Friday, October 21, 2011

Finding Homes for Retired Guide Dogs

four black Labs with greying muzzles

by Steve Grunow, GDB Dog Placement Coordinator

Just as we humans retire at different ages and often have second careers, Guide Dogs are retired at a variety of ages, and they often take on significant new roles in their adoptive homes and new families.

Following are the stories of some retired guides that the Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) Dog Placement Program has matched up with carefully chosen adopters during the past year. The names of the dogs have been changed here to protect the privacy of their people --- though the dogs themselves probably don’t care a lot about privacy as long as good food, interesting toys, regular walks, and lots of attention and petting are being provided!

1. Carmela, a female black Labrador Retriever, was retired at 4 years of age because her vision-impaired GDB graduate was experiencing health issues that prevented her from continuing to use Carmela as a Guide Dog. After an evaluation at GDB, Carmela was matched with a local middle-aged woman and her adult daughter. Carmela now benefits from the dog- savvy which the daughter had learned previously by being a volunteer with a local dog rescue organization in San Francisco. Because Carmela loves other dogs (not all dogs do) this family was chosen for her, also, partly because the family already had a resident 10-year-old pet male Labrador retriever. One of Carmela’s new “jobs” is to play with the family’s senior Lab to help keep him feeling and acting younger.

2. Flora, a female yellow Labrador Retriever, was retired at 6 years of age when her GDB graduate passed away. An older local woman who has special needs was selected to be Flora’s new mistress due to the adopter’s long term commitment to GDB, her past experience of having successfully owned a previous “career change” dog from GDB until that dog’s natural death and because she planned to take Flora on visits to a nearby medical facility to bring smiles to the faces of patients there.

3. Amity is a female yellow Labrador Retriever who was retired at 2 years of age because Amity seemed unduly stressed by being out in the big world doing guidework. Amity had been raised with children and she is unusually calm and well behaved for her young age. So, Amity was paired with a family that includes two small children, a dad and a mom, in Los Angeles. The dad is a volunteer at a Southern California organization for blind people. Per an email from the adopters, “Amity is doing great and she is adapting very well to her new home and family. She is great with the kids (and with adults, too) and we are all very much enjoying her. … Thank you for matching her up with our family. We couldn’t be happier.”

4. Holly, a female yellow Labrador Retriever, was retired at 3 years old after about a year of guidework. Per Holly’s GDB retirement paperwork: “Holly… while capable of working at an exceptionally high level, has a persistent interest in other dogs that is high enough to end Holly’s career as a guide…” Ironically, Holly had also been described as “a little intolerant with other dogs” when she was running with a group of other dogs in community run at GDB (ironic, since she was so interested in other dogs while she was working and was supposed to be ignoring them). During her stint as a Guide Dog, Holly had also developed expert skills in “counter surfing” (snagging forbidden food off counters). Again, per Holly’s retirement paperwork, “Preventive measures (keeping the counters clear) have improved the situation somewhat, but in new situations Holly will still look for the opportunity.” Because of Holly’s tendency to steal food, and her discomfort with some other dogs, Holly was placed with a middle aged woman who currently had no other dogs in her home in California’s Central Valley, but she had previously happily coped with a less-than-angelic GDB “career change” dog which she had cared for until that dog’s natural demise. So she had already learned coping skills and tolerance for living with a less-than-perfect canine. The adopter’s adult son and his two children live nearby and they spend a lot of time with Holly and her new caretaker. Per an email from Holly’s new person, “Even though I haven’t had her long, I already love Holly and I am so glad to have her with me. She is very sweet and loving and quickly became popular with the whole family… Thank you so much for placing her with me.” (No mention of whether Holly has yet had an opportunity to display her counter surfing talents to her new folks...)

5. Huntly, a male black Labrador Retriever, was retired as a 2 year old after a brief guidework career due to his being too highly distractible and too active for optimal guidework. Because Huntly had been raised with a child, and has a high energy level, he put into an active family in Santa Barbara, California, where his current “duties” involve “doing a lot of hiking and cuddling with the kids” per the adopters.

6. Mikette, a female yellow Labrador Retriever, guided a GDB graduate briefly, then was retired as a 2 year old because, though she was well trained, her high energy level proved to be incompatible with optimal guidework. (While Mikette was at GDB awaiting adoptive placement, a GDB employee quipped that while she was fully trained as a working Guide Dog, “Mikette didn’t seem to be able to completely envision herself being in that role!”) Coincidentally, around the time of Mikette’s retirement, a middle-aged blind lady who lives alone in Southern California was sadly anticipating that her own elderly long-term companion, a (non-GDB) female black Lab, was not going to be around much longer, and the lady applied for a companion (not a working guide) from GDB. Since Mikette had actually been a Guide Dog, albeit only for a short time, her training and experience made her a good candidate to be a canine friend for this vision-impaired woman. A brief month after this applicant had adopted Mikette in April, she emailed to GDB: “I could not have received Mikette at a better time, as on May 31 I had to have my old dog put to sleep.”

Our thanks to the many people who help our retired Guide Dog heroes enjoy their remaining years.

Do you have stories to tell about your older dog? You can show your love for your dog and support for GDB by making a tribute or memorial gift in his or her name.

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