller, but I can give her a small piece of cheese or a carrot once in a while, which I never did when she was working for me. I don't have to make her go out in the rain and I get to take her to the dog park and let her be a complete nut. It's also nice to see how she has bonded with my parents. She's loved and we both know it. That is what makes retiring and rehoming her doable.
So, where does this bring us now?
To Meeting the big guy who has also changed my life forever.
Again, I just want to make everyone aware of how important these dogs are. There are many guide and service dog schools all around Canada and the United States. If you have some extra time, find out if they need volunteers. Some people can go in on the weekends and walk/groom dogs in the kennels who are in their advanced training. If you have the time and sense of adventure for a larger commitment, look at their puppy raising programs. I said it yesterday and I'll say it again, without puppy raisers there are not any guide dogs and without guide dogs, a lot of blind people would not have the opportunity to be independent and travel with confidence. Of course, I will tell you to go to
Leader Dogs for the Blind's
website as that is where both of my dogs were from. I know that they are really in need of puppy raisers right now. And if you can't do it, spread the words to your friends and family. The act of kindness that is done when a puppy is raised is something that can never be repaid.