The bond between a guide dog and his or her handler is a strong one. They develop a sort of shorthand as they work, using subtle cues that most people don’t even notice and each is very in tune with the other. Therefore as a dog reaches retirement age, the handler is bound to notice the signs.
The guide dogs are typically matched with their handler around age two and are expected to have a working life of about eight years. As the dogs age, they may begin to show signs the handler should be aware of. These signs may be as slight as a slowing in pace or lack of enthusiasm for heading out in the world to work. But if the team ever feels in danger, retirement should proceed immediately.
There are a number of options for the dog’s retirement. If the handler has the space and means, the dog could remain with them and enjoy a life of leisure. If the handler is now working with a successor guide dog, the retired dog may be confused at first as to why he or she isn’t going out with the handler.
Another option would be for a member of the handler’s family to adopt the retired guide. This is a great option because the dog likely knows the family member and will get to see the handler often, but not have the stress of watching the handler leave home every day with the new guide.
Then there is my personal favorite option – the retired guide could go back to their puppy raiser, bringing the working life full circle. This actually happened here on Southeastern’s campus. A smooth-coat collie named Corki was raised by Paula Best, a member of our Finance team. Corki came to work with Paula as she was being raised and in April 2000, she was matched with our community outreach coordinator, Helen Arnold.
Helen and Corki travelled all over for the next eight and a half years, helping to spread the word about Southeastern Guide Dogs. In 2008, Helen started to notice that Corki was having some difficulty jumping into the van when it was time go anywhere and she didn’t show the same excitement when Helen picked up the harness to head out the door.
In late 2008 Helen made the decision to retire Corki. A big retirement party was held and Corki went back home with Paula and her husband Bob. During the week, Corki came to work with Paula, so she got to see Helen while she worked with her new guide dog, Troy. Corki, in her retirement, took up the duties of being an Ambassador dog for Southeastern and went to a variety of community events with Paula – it has been said that no one worked a room quite like Corki.
So you can see, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to bring everything full circle and provide these amazing working dogs with a satisfying retirement.