Friday, October 14, 2011

Human “Angels” Who Adopt Senior Retired Dogs

yellow Lab next to dog adopter

by Steve Grunow, GDB Dog Placement Coordinator

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) really appreciates ALL of the people who adopt the “career change” dogs and retired Guide Dogs. There is a special place in the hearts of all the staff in the Dog Placement Program for those individuals and families who choose to provide homes for the elderly retired guides.

GDB’s dogs tend to live about 10 to 14 years. Senior dogs often have age-related veterinary issues and need to be given medications. Some canine oldsters have trouble climbing stairs. They usually physically cannot jog, hike, go bicycling or play games of fetch with their people --- abilities which many potential adopters require in the dogs that they want to adopt. Some geriatric dogs are not the specimens of doggy attractiveness that they were in their youths. Probably most significantly, adopting a dog “of a certain age” means knowing and accepting that the pooch has only a limited portion of its lifespan left, despite the bond that will be developed, and that there is bound to be some grief in the end.

Fortunately for GDB and its lucky elder former guides, there are some brave and “saintly” adopters who are content to see the dog-adoption glass as being half FULL with their furry "AARP members". The dogs are usually much calmer, easier to control, don’t require as much exercise and are better behaved than most young dogs.

Following are some stories of older retired Guide Dogs the GDB Dog Placement Program has matched with very accommodating and cherished adopters over the past year. The dogs’ names have been changed here to ensure privacy for the people involved.

1. Allure, a female German Shepherd, one of the last few of GDB’s guides of that breed, was retired at 10 years old due to having a mast cell tumor (which had been successfully removed, but could recur). Allure also had a torn cruciate ligament, which was not causing serious problems, but was incompatible with Allure’s continuing to work as a guide. After some veterinary care at GDB, including extensive physical therapy, it seemed best for all involved that Allure would go to Arizona to grace the home of a middle-aged couple, whose past experience with raising German Shepherd puppies for GDB had given them important insights into caring optimally for this sometimes- sensitive breed. Allure now attends the meetings of the current GDB puppy raisers and their pups in her county, and she demonstrates good behavior for those young "whippersnappers" there that are currently being educated as future working dogs for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

2. Ginny, a female Golden Retriever, was retired at 10 years old due to normal age-related slowing of her pace. She also has some eye abnormalities that need to be monitored, so she was lucky to be adopted by --- a veterinary ophthalmologist (eye doctor)! The adopter wrote,”… as long as Ginny doesn’t mind my cats and other dogs, she can have a forever home with me.” Great for Ginny herself, and great for Ginny’s eyes!

3. Orion, a male yellow Labrador/Golden crossbred, was retired at 10 years of age when his GDB graduate passed away. Orion’s adoptive family in California’s Central Valley consists of a middle-aged mom and dad, two adult daughters (one of whom has a serious medical condition and Orion can be a comfort to her), two very old other dogs, horses, and a cat. The adopters had gained a lot of dog savvy by raising a puppy for GDB a number of years ago. Their prior dog knowledge is a help in caring for Orion. They have reported that Orion is doing well, and that they are really enjoying providing Orion with a “ vacation retirement home” to reward him for his prior eight- years of service as a working Guide Dog.

black Lab with pink tongue

4. Lindy, a female black Labrador Retriever was retired at 10 years old and with a tumor in her leg. After successful surgery through GDB, Lindy was offered to an elderly woman with limited mobility who has generously previously taken in a number of previous GDB dogs, both young and old, with special needs. She and her family have lots of knowledge about dogs and experience with dealing with lots of canine medical and behavioral issues. Lindy is doing fine, has received radiation therapy to hopefully prevent the regrowth of her tumor ---and she is coping gracefully with having gone from being a “princess” of a former only- dog in her former GDB graduate’s home to sharing her new human “mom” with a pack of several other dogs in this home.

5. Carrot, a female yellow Labrador, has had a unique and multi-faceted life! She was retired from guidework as a 4-year-old because her GDB graduate’s wife had passed away and the man was no longer using a Carrot as a guide. Carrot then was still quite young for a retiree. So after an evaluation at GDB, Carrot entered training with a hearing dog program (hearing dogs are trained --- with food treats --- to alert their deaf human partners to sound). Carrot aced hearing dog training (most Labradors are overjoyed with any activity involving food treats). She then had a successful eight-year career as a hearing dog with a woman in Colorado. By Colorado law, a hearing dog can go just about everywhere with its human, just as a working guide dog can. Then Carrot’s hearing dog partner very sadly had to return Carrot to GDB because the woman’s deteriorating health prevented her from continuing to care for the dog. Carrot has now become the constant companion of an older man and woman who were selected for Carrot because they had previously successfully owned two other older retired Guide Dogs until those dogs’ natural deaths --- and they had then signed up again to take in yet another oldster. The new family has acreage in both California and Texas. Per a GDB employee who knows the adopters, “They are all getting along famously. Carrot follows them everywhere and they adore her. They are inseparable!” So Carrot’s life experiences have ranged from Guide Dog to hearing dog to ranch dog and remarkably tuned-in companion --- quite a canine resume!

6. Dane, a male yellow Labrador/Golden crossbred, was retired at 11 years old due to normal geriatric conditions. While he was at GDB awaiting placement, he was often referred to as “the old gentleman”. He was offered to a middle-aged couple who have purposely chosen to repeatedly take on older retired guides as their way to actively help support the work of Guide Dogs for the Blind. There is another former Guide Dog currently in their home, and these adopters have also previously taken in several other senior retired guides and cared for them until those dogs’ natural deaths.

There are not many adopters who will take on an aging dog that may be relatively close to its demise, happily care for, and love that dog until it passes on --- then do that again, and again, and again! For a few hardy and unusual souls, often senior citizens themselves, welcoming these animals into their homes seems to be more about what they can offer the dogs than about what the dogs can do for the people --- and these “human angels” seem to be OK with that. GDB really thanks those people who thrive on provide comfy retirement homes for GDB’s "geezers" and "geezerettes".

Understandably, there is usually some grief at the end --- but these “angels” have not complained or expressed any regrets.

Do you have stories to tell about your favorite "geezer" or "geezerette"? What life lessons have they taught you?

You can show your love for your dog and support for GDB by making a tribute or memorial gift in his or her name.


  1. It really does take a special person to adopt an old dog who undoubtedly deserves as much love as their puppy counterparts. I really appreciate these people and this post.

  2. This is a beautiful post!! Older dogs are sometimes a lot better for older people, as they are quieter and easier to handle.

    We adore our career change boy, Dublin. He has become devoted to my husband and is his buddy! As I type this Dublin is curled up between my feet, he is a cudle boy! He is much loved and cherished by us!
    Pam Hunter, (family has raised two puppies so far!) Luxor, and Dublin.

  3. We have adopted Cammy, our daughter's retired guide dog. She is adorable and sweet and smart and is enjoying her retirement. She follows us everywhere and has the run of the house. Her retirement is well-deserved after leading Leslie for five years all over the UofO campus and traveling on planes with her and being in many different environments. She was faithful and adaptable and guided Leslie through many situations that would have been impossible without her help. Cammy rules in our family!

  4. I only had North for six months before he crossed the rainbow bridge, but I had been in love with him for years. He had spent eleven loyal years as a working guide for my friend and I was truly honored to welcome him into my heart and home during his short-lived retirement. It was so hard to lose him, but I don't regret it for a moment. He was such a love and he will always have a place in my heart.