What Happens to a Retired Guide Dog?
Southeastern Guide Dogs follows up with our teams for life, and that includes following up with guide dogs that retire from working careers.
First of all, how does a blind individual know when a guide dog is ready to retire? “The dog lets them know,” explains Suzy Wilburn, whose guide dog Carson accompanies Suzy to work each day in her position as our Director, Admissions and Alumni Support. “Our dogs work an average of eight years, with some working less and some more. Dogs are just like people. They age, and they may have aches and pains or symptoms of arthritis. The dog may hesitate when asked to put on the harness, it may slow down, or it may simply make more mistakes. These are all signs that the dog is telling us that it’s ready to retire.”
Retiring a guide dog is an emotional decision. The human-dog bond is intensely strong, and leaving the dog behind instead of traveling together creates a sense of loss. But the dog’s welfare is the most important factor, and once the difficult decision has been made, the dog’s handler has several retirement options.
First, the handler may choose to keep the dog as a pet. If the person is comfortable caring for their retired dog in addition to caring for a successor dog, this option works wonderfully. Or, the handler may choose to give the dog to a family member or friend, one who will care for the dog while also keeping it close by for visits.
If the person cannot keep the dog as a pet and does not have an adoptive family in mind, then the dog’s original puppy raiser is invited to adopt the retiring guide. Dogs never forget their puppy raisers, and this adoption completes a full circle of love. In cases where the puppy raiser is unable to adopt, then our staff places the dog in an approved adoptive home. We have a waiting list of people who want to adopt a retired guide dog, ready to shower it with care and affection during its golden years. Throughout the process, our staff works with the individual as they apply for a successor dog, and the cycle of ongoing support continues.