Tuesday, January 17, 2012

obstacles in retirement

This is my post for The Sixth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Because of back and shoulder problems, my four-year-old guide dog, a black lab Dee, is retired. We've had other obstacles in the past, but this is the one in my heart right now.
First, there are situational obstacles that do not allow me to keep her as a pet. I live in an apartment complex where no pets are allowed. the other major problem is lack of money. I am a grad student living on SSI and disability income. By the time I pay rent, electricity, and maybe the phone bill, I have enough money to pay for cabs or drivers and dog food for the new dog I will hopefully get some time this year. Even if I moved to somewhere pet friendly, it is not possible to pay for food, vet bills, toys, and grooming for two animals.
My next one was where did I want to place Dee. The guide dog school can placed retired dogs, but I would have no idea where she ended up, and I want updates for whoever has her. I had a few possibilities. One person who liked Dee would have given her a good home and attention, except there was no fenced in yard and Dee's off leash recall isn't as good as it should be. Another person was interested, but since she had a baby, she couldn't handle that and a new dog at the same time. Finally, I've been in contact with Dee's puppy raiser ever since I got her in 2009, and she gladly agreed to take her back.
Once she decided she wanted Dee, I had to figure out how to get her from Louisiana where I live to Oregon where she lives. GDB wanted to ship her as cargo, but I didn't like that. I was worried about her being under the plane in winter or that she would be lost in the airport transfers. I also want to say goodbye, and it feels like a better send off than putting her in a strange situation that might be scarey for her.
As I wrote before, I am on a fixed income, and plane travel is expensive. I talked to the guide dog school who will reimburse the price that it would have cost to fly Dee in cargo. I didn't have the money up front for the plane ticket. Fortunately,Dee's raiser paid for the ticket, GDB is sending her the check they would have sent to me, and I will give her the rest when I am able in a couple months.
Finally, there are emotional obstacles. I miss her guiding me; she was with me through everything: global issues conferences, interviews for journalism and research projects, my job working with blind children and  adults, blindness training in Minneapolis, graduation from college, and my move from Pennsylvania to grad school. She was always so confident with her head held high and her tail enthusiastically wagging, except when it rained. She was the reason why I gained confidence crossing busy city streets with my cane, so I could teach her that traffic wasn't scarey. She helped me balance when my hips were hurting and after I sprained my ankles. She kept me crossing in a straight line when I was dizzy from problems with anemia and hypoglysemia, so I wouldn't veer into oncoming traffic. I will miss her companionship, just lying on the floor and petting her or watching her excitedly play with the other dog and person who live with us.
Sometimes situations cannot be avoided or overcome. Even though it breaks my heart to put her in a new home, the dog who guided me through everything needs me to get past these final obstacles, so she can be free to enjoy her well-earned retirement  after her two years of service.


  1. I don't know what to say except that I grieve with you that you are not able to keep Dee as a pet. I so wish we lived in a world where people with disabilities did not have to make these kinds of choices, where you would get enough financial support to take care of your own basic needs and to keep the guide in retirement who has been your partner for the past two years. My heart is with you and Dee. Truly, this must be one of the most painful choices an assistance dog partner has to make.

  2. Sorry you couldn't keep her. I can't imagine how hard this is. I am dreading the thought of my guide dog O J retiring even though its hopefully a while away. My parents will keep him so i can see him when i want. I don't know what i would do if that couldn't happen