Lester with the boys

Lester with the boys

courtesy of Meka White, Lighthouse Contact Center Representative

They always say that there is that moment when you know that it’s time to retire a guide dog. There is just that one last thing that happens where it all becomes crystal clear. I was so worried that I wouldn’t recognize it. My first dog got very sick very fast, and I had to retire him right away. The decision, while difficult, was very decisive and quick. My second dog did not work out, and I had my one last straw moment and was able to recognize it quickly. It was hard, but it was the right thing to do. With Lester, I was concerned, though, that I wouldn’t have that moment of clarity. How do you decide when enough is enough with a dog who is generally a very good worker, always happy with tail wagging, and forging ahead. How do you know if it’s time or if it’s just that they are having an off day? How do you sift through what is your perception and what is actually your reality?

I needn’t have worried. Standing on the sidewalk just after another extremely nervous bus commute for my dog where he shook the entire ride and couldn’t settle down, as he was yucking it up on the grass with cars and buses passing by behind me, I knew. It just clicked in my head and I didn’t want to put him or me through this anymore. It didn’t matter that right after he got sick, his tail started wagging and he guided me home like the champion that he is as though nothing happened at all.

When I got home, I took off his harness and leash, sat down with him, and gave him pets as I talked to him and said, “Okay, Lester. I get it. You’re done, but you won’t ever tell me that you don’t want to do this gig anymore. So I will step in and make the decision that you won’t.”

I texted the instructor from my school and he was so understanding. He called me, listened to me cry my way through my decision, offered support, and didn’t try to convince me to stay the course or second guess my decision. Then I called the person who I hoped would take Lester as their pet. God bless her, because I pretty much sobbed my way through that conversation and subsequent doggie pickup!

I’ve gone back to using the cane and hate every moment of it. I can use it, but I certainly don’t like to do so. I have started the process of applying for another dog. I thought that I’d worked through the majority of emotions concerning retirement, particularly the, “what happened to your dog?” questions, and having to educate people that retiring a dog doesn’t mean that you put them to sleep.

I do want another dog. I want to bond with them, be a rock star team, and deal with all of the joys and challenges that come from such a partnership. Sometimes, working with a dog is navigating all of the obstacles in your way, crossing those busy intersections, and working hard. Sometimes it’s standing there in a bubble of mortification as he has an accident in the Costco aisle. The good times and bad, y’all! The good times and bad.

At the moment, though, all I can think is that the process starts all over again and I just don’t want to start over. Lester and I were a solid team. Solid is not the same as perfect, in which I’m fairly convinced there is no such thing. We went through the bonding period. We went through me buying him a nice dog bed only for him to not want to use it until another guide dog came over and dared to lie on it; six months later, Lester shredded the bed so that he could eat the cedar chips inside. I’ve already been through the stage of guide dog training where I had some freak out moments that Lester was exhibiting a few signs the dog who did not work out had shown. we worked through that, and mostly it was just me needing to trust in the partnership. I’ve already gone through the building of trust, working through the bond, dealing with a dog who went through a super power chew stage, and I just don’t want to do so again. Lester and I had that trust and bond and worked well together. He also grew out of most of that puppy stage in our six years together. Except for the stage of trying to lick you to death, but that’s normal. He worked hard, is a top-knotch snuggler, and I knew his quirks.

Starting this process again is daunting but it’s also something that I want to do. I want those challenges and triumphs. I want the snuggles and the work. I can happily pass on the let it go sick moments in a busy store, but sometimes, it just goes with the territory.

As for Lester? He’s living the high life with awesome owners who have three little boys. I get pictures of said boys sprawling atop him, and recently, a very sweet video of the boys talking about why they love him. He has land to run around on, and I hear that he likes the chickens! His birthday is coming up, and I am about 99 percent reasonably certain that I won’t cry when I get to go to his birthday celebration. I am aware that all of these feelings will pass, and I’ll get back in to excited mode soon about the next dog, but this is the other side of it that sometimes people don’t realize.